Judith F. Helzner, MacArthur Foundation

TITLE: Special Advisor to the President and Vice President

FUNDING AREAS: Sexual and reproductive rights of young people, maternal mortality and morbidity

CONTACT: jhelzner@macfound.org, 312-726-8000

IP TAKE: Helzner is a veteran of the global reproductive rights movement. She has coordinated reproductive health policy on a massive scale for various international organizations and published plenty of analysis over the years. At MacArthur, Helzner helps direct the foundation's giving strategies in India, Mexico, and Nigeria. She's especially focused on reducing maternal mortality and strengthening sexual rights for young people.

PROFILE: Judith F. Helzner has worked in the reproductive rights field for decades. The MacArthur Foundation employs her to provide strategy and advice to its three international offices in India, Mexico, and Nigeria. Helzner consults with her employer's foreign outposts on their reproductive health grantmaking, and has major influence on how MacArthur allocates investments in its priority service countries.

Helzner graduated from Tufts University with a bachelor's degree in French and received master's degrees in both demography and international relations from the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1977, Helzner began her career at the Pathfinder Fund in Boston. Over the years, Helzner has worked for and held leadership roles at a diverse array of organizations with influence in the global reproductive rights sphere. Helzner has consulted for USAID and the Word Health Organization. She was the Chief Financial Officer at the International Women's Health Coalition, and she directed Western Hemisphere programming for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, eventually becoming its Director of Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Helzner is a regular speaker on the conference circuit and publishes writing in various venues on the subject of reproductive rights. Helzner has authored several books. A representative sample title in Helzner's repertoire: What's Sex Got to Do With It: Challenges for Incorporating Sexuality into Family Planning Programs. 

In other words, Helzner's influence in reproductive health policy spans continents and professional disciplines. At MacArthur, Helzer sets about making her visions for global reproductive rights come to fruition.

The MacArthur Foundation is a relatively grantee-friendly place. For one thing, it's really big. MacArthur's assets stand at more than $5 billion. On an annual basis, the foundation gives grants, usually between $100,000 and $1 million each, to dozens of organizations working on reproductive health in the United States and around the world. Where international investments are concerned, MacArthur prioritizes India, Mexico, and Nigeria, but the foundation does support work in other countries, provided that work has a multinational focus.

Also of benefit to would-be grantees: the MacArthur Foundation is approachable. Any eligible organization can submit a letter of inquiry at any time and expect a response within eight weeks. The foundation shows preference to projects that focus on reducing maternal mortality and/or advancing young people's sexual health and rights.

For a better sense of what MacArthur's reproductive health grants looks like, here's a list of a few recent ones that took place in Helzner's three priority countries:

  • $275,000 to Investigacion en Salud y Demografia, based in Mexico City, to conduct data analysis on NGOs' effectiveness in the reproductive health sphere, and coordinate with policymakers regarding the study's findings.

  • $300,000 to the Society of Gynecology and Obstetrics of Nigeria for the purposes of analyzing maternal deaths in three states, with the idea that these studies can be replicated nationwide in the future.

  • $185,000 to New Delhi's YP Foundation to improve reproductive and sexual health information access for youth in targeted regions of India.