Midwife, Mentor and Advocate: White Ribbon Alliance Founder Theresa Shaver Receives Maternal Health Visionary Award

By Betsy McCallon, CEO, White Ribbon Alliance

Theresa Shaver, Founder of White Ribbon Alliance.

All of us at White Ribbon Alliance are so proud that our founder, Theresa Shaver, is one of 10 pioneers recognized by the Maternal Health Task Force with their inaugural Maternal Health Visionary award.

From her early days as a midwife, to founding White Ribbon Alliance, to her current work at U.S. Agency for International Development, Theresa’s impact has been tremendous, and her contribution to generating global attention and commitments around addressing maternal mortality have been significant.

In founding WRA nearly 20 years ago, a time when maternal health was an after-thought in global health and development circles, her vision was to make maternal health everyone’s business and to give voice and value to women and communities around the world to drive change in their own lives.

Theresa (third from right, top row) with members of White Ribbon Alliance in 2005.

As a midwife, Theresa fundamentally understood that addressing maternal mortality required more than clinical interventions. She recognized that a sense of urgency was needed, and that political commitment and financial investment were vital. At the same time, she believed that individual communities must be equal partners in changing the status quo. During Theresa’s tenure at WRA, it moved from a loose network of interested individuals to an international organization with affiliates in 13 countries; and from having a focus on generating attention to mobilizing national policy changes, major global commitments and new global initiatives focused on maternal health.

Theresa was a visionary leader, but she didn’t see herself that way. Humble and kind, she instilled a spirit of family, passion and commitment that continues to fuel the movement. She inspired young leaders all over the world, myself included, to make maternal health and rights their issue. She valued all talents and helped everyone see how they could make a difference. Theresa took risks and built a team who would push boundaries, forge unlikely partnerships and speak truth to power. Whether organizing a campaign to influence G8 leaders, mobilizing celebrity support to raise funds or breaking the silence on taboo subjects such as disrespect and abuse in health facilities, Theresa had our back and was our biggest champion. The Alliance grew stronger with greater purpose and unity across the world with her quiet and steady leadership.

Left to right: Theresa Shaver (Founder of White Ribbon Alliance), Aparajita Gogoi (WRA India’s National Coordinator), and Betsy McCallon (author of this piece and CEO of White Ribbon Alliance).

As WRA approaches its 20th anniversary in 2019 with a deepened mission for reproductive, maternal and newborn health and rights, we are thrilled that Theresa’s visionary leadership is being honored by the larger maternal health community.

But Theresa’s work is far from done.

Theresa has recently joined USAID and is poised to continue to make significant contributions to maternal health. She is helping the agency and her teammates to work differently in a new era, breaking down silos between maternal and newborn health, maternal health and nutrition, maternal health and gender, and more. As we work toward the SDG targets, Theresa has firmly pivoted to recognize the need for sound technical investments and a focus on social detriments to end preventable maternal mortality and ensure health and well-being for all.

So, today we offer congratulations to Theresa Shaver, and all the incredible Maternal Health Visionary award recipients. We thank you for your vision, your leadership and your support as we work together to ensure that all women and girls get the quality healthcare they need to survive and thrive. We need you now more than ever.

Donate to White Ribbon Alliance and help protect and promote women’s health around the world. White Ribbon Alliance unites citizens to demand the right to a safe birth for every woman, everywhere. We harness the power of local women and men to achieve lasting change. Our approach is working. Subscribe to WRA Voices and follow WRA on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about the work White Ribbon Alliance does around the world.


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Inspiring and convening advocates to uphold the right of all women to be safe and healthy before, during and after pregnancy.

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