News and analysis
March 19, 2015

Helene Gayle to Lead Nonprofit Started by McKinsey

Caroline Joe/CARE
Much of Helene Gayle’s career has directly focused on helping people, first as a pediatrician and today as chief executive of CARE USA.

In July she’ll take a job that involves less work with beneficiaries and more with the people who try to solve problems, by taking the reins of Mc­Kinsey Social Initiative, a nonprofit created last year by the management consultancy McKinsey & Company.

Dr. Gayle’s announcement in October that she would leave CARE came soon after the organization was putting finishing touches on a strategic plan she had helped develop.

"There’s a lot of things we’ve worked on that have put the organization on a really great trajectory to continue to have an impact on global poverty," she said in an interview.

Dr. Gayle says it’s not just that the plan was done but that she believes that after about eight or 10 years, all organizations and leaders benefit from a change.

Before she joined CARE, Dr. Gayle held positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

McKinsey Social Initiative expects to house several programs, each focused on developing solutions to global social issues by working with nonprofits, colleges, and businesses

McKinsey & Company has provided $70 million to create the new nonprofit and plans to put 25 of its consultants on projects the organization runs and offer advice from 10 of its partners. The organization has also received $15 million from USAID and $3.2-million from Walmart.

McKinsey is not the first consulting firm to start a nonprofit arm: Bain formed Bridgespan in 2000 to help charities. And this is not McKinsey’s first foray into the nonprofit world.

The company’s Social Sector Practice works with foundations, philanthropists, and nonprofits and provides online tools to assess social impact. Some of its work has stirred controversy, including a 2003 article written by two McKinsey employees and former senator Bill Bradley in the Harvard Business Review that rankled some with its suggestions that nonprofits should apply more businesslike approaches to their operations.

Job Training

The first program McKinsey Social Initiative is working on focuses on job training — in part with money from USAID and Walmart — and has the goal of reaching 1 million young people in five countries over five years. In its pilot programs — one in Pittsburgh and two in Spain — the effort tries to match training to local job needs.

For example, the Pittsburgh pilot provides training for jobs in the health-care sector, while the Spanish programs focus on web development and digital sales and marketing. The nonprofit plans to expand the effort, called Generation, to India, Kenya, and Mexico later this year.

Using some of the approaches McKinsey takes with businesses, the nonprofit unit will try to gauge return on investment and pinpoint ideas that seem most worthy of spreading.

"Oftentimes in the not-for-profit world there isn’t frankly even the luxury to do the kind of rigorous analysis of return on investment that we see typically in the business world," says Dr. Gayle.

Dr. Gayle answered questions about her new role in an interview with The Chronicle. Excerpts follow:

How does your background as a doctor help in your new role?

I went into health because I thought it was a tangible way to have social impact. But the tools of health alone are not what’s going to make a population healthy. We know that people who have jobs, for instance, are more likely to make healthy choices about the foods they eat; they’re more likely to be able to exercise and take the kinds of preventative measures that lead to healthy outcomes; they’re more likely to access health and health services. I continue to be an advocate for health by making sure people have access to education, access to clean and safe drinking water, access to economic opportunities. And so this is just one more way in which we can make sure that people’s health, as well as their economic well-being, is well-served.

McKinsey Social Initiatives is much smaller than CARE. Will that be a challenge?

It’s a major change, but I like building teams. Whether you’re managing an organization that has 10,000 employees or an organization that has three and growing, it’s really all about building teams. When I first came to the Gates foundation, prior to joining CARE, it was in its very, very early stages, and so I have some familiarity with what it means to build teams from the ground up. Sometimes it’s as simple as developing the basic infrastructure and the things that any organization needs just to be able to do its routine daily business. A lot of that is under way, but it’s still an organization in development.

What will be your focus initially?

My focus will be to look at what’s worked in [Generation] so far: What are some of the gaps, what are some of the ways that we can really use that as kind of a template for how we can evolve other programs in other areas, whether it’s health or the environment or education? We have yet to decide what will be the next area of focus.

What’s next?

The aspiration is to be able to take on a new platform, a new challenge, every couple of years. Youth unemployment is one of the most important challenges we face, with an ever-growing youth population around the world. We’ll look at ways in which big global problems could have solutions that are practical, scalable, and replicable throughout the world.

Send an e-mail to Eden stiffman.

About Helene Gayle

New job: Dr. Gayle will become the first chief executive of McKinsey Social Initiative, a Washington nonprofit created by the McKinsey consulting firm.

Background: Dr. Gayle served as chief executive of CARE USA for the past nine years. She also sits on the board of nonprofit consulting firm FSG. Dr. Gayle previously directed the HIV, TB, and reproductive health program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and spent 17 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Education: Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College, medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and master’s degree in public health from the Johns Hopkins University.