When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made his one and only trip to Seattle, he visited Risa Lavizzo-Mourey’s childhood home. The daughter of physicians, Lavizzo-Mourey planned to go into medicine, but watching King and other civil rights leaders, she was also starting to think outside the doctor’s office. “The time that I was born…the family that I was born to…made me know I wanted to make a difference in the world through medicine,” says Lavizzo-Mourey.
Lavizzo-Mourey did become a doctor, and her experience as a clinician is one she holds dear. But having held leadership roles at the Institute on Aging and the White House Task Force on Health Care Reform, to name a few, she has learned to approach her work with a wide-angle lens. It’s this wide-angle approach that led to her being tapped as the fourth president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 2003.
Nearly 10 years into her work at RWJF, Lavizzo-Mourey is a voice of foundation experience. She understands the silver lining of failure. She has learned the hard way that having a clear definition of success is essential. She has found a way to take on the pioneering projects that others might shy away from. She believes it’s important to help strengthen grantees—even at a high price. And yet listening to the way Lavizzo-Mourey is “treating” adolescent smoking and childhood obesity, one feels very grateful this doctor is in.