100 World Class South Africans: Olive Shisana

2013-08-20 12:00

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Walking the talk

At one point, all births, marriages, divorces or deaths in Washington DC had her signature.

As administrator of the DC Vital Records system, Olive Shisana gained valuable experience in public health and social services research.

After 17 years in exile, she returned to SA to blaze a trail of change in healthcare.

She joined the HSRC in 2001 to establish a new HIV/Aids research unit, which undertook household surveys and encouraged Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Botswana to do the same.

Under her guidance, life-saving changes were made in government policy. In 2005 she was appointed the first black female president and CEO of the HSRC.

She has chaired many global committees (World Health Assembly, EU Parliament, UN World Summit, US Congress Brain Trust, Unesco’s social science council).

In SA, Shisana serves in many advisory groups, including helping to formulate the planned National Health Insurance.

The HSRC has also just been appointed as an incubator for the South African BRICS Think Tank, undertaking policy research and analysis to inform the group’s strategies.

For Shisana, working with others is key: ‘When I arrived from exile I believed in individual achievement. I have since learned that it takes a dedicated, motivated and mutually supportive team to achieve even the impossible.’

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