Alex Baker

1985

alexbakerI recently returned to JSI after 13 years. A number of people have asked me why I decided to come back. It’s complicated, but the short answer is that JSI has been a part of who I am for 26 years and I’ve never worked anywhere else where I felt the same connection. The commitment of JSI staff to its mission has inspired me, the culture and management philosophy has indelibly shaped my own approach to management, and the people I’ve worked with here are among the smartest, most caring, and funniest I’ve ever met. Here are a few illustrative JSI experiences that not only shaped my view of JSI, but me as a person.

In 1998, I consulted with staff at a peer-run organization for HIV-positive youth in San Francisco. These individuals were determined to make a difference in their community, even as they struggled with the physical and emotional impact of their own diagnosis. Back then, while there was emerging hope that combination drug therapies might change the “death sentence” of an AIDS diagnosis, we were a long way from today’s treatment options. JSI has been described as “applying private-sector management to public sector issues.” That’s just what I did, as I drew upon my traditional MBA education and work experience in finance and management to advise an agency focusing on a critical public health issue.

“JSI has been a part of who I am for 26 years and I’ve never worked anywhere else where I felt the same connection.”

Alex and husband Butch on Haskell Island, Maine.

Alex and husband Butch on Haskell Island, Maine.

JSI also truly embraces its people. In 1994, my partner and I decided to have a ceremony to affirm our commitment to each other publicly. This was long before gay marriage was being debated, and it hadn’t occurred to us that we might ever legally marry. I’ll never forget walking into the conference room to find that my colleagues were hosting a wedding shower for me and a coworker who was getting married around the same time. In the minds of the people of JSI each of us was “getting married” and was to be celebrated,regardless of the nature of our relationships. The bowl I was given that day represented far more to me than most people probably realized.

Alex and Major. "Our beloved Major died about two years ago, but I smile whenever I see this shot of us."

Alex and dearly departed dog Major in Xanadu.

I left JSI in 1999 to work on the provider side of the U.S. health care system. It was a tough decision, and I’ll admit that I cried as I drove home on my last day. Although I left JSI, it never left me, and in the words of many before me, returning to JSI was “coming home.”

A Project to Remember

During a trip to Malawi in 1997 with the Support to the AIDS and Family Health Project, we traveled to a rural area and I met with a community-based family planning trainer. She told me that she became a family planning trainer because she had seen too many women and children die in her village. This woman and her family were barely surviving, yet she thought  it important to help others. As I sat in the one-room house where she lived with her husband and children, I was humbled and inspired by her willingness to give of herself. It was a life-changing moment.

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