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Why ending the organ donation waiting list can save countless lives and billions of dollars


“I believe so much in people – and in people who can make things happen,” said Jennifer Erickson, an organ donation list attorney and former White House assistant director of innovation and growth for Obama.

It’s a powerful statement from a leader who has succeeded not only through her own tenacity, but also proudly with the support and wisdom of others. For Jennifer, the best way to find smart solutions is, in her words, “to talk to people who are smarter than me”.

After all, no great leader achieves or maintains success in a vacuum. You work with others who strive to change the world in similar ways. And thanks to collaborations with some of the best thinkers in the world, Jennifer was able to lead a movement that could one day save the lives of millions of people.

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Learning to lead for the common good

Before Jennifer Erickson dedicated her career to the bottom of the organ transplant list, she already had a good résumé.

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She first worked for the global management consultancy Bain & Company. Initially in private equity, she later joined her then-brand new spin-off, The Bridgespan Group, where “instead of working on turning companies around,” she says, “We’ve worked on some really tough philanthropic and charitable initiatives. We put the rigor and focus on data, but for the toughest problems churches have faced. “

One of her favorite clients was a nuns’ organization in the South Bronx, which at the time was the poorest congressional district in the United States. “You ran a community development company,” says Jennifer. “We showed up with $ 5 million, which increased their budget significantly.”

Jennifer’s team wasn’t just there to offer funding, however. They skillfully guided the nuns in allocating these resources in smarter ways that could best affect their community. “Working with such dedicated people has been a gift and a great way to start my career,” she says.

After joining Bridgespan, Jennifer held fascinating positions in the newly opened (after 300 years!) Scottish Parliament as special advisor, advisor to large organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and director of competitiveness and economic growth at the Center for American Progress.

In 2015, Jennifer received a coveted position in the White House from Obama in the Science and Technology Policy Office. There she found more than one passion for finishing the organ donation list – Jennifer discovered that the best leaders depend on one another.

Solve the world’s problems as one

In the White House, Jennifer was surrounded by the greatest minds and leaders in the world. She was equally fascinated by the spirit of camaraderie and the openness of everyone to share her expertise. The team believed that knowledge sharing is key to major initiatives related to climate change, diversity and equity, scientific innovation and education.

Although Jennifer had some mandatory duties, half of her job was wide open. She directed that in her rare position she “found a problem that she could fix”. “You have no budget,” said Jennifer’s boss. “What you have is your desk, a phone, and a period of time for people to take your call. You are here to rush. You are here to help people across the country. “

“It was an amazing limited time opportunity to serve and do so creatively,” recalls Jennifer. “In some ways, I had incredibly limited resources. In another sense, it is limitless. Where does your fantasy end? “

After speaking with experts, Jennifer focused on ending the organ transplant waiting list. She was drawn to the enormous problems in the current organ donation system in the United States. The US has research, resources, and expertise. “Tens of thousands of organs are not restored every year!” says Jennifer. “That’s crazy!”

The government also has public support for organ donation programs. “Americans have good will to donate organs,” says Jennifer. “Ninety Americans support it. It’s phenomenal. ”

But if so, why are so many viable organs never transplanted while 33 Americans die on the waiting list every day? It was clear that asking for that little donor sticker on a driver’s license wasn’t enough. “The good news,” says Jennifers, “is that it can be repaired.”

“Research says that if we fix the system within three years, we won’t have a heart, livers, and lungs waiting list,” says Jennifer. “Think about what that could mean for families – for the country.

How to run better organ donation programs

With tons of questions, Jennifer reached out to experts to better understand the facts and data. Before finally solving the problem of organ shortage, she had to find out why so few organs were ultimately transplanted.

Jennifer began working with her White House counterparts, health and social care representatives, surgeons, patients, and even her former team in Bridgespan. Her persecution also received engagements with the Department of Defense and private companies in Silicon Valley. “It was an opportunity to involve people and generate ideas,” said Jennifer. “It was exciting and a great catalyst for talent and energy.”

After the research was put together, Jennifer found amazing information. She exposed “really troubling issues with inequality,” says Jennifer. Too often, low-income citizens and people of color have been withdrawn from circulation as both donors and recipients. “Research shows that black families are less likely to be approached about organ donation and have talked less about it when they actually are.”

And while saving lives is always at the forefront of her thinking, Jennifer learned how much money the US can save by ending the organ transplant waiting list. “For every patient who gets a kidney transplant,” says Jennifer, “we save a quarter of a million dollars.

“Most people care more about saving lives – but what an opportunity to save ten billion a year while helping Americans at the same time. It’s huge, exciting, and we have every reason to get it right.”

Jennifer also discovered that leadership is an important part of a successful or failed organ donation program. Many heads of government were largely unaware of the significant problems and relatively simple solutions. Once they were aware of the dates and differences, they wanted to change something quickly.

However, Jennifer also found some leadership and fundraising programs inept or ineffective. In these cases she emphasizes the importance of accountability. After all, human lives are at stake. If the results are not in, the current leadership must change.

She points to the success of a new leadership in San Francisco and Dayton, Ohio as evidence. In 2019, both cities replaced the heads of their organ donation and recovery programs. In San Francisco, organ recovery increased 29% in a year, ”says Jennifer. “When Dayton got a new leader, organ recovery – amid a pandemic – rose over 30% in one year!”

These examples alone show that thousands of lives can be saved every year with the right guidance and the right tools. “I feel a great sense of urgency and excitement about this,” says Jennifer. That is why she continues to advocate a world in which there are no longer waiting lists for organ donations.

“Amazing stuff happens,” she says. “How can we strengthen and speed it up now?”

Go to OrganDonor.gov to ensure that you are correctly registered on your state’s organ donation list.

The conversation with Jennifer Erickson continues Lead with real care Podcast. You will learn about Jennifer’s White House experience, the data and science behind organ transplants, and more! Don’t miss any article or episode of the podcast by signing up my mailing list. You also get a free guide to my favorite mindful resources. Connect with me Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne.



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