Helen Tovar | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

The Reason Why

By Robert Green

After one year of serving as the General Counsel of the CDC Foundation, Helen Tovar has found the career fulfillment that most professionals can only dream of - working in an environment filled with motivated people who are happy to come to the office every day. “We know the reason why we’re doing this work,” she says.

California native Tovar moved to Georgia five years ago to be closer to her family, which had previously relocated. Her then California employer, National Service Group, was happy to let her continue as General Counsel but after four years she began to think locally based employment might help her feel more connected to the area. “I felt that it was the right time for me to integrate myself into Atlanta and all of its amazing people,” she said.

Finding the CDC Foundation opportunity on her own, Tovar went through several rounds of interviews. “It was all handled very professionally,” she said. “They really wanted to make sure that I would be a good fit. The General Counsel role was new to the Foundation, and with all its growth a needed position.”

While everyone knows about the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), few people have heard of the CDC Foundation. Congress passed legislation authorizing the creation of an independent, nonprofit foundation to support CDC in 1992 and, in 1995, the CDC Foundation opened its doors for business in the Hurt Building in downtown Atlanta. Classified as a 501(c)(3) public charity, the Foundation is the sole entity authorized by Congress to raise private funds in support of the mission and work of CDC.
“The CDC Foundation helps CDC save and improve lives by  pursuing innovative ideas that might not be possible without the support of external partners,” says Tovar, “and this external support gives CDC the flexibility to quickly and effectively connect with other experts, information and technology needed to address a public health challenge.” Extending the reach of CDC through the CDC Foundation has worked so well that they now have over 1,600 partnerships. “The contracts involved with all of these partnerships and projects generate a lot of legal work,” Tovar says, “and it’s part of the reason why the General Counsel role was established.” And all of this work is encapsulated in our meaningful tag line, “Together our impact is greater.”

The many foundations, corporations and organizations that donate to and work with the CDC Foundation are too numerous to mention individually but include often heard names such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Kaiser Permanente, The Carter Center, UPS and the University of Georgia.

“The donor foundations can be very specific as to the deliverables, while understanding the CDC experts control the science,” says Tovar. “You have to remember that many of our donors have been in the business of charitable giving for decades so they are quite sophisticated about knowing what they need and how to ask for it.”

None of this is to say that their donors are unreasonably demanding. “The sense of stewardship here at the CDC Foundation is very high,” she says, “we want to make sure that we’re getting the most out of every dollar. Also, being specific on what needs to be accomplished, rather than vague, makes things much easier in the long run. We all know if the goal has been met.”

In this way, the Foundation facilitates collaboration between the private and government sector through open dialogue, developing partnerships to leverage cross-sector resources, and sharing expertise. They constantly innovate and advance the art and science of collaboration and effective program management to bring all parties into open, beneficial partnerships that serve the greater good of people and communities.

There’s no greater example of the value the CDC Foundation adds to CDC’s public health protection work than during an emergency response.
What many people do not realize is that in crisis situations the CDC may not initially have access to all of the government funding they need for a full response or may be limited in how they can spend funds. A central objective of the Foundation’s response efforts is to work with donors, philanthropies, individuals and corporations, to raise funding to enable CDC staff to respond quickly to changing circumstances and needs.
Their support goes beyond immediate humanitarian aid. Much of it goes toward response activities aimed at bolstering the public health systems used to protect everyone from dangerous health threats.

The CDC Foundation has worked to provide support to CDC in a variety of emergencies, from the Haiti earthquake to the West Africa Ebola outbreak to the Zika outbreak in U.S. territories to the 2017 hurricanes in U.S. territories.

In the 2017 hurricane response activities, for instance, they worked hand-in-hand with CDC to determine some of the greatest public health needs that could be targeted with donor support.

At a high level, they have supported health risk education campaigns, large-scale vaccination campaigns, helped restart public health lab work in Puerto Rico and soon a mobile clinic in the U.S. Virgin Islands. This work is essential to help protect the public from health threats that have arisen in the wake of the hurricanes’ destruction.

“No one can deny that the Foundation has been successful,” says Tovar. In its 23 years it has launched nearly 1,000 programs and raised more than $740 million through philanthropic engagements with philanthropies, corporations, organizations, governments and individuals.”

“We sincerely believe that people, groups and organizations have greater positive impact and can accomplish more together,” she says. “By aligning diverse interests and resources and leveraging all parties’ strengths, our collaborations with private and philanthropic partners help create greater impact than any one entity can alone.”

For Tovar, working with the CDC Foundation has been a humbling and gratifying experience. “We all want to have our lives be about more than just ourselves,” she says. “It's an incredible feeling to know that I am a part of an organization that allows CDC to better protect the health, safety and security of America and the world.”

Married with two kids aged 8 and 10, Tovar is happy to say that she has found her niche in Atlanta.


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