It is our great honor to announce the appointment of Dr. Harriet Birungi as the vice president of International Programs and Dr. Thoai Ngo as the vice president of Social and Behavioral Science Research—colleagues who have been promoted to our executive leadership team following recent transitions. Harriet currently serves as director of the Population Council’s office in Kenya and Thoai serves as director of our Poverty, Gender, and Youth program.

These appointments are part of our ongoing journey to shift our center of gravity to the places where we seek to have the most impact and to become even more globally collaborative and inclusive.

Harriet and Thoai are trusted and well-respected leaders at the Population Council and within the wider sector. As visionary thinkers who bring proven track records of scientific scholarship, strategic innovation, and operational excellence, they are helping us realize our mission of delivering the rigorous evidence and data-driven solutions needed to improve lives around the world. And as important, they are committed to empowering and mentoring colleagues, and embody the important values of accountability, integrity, and inclusion. We couldn’t be more excited about the future of the Population Council with them in these key leadership positions.

Vice President, International Programs

Effective 1 July 2021, Dr. Harriet Birungi will assume the role of vice president International Programs—continuing to be based in Nairobi. In her new role, Harriet will provide strategic leadership and support across the Council’s 13 international offices and our affiliated organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. The creation of the VP International Programs role to be based outside of the United States, is a significant step toward increasing resources and decisionmaking and shifting power to the places where we seek mission impact.

Harriet’s more than 20-year career at the Council epitomizes our commitment to recruiting, developing, and retaining talent. For the last nine years, Harriet has served as country director of the Council’s Kenya office where she conducts and oversees research that contributes to shaping local, regional, and global policies and programs. Among her many contributions, she led the first-ever research on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents perinatally infected with HIV, conducted research on early and unintended pregnancy in the education sector, and served as the research director for the groundbreaking STEP UP Research Program Consortium to strengthen health systems to reduce unmet need for family planning and safe abortion services. She joined the Council in 2000 as an associate I in the Reproductive Health Program in Kenya, and quickly rose to become a senior associate in 2008. She was appointed country director in 2012 and has proven to be an entrepreneurial leader. Harriet received her PhD in medical anthropology from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, her MA in development studies from the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands, and her BA in sociology and social administration from Makerere University, Uganda.

Vice President, Social and Behavioral Science Research

Effective 1 April 2021, Dr. Thoai Ngo assumed the role of vice president Social and Behavioral Science Research—continuing to be based in New York. In this capacity, Thoai is advancing our cutting-edge research agenda that seeks to ask and answer critical questions, and provide solutions on the most pressing health, social, economic, and environmental issues that are impacting people’s lives. This agenda will continue to prioritize the Council’s focus on equity and gender equality to transform the lives, livelihoods, and life chances of the poorest and most marginalized populations, particularly women and girls around the world.

Thoai joined the Population Council in 2016, as we made strategic investments and sought opportunities to introduce new ideas and perspectives to advance our work and accelerate the delivery of our mission. He most recently served as the director of the Poverty, Gender, and Youth Program and is the founding director of our GIRL Center. As a champion for open data, Thoai and his team launched the Adolescent Data Hub (ADH) in 2018—a unique, open data portal on adolescents and young people living in low- and middle-income countries, widely used by researchers around the world. More recently, he began leading a global cross-Council team of researchers who are producing timely evidence to inform the COVID-19 response, and to assess the broader health, social, and economic effects of the pandemic in a number of countries. Thoai received his PhD in demography and epidemiology from the London School for Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and his Master of Health Science in global epidemiology and disease control from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Advancing Our Future

As Professor Salim Abdool Karim, member of our Board of Trustees, and director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and professor of Global Health at Columbia University noted during the recruitment process, “Harriet and Thoai are excellent candidates, who have over their years at the Council come to reflect its core values of scientific excellence, deep social commitment, empowerment of women, and global impact. And I have no doubt that their leadership contributions will propel the Population Council to even greater heights.”

As president of the Population Council, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Harriet and Thoai assume these critical leadership roles as we redouble our efforts to ensure that evidence, not ideology, is used to inform global health and development policies, programs, and investments. We want to thank colleagues from across the Council and members of our Board of Trustees for the time and effort they provided to support the rigorous selection process that led to these appointments. Please join us in celebrating Harriet and Thoai and wishing them every success as they take on these important new roles.

April 6, 2021

By: Julia Bunting

in News and Views