September 8, 2022
1. What should we know about Dr. Joerg F. Maas and what resonates with you about PSI’s work and mission?
Born in Germany, but very close to the Dutch border (as you can tell from my last name), I studied philosophy, Roman languages, history and German literature at the universities in Bonn and Berlin and received my PhD from the FernUniversitaet Hagen while spending time at Harvard University as visiting scholar. Shortly after the German wall came down, I started developing international exchange programs for scientists and students in Eastern Germany before I joined the German Foundation for World Population (DSW). During that time, I first heard about PSI’s social marketing project in Bangladesh and I was convinced that the approach is the way forward to offer better sexual and reproductive health products and services to women and couples in need. We tried to design a joint proposal for funding from the European Commission and Professor Kasturi Rangan from the Harvard Business School - who I met in Boston a few times - even developed a case study for the Harvard Business Review on PSI’s social marketing project.
Heading DSW for more than 12 years, I was inspired to offer better and more suitable programs, particularly for young people, and we came forward with country-wide services in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. While developing programs in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Africa, we also worked on convincing European political decision-makers – particularly the European Union – to put more emphasis on and invest more in SRHR programs in Sub-Sahara Africa. We were quite successful with our Brussels office, which Karen Hoehn (who served on PSI-Europe’s board for a couple of years) developed into a powerful advocacy and funding instrument.
I then had the pleasure of joining the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to focus on governmental support from European member-states for global health issues and to strengthen non-profit organisations in Europe. After working and living in the Seattle area for quite some time, I returned to Germany. I headed the German research foundation ‘Jugend forscht’ in Hamburg, and since 2011 have been leading the German Foundation for Reading under the patronage of the German President.
The driving factor of my working life is to change society and improve the lives of women, families, and children. When I was invited to join the Board of PSI-Europe, I was honoured and pleased to contribute to PSI-Europe’s overall mission to achieve big and measurable health impact.
2. What does PSI-Europe’s focus on consumer-powered healthcare mean to you?
Consumer-powered healthcare means that we start treating our beneficiaries like consumers – with respect, with dignity, with a deep understanding of their needs and expectations, and by putting their care and decisions into their hands. This is part of the DNA of PSI since its beginning in 1970. And I am happy to contribute that more than 8 million consumers accessed modern contraception through PSI programs in 2021 – just to name one aspect of PSI’s important work.
3. We at PSI-Europe believe that working in partnership is critical for building stronger communities, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and reaching Universal Health Coverage (UHC). How does PSI-Europe partner with others to achieve greater outcomes?
Let me give you an example: Menstrual health (MH) is an integral part of a consumer’s holistic care, and while many organizations are working to address menstrual health needs, they are doing so from a variety of perspectives and sectors. This fragmented approach to MH, by funding and programming in sector-siloes within water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); SRHR, and education—impedes the impact and transformational potential of these programs.
PSI-Europe has been and still is very instrumental in convening these varied actors to advocate for greater partnership, collaboration, and resolutions to this fragmentation. PSI-Europe has been convincing stakeholders, including political and financial decision-makers across Europe, to support this key health issue affecting more than 500 million women worldwide– every month. I believe that PSI-Europe plays a unique role among European non-profit and service organisations in raising the profile of menstrual health, convening partners, and mobilising political will and financial support for this important health topic in Europe.
4. What do you hope to see in 2022?
I very much wish that more people in Europe understand what the living conditions of women, girls, and families in underserved areas in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are and what the lack of SRHR services and products mean to them.
I very much hope that not only will governmental support and funding for SRHR and consumer-powered healthcare increase, but that the health situation of far too many people in the Global South gets more public attention, and that we can raise awareness for global health challenges.
I very much hope that voices from the South are better heard and that their health needs are better understood – despite or because of the ongoing Corona crisis and the war in Ukraine.