Meet Theo Richardson-Gool. An experienced worker in human rights law with a background in humanitarian practice, sustainability as a project manager promoting positive citizen engagement, and working with migrant communities in London. Earlier in his career, he set up a young club in inner-city Bristol. As a CEO, he has built a global public health education charity with a membership covering 20 counties, tackling misinformation, reducing health inequities in low-income countries, and helping young people self-determine pathways to building healthier futures. His approach to leadership is calm, asking questions to elicit answers, instilling inclusive thinking, and confidence in peers to set and cultivate results.
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Table of Contents
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Theo Richardson-Gool: I am asked, how did Public Health Pathways come about?
Throughout February and into early March 2020 as I followed the stats and feared the impending pandemic. It was difficult to ignore the pattern. There was something nefarious about this coronavirus compared to MERS and SARS. The spread was alarming.
By March 16, I was reading – “Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture”, chapter one, Greek Medicine as Paideia: I deciphered — education, striving for excellence in society and agency to determine the self-governance of health-based norms. I thought, – ‘this is what is needed!’ I then ceased reading to ask where the education in public health is today to help us discover pathways to promoting healthier futures.
I proposed a concept with former colleagues and friends, and they shared my concern, seeing the need for community-led innovation. The response was overwhelming, and within weeks we had an organization of 30 members with alumni from IE Business School, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and King’s College London, Harvard, University College London.
Then on April 9, we launched a website and had an event under our former name, Cov360 [initially we started with a focus on COVID, and then our scope expanded to public health education].
That is how the first few weeks went.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up?
Theo Richardson-Gool: The most formidable challenge has been to keep our organization operating without funding. Building a charity without an income and during the pandemic is incredibly challenging, and I would be lying if I suggested I never considered giving up. You have to weather the storms and persist. We have all faced difficult times during the pandemic, and for me, it was to continue with Public Health Pathways and leave my paid job as I took a calculated risk to drive forward.
Through this journey, several people and experiences motivated me to proceed. First, my great uncle Rafiq Abdulla died in January 2020, and he had immense faith in my ability. The way he lived his life inspired me to strive to be inwardly ascetic, bookish and intelligent, and outwardly aesthetic, charming, and passionate. His wife, and then my mother, helped by providing a home from which to work.
The advice and incredible support by the now 60 members of the Public Health Pathways team have been crucial as a source of inspiration. I cannot thank everyone enough for their concentrated work and contributions to building the charity. Whenever I doubt, I listen to their assistance and remind myself of their contributions, motivating me.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. What’s the worst advice you received?
Theo Richardson-Gool: The worst advice was when an experienced, well-qualified person joined and tried to shift the organizational culture to be more confrontational, and less collaborative, more top-down, competitive, as though it were a rush. That initially caused disharmony and then ironically brought us closer together – as we discovered who we were not.
I believe rushing toward success can be a mistake. Being an entrepreneur, you may have innovative ideas, creativity, and cleverness on your side, but you need discipline, prudent financial judgment, and openness to being wrong. As my friend, Tremayne Beckford often reminds me, “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. So the common mistake is to race and expect success, while flexibility, determination, and patience are needed to remain focused.
Resilience is critical in critical times like the ones we are going through now. How would you define resilience?
Theo Richardson-Gool: At our relaunch event in May 2021, my mentor Alan Court, the Senior Advisor to the WHO Ambassador for Global Strategy, answered the question: what is resilience? He attributed us with resilience – after monitoring Public Health Pathways for over a year, and said, “We have to build resilient health systems. That means we have to invest in health ministries, health departments, hospitals, health centers, workforce, health workforce. What’s missing in all of that is the last mile, to actually get some impact at the end of that chain, something that links communities to wherever that chain’s final point is.” Hence, our organizations believe in the local innovations and those of NGOs. So we can bring that back into the chain and “that last mile becomes the beginning of the chain”. Hence our charity believes in co-producing to build resilient solutions.
When you think of your company, 5 years from now, what do you see?
Theo Richardson-Gool: Through our five-year plan, we believe we can have a global presence through an international community that helps cultivate local innovations, embed public health in policy decision-making, and help young people reduce health inequities through education.
We aim to build a Public Health Pathfinders community to the likes of Ashoka’s changemaker community or the Global Shapers of the World Economic Forum. To build a prepared public health society, our grassroots organization believe we can be a catalyst to help develop local and global innovations. Through individual and collective actions, we can co-produce sustainable solutions in three ways:
- We can help young people co-produce solutions that help their communities and self-determine their futures with pathways to better public health.
- Through bi-directional innovation between low to medium income countries and high-income countries, we can reduce health inequities.
- Finally, to combat misinformation, we can promote a culture of information discernment to identify better what is trustworthy and what is not.
At Public Health Pathways, we believe in a world where all generations can discover, create and shape healthier futures.
What do you consider are your strengths when dealing with staff workers, colleagues, senior management, and customers?
Theo Richardson-Gool: At Public Health Pathways, we invest in the doers to bring change. That is, those that want to reinvest their time in social impact projects. My team has told me that my strengths ensure I am available and dependable to work around their schedules, which is crucial when you rely on others using their time to contribute. I send consistent updates to motivate the team, remember everyone’s contributions, input stories, and share the success of those making our organization. Moreover, bilaterally I follow up with people and share an interest in their development. That process, where you validate and recognize the energy that those around you give, is fundamental to working with people.
How important do you think it is for a leader to be mindful of his own brand?
Theo Richardson-Gool: While I believe a leader should reflect their company’s value, I do not focus on my own brand. Before Public Health Pathways, I only had a LinkedIn account. I still don’t have a presence on Twitter or Instagram. In other words, I am quite a private person. This may be a shortcoming, but the organization’s brand presence remains my priority.
Since starting, I learned to recognize the power of marketing strategies. However, my time goes into building our brand to advance education in public health. If I share something online, it is there to subtly or explicitly strengthen our brand.
What’s your favorite leadership style and why?
Theo Richardson-Gool: My approach to leadership is calm, asking questions to elicit answers, instill inclusive thinking and confidence in peers to set and cultivate results.
It is important to be adaptable. That is, working with others on their level, tuning into their interests, and translating your goals in language accessible to their backgrounds. For instance, our team has a broad range of experiences and cultural education covering public health, AI, Engineering, Anthropology, Business, Cognitive Science, and Design. Each interaction across country and profession allows an opening to acquire new ways of seeing. I believe you gain incredible insights at work and in life by asking the correct questions.
Do you think entrepreneurship is something that you’re born with or something that you can learn along the way?
We sometimes hear that there are ‘leadership traits’. I question this. Rather than ‘traits’, are they acquired through the repetition of habits we choose to nurture? Thus, they are free to develop around what fits us personally and what suits our organization.
My academic interest is in philosophy, and my professional background is in human rights law, which requires openness, discipline, and professionalism. Although I carried these skills to Public Health Pathways, I had to find the time to study, read, and upskill to meet different expectations.
What’s your favorite “life lesson” quote and how has it affected your life?
Theo Richardson-Gool: There is a life lesson in the maxim, “It is easier to be wise for others than for ourselves,” – François de La Rochefoucauld.
The maxim has driven me to appreciate the expertise of others as I crowdsource wisdom. So as a CEO, this lesson means uncovering meaning through synthesizing the insights of others and providing direction for new ways to co-produce solutions.
Larry Yatch, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Theo Richardson-Gool for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Theo Richardson-Gool or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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