Harvard award for top Samoan woman

The Executive Director of Samoa Family Health Association, Lealaiauloto Lia’i Iosefa-Si’itia, has been recognised with a top award presented to her during a Maternal Health Symposium at Harvard University.

The Maternal Health Task Force award presented at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, honour’s Lealaiauloto’s outstanding leadership in maternal health. In receiving the award in September, she became the first recipient from Samoa and the Pacific.

She was one of 10 awardees from 382 global nominations chosen for their contribution to maternal health and in leading the way forward in achieving change in their organization.

“Receiving the award has been such an incredible honour,” said Lealaiauloto. “As health care professionals, we do this work to serve our people and not for the recognition. But to be acknowledged in such a way by such a prestigious award from an eminent university has been a great blessing. God willing, I hope to be able to continue to serve the people of Samoa for many years to come.” 

Under her leadership, the S.F.H.A went from an unknown and under-resourced N.G.O to a highly regarded institute that donors and international partners seek out to co-operate with. As a result they are able to expand their family planning and sexual reproductive health services in both islands to reach more people

This year they launched two new clinics in Moto’otua, Upolu and one in Salelologa, Savaii.

 The Savaii clinic is the first of its kind and allows S.F.H.A to deliver health services to the people of Savaii on a permanent basis.  

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“We’ve had many highlights since I came on board and we have increased staff members but mostly importantly is that we have increased our reach to the communities especially those hard to reach places with high risk people. We focus mainly on women and young people but we also make sure that no one is left behind so this also means including people with disabilities.”

Asked how she would describe her leadership style, the Executive Director of S.F.H.A said quite simply that her maternal instincts informs how she approaches governance with an objective to lead future leaders.

“I value a lot of values but the most important thing to me is the maternal values such as nurturing our employees to better bring out their potential,” she said. “Everyone has potential but sometimes people are reluctant to take the risk of doing something outside their comfort zone. If you don’t take the risk – you won’t be able to learn. So far I think I succeeded in bringing out the power within them that I don’t think they are even aware of.”

Lealaiauloto said she runs her staff like she runs her family, emphasizing every step of the way that team work is very important.

“Now I see them stand up because I push them to get up and do whatever it is they feel challenged, I they can do -this is how I run my family. And I believe in continuously building on their capacity, we come together at least once a month and identify what we need to work on and so far so good.”

“If you look at my staff, we are like a family. We do things like a family and we work together as a team and that includes getting a telling off from me at times but they respect it and they know where it comes from. Disciplining is last resort because I prefer to build people up.”

A midwife by profession, Lealaiauloto worked in government for over 30 years before she shifted to the private sector more than 20 years ago. 

She joined the Samoa Family Health association in 2011 and brought her wealth of experience and leadership skills to head up a non- governmental organization with no resources or budget. 

Her goal is to take the S.F.H.A to another level in becoming a social enterprise that can sustain itself while ensuring that health costs are kept low and accessible to Samoans.

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