Nomsa Khalfani, Ph.D., and Amy Moy are Co-CEOs at the helm of Essential Access Health, a non-profit organization advancing health equity and quality, patient-centered sexual and reproductive health care for all.
As the landscape has dramatically changed in a post-Roe environment, and our national reckoning around race and equity has evolved, so has the concept of leadership. Enter the Co-CEO model, a fresh approach to leading an organization that has gained traction across industries.
Although the Co-CEO framework is often seen as a transitional or crisis stop-gap solution, it can be an effective strategy to help leaders, teams, and companies thrive.
Co-Leadership: Amplifying Impact
Nomsa and Amy’s diverse backgrounds enable them to leverage their individual strengths. With Nomsa spearheading strategic planning for programs and initiatives and Amy taking charge of fund development and state and federal policy, they form a powerful partnership. Together, they not only enhance each other’s abilities but also foster a collaborative and innovative atmosphere within the organization.
“By working collaboratively and leveraging our combined strengths, we can advance current work and take time to think beyond day-to-day operations. As leaders in a shifting landscape, we have to keep the wheels turning while planning for and envisioning how we will help shape the future of a more just and equitable sexual and reproductive health care delivery system,” Amy shared.
Nomsa built on that concept, “As two dynamic women of color in leadership positions at this pivotal time, we are committed to uplifting the experiences of folks living on the margins and bringing their voices to the center. We are leading from the inside out to address, name, and disrupt the racist systems and root causes of healthcare inequities in our communities and ensure that our work environment is aligned with our mission and values. This facilitates staff across the organization feeling seen, heard, and valued.”
The Co-CEOs agree that leading together has increased their effectiveness. “The Co-CEO model allows us to have a sounding board to inform our shared decision-making process and fosters greater accountability to our teams and each other. With a partnership built on trust, we can call out issues that we may be individually too close to see clearly. We are proud of the progress we have made so far – in less than a year, under our Co-CEO partnership, our organization’s financial position is stronger than ever before, and this positions us to think more boldly about what is possible today – and as we look ahead,” Amy said.
The Co-CEO model is often looked to as a temporary model during a time of transition, but it can provide sustainability on many levels. “The traditional CEO role doesn’t allow much space for work-life balance, family time, or self-care. Being constantly on the go with all things on one set of shoulders can lead to burnout if there’s no balance. Having a partner that can take the reins enables us to be our best at work and home,” Nomsa added.
Amy builds on this concept, “This also lays the groundwork for how we strive to lead Essential Access teams. We want people to feel their best when doing this important work. So that means creating a sustainable work environment that values the well-being of our staff first and foremost because they are our most important asset.”
Drawing inspiration from their family’s resilience and strength, Nomsa and Amy have channeled these qualities into their leadership roles at Essential Access Health, using their personal experiences as a driving force for change.
Nomsa credits the powerful legacies of her grandmothers, Minnie and Teresa, and great-grandmothers, Laura, Anna Bell, and Sarah, for finding a career where she could help people. “These women were survivors. They navigated tough times together as a family, leaving an indelible mark on their community. Their values were instilled in me, and giving back has become integral to my personal and professional identity.”
After completing her undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, Nomsa, a working mom, pursued and completed her Ph.D. in counseling, signifying more than academic prowess. The accomplishment also represented Nomsa’s unwavering dedication to creating meaningful change not just through institutional systems but by offering people who looked like her, from places similar to where she came from holistic support with an intersectional approach.
“Nomsa’s behavioral health expertise and nonprofit leadership background bring a human-centered approach to developing programs, initiatives, and training so patients and community members can get the care they want and need,” Amy said.
As the granddaughter of Chinese immigrants with 12 children, Amy was acutely aware of the profound impact of what a lack of access to contraception meant for low-income immigrant women like her grandmother. An unintended pregnancy while attending Ithaca College ignited Amy’s passion for ensuring others would continue to have access to reproductive health care.
“Fortunately, because of my close relationship with my mom, I could talk with her and explain what I thought was right for me. So as a first-year student, I visited a Planned Parenthood while holding my mom’s hand and received the care I needed without judgment or shame,” says Amy.
Amy’s experience led to an internship with the same Planned Parenthood affiliate that provided her with care. A few years later, she began her career at Planned Parenthood in New York City, honing her media relations, public affairs, and community organizing skills. She has carried her personal experience and early work with her as she has served in leadership positions in the sexual and reproductive health care field for over two decades.
“Amy, a mother, and an ally, is on the frontlines. She cares deeply about the work that is her life’s purpose and has built a keen sense of policy by “reading the tea leaves” of what might be on the horizon. I couldn’t imagine leading an organization that’s all about championing equitable health care with dignity and respect at this point in time without partnering with her,” Nomsa said.
Embracing Authentic Leadership
Despite the hurdles Nomsa and Amy have faced on their career journey, they have persevered, learning to embrace their unique voices and identities in the face of adversity. They both discovered the importance of balancing asserting themselves and fostering open communication with their colleagues.
For Nomsa, working in a field that hasn’t always been welcoming to Black women presented unique obstacles. Her passion was sometimes misconstrued as aggressive, loud, or even disruptive. “I realized that to lead authentically; I sometimes need to pull up my own table and chair and own the spaces I’m in, even if that means being loud. But it was just as crucial to adjust my style. I want people to hear me without putting up barriers, allowing them to recognize the problem-solving and strategic mindset I bring to the work and conversation,” Nomsa said.
Amy faced different challenges due to her half-Chinese background. The stereotype of Asian women being quiet, subservient, and small sometimes influenced how she was perceived. “I had to unlearn some stereotypes and social engineering messages like ‘the model minority, hands folded on the desk’ to truly unlock and own my voice. Embracing leadership meant letting go of the need to please others. It also involves asking the right questions and genuinely listening to various perspectives to inform our programs and policies internally and externally,” Amy explained.
Nomsa Khalfani and Amy Moy’s powerful partnership as Co-CEOs showcases the potential of shared leadership in fostering a collaborative, diverse, and thriving business culture. By breaking down barriers and shattering stereotypes, they have proven that two heads can be better than one, offering valuable lessons for a more inclusive and effective workplace. As we navigate the evolving landscape of business, embracing the power of partnership has the potential to propel organizations forward, creating lasting, positive change.