Jeanette Vega, The Rockefeller Foundation

TITLE: Managing Director

FUNDING AREAS: Healthcare reform, public health systems 

CONTACT: JVega@rockfound.org, (212) 869-8500

IP TAKE: We’re betting that not many people can say they were pioneers in the ongoing reform of an entire country’s health system. Vega can.

PROFILE:  Dr. Jeanette Vega did not begin her career in public health. Instead, she started out as an MD practicing family medicine in Chile. When Augusto Pinochet’s coup ended in success for the erstwhile dictator, it changed the path of Vega’s career. Looking back, she's stated that the dramatic political events were an “…extraordinary shift from a progressive social democracy under Allende to the Pinochet dictatorship that was the turning point in my life. I wanted to have social influence and thought that medicine was the vehicle for doing this.”

Vega decided to pursue a master’s degree in Public health from the Universidad de Chile, and then her Ph.D. in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After that, Vega served in a number of different but always prominent public health positions, such as the Director of the of the Center of Public Health Policy at the Universidad del Desarrollo and as the Director at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva. At the WHO, Vega was the leader of the organization’s health equity agenda, focusing on the social determinants of health and health systems around the world.

Vega joined The Rockefeller Foundation in 2012 and currently leads its health-related work, including development of strategy and implementation of its Transforming Health Systems Initiative, an international initiative that gives special attention to Ghana, Rwanda, Vietnam and Bangladesh. 

Vega is relatively new to Rockefeller, but she is definitely not taking a newbie approach to her Transforming Health Systems grant making—awarding nearly $8 million in grants during her first calendar year. Vega’s and Rockefeller’s goals are to promote and implement universal health coverage and to get the Transforming Health Systems initiative embedded into a UN resolution after 2015.

Vega’s work is steeped in all things public health, but she sees a much larger view when it comes to the issues the citizens in developing countries face, stating:

“During the next three decades, 60% of the world's population increase will occur in Asia's cities. And eight of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change's effects are located on that continent. So development efforts in these places must include primary and persistent emphasis on building greater resilience: integrated urban planning, land-use regulation, water management, infrastructure investment, and emergency preparedness. Resilience is crucial in all aspects of human development, and not just health development.”

Since Vega has been with Rockefeller only a short time, it’s difficult to determine her specific grant making propensities. When looking over her list of grantees, it seems as though she follows the rule of awarding grants to larger foundations and organizations such the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in Dhaka and Johns Hopkins University for researching the role of the private sector in health care as it pertains to low and middle income countries. However, there are a handful of community health foundations thrown in there for good measure.

We can’t presume anything when it comes to Vega’s grant making, but it seems like she is attacking public health systems on three levels: international, national, and community. This multi-targeted approach looks like Vega is working on exacting big changes in public health care all the way from national and international public policy down to rural communities. Not to mention she definitely has the chops as a changemaker—in her previous capacity as Vice Minister of Health in her native Chile, Vega established a 13-step health equity plan for the entire country.

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