Interview with Carsten Schicker on Strategic Developments of the World Health Summit

19. September 2023 I   I by : Julia Schmitt

Discover Carsten Schicker's leadership as Managing Director at the World Health Summit. Reflecting on his first 100 days, he provides insights into his initial impressions, the agenda of the upcoming WHS and strategic considerations for the future. 

Mr Schicker, you have been the Managing Director of the World Health Summit since mid-May 2023. How have you experienced your first hundred days in this new position? 

Carsten Schicker: It has been a very steep learning curve. But it's a lot of fun. I'm very lucky to have a fantastic and very experienced team, albeit a small one. But they're working very hard to make sure that the next World Health Summit in October is going to be another success. For me, the first hundred days have been very exciting: I meet fascinating new people every day. Basically, this is very inspiring, having spent most of my career in big corporations with a media focus. It's great to get out of that bubble and into a different bubble and explore what is in there. I have lots of ideas for our future. All the better that the WHS is far from being a burning platform. It's actually become a great success story, growing steadily and being in wonderful shape.  

That sounds really exciting! You’ve already touched on your career path and that you're thrilled to dive into this new bubble of global health. Were there any other aspects that made you want to change your career to this field? 

Carsten Schicker:  I started my professional career as a journalist, then studied law, became a management consultant and started working in rather big corporations which have a strong foothold in the media sector. After spending the last 12 years in one industry, I wanted a change. As a constant learner, I get restless when my personal learning curve flattens. There was also another motivation: I needed a different purpose and to work on something that helps people, if not the world. The WHS is the ideal forum for that.         

The countdown to the WHS is on: It will take place from 15 to 17 October. What are the main themes the World Health Summit is focusing on? 

Carsten Schicker:  There are several big questions this year’s WHS focuses on: What have we learned from COVID-19 and for future pandemic prevention, preparedness and response? How can we recommit to Universal Health Coverage? How can we make sure that planet earth creates sustainable conditions for people, animals, for every living being on this planet? We will also talk about political matters around the G7 and G20 to enhance global health equity and security. Also, digital technologies are a central topic again at this year's World Health Summit. And there's time to celebrate as well: the WHO marks its 75th anniversary and we are happy to have a little surprise for them. There will also be a resource mobilisation event around the global financing facility. So, it's quite a long list. I wish it were a bit shorter. On the one hand, it shows that there are still many problems in global health waiting to be solved. On the other hand, it is also the meta themes that make the WHS even more relevant as a forum for global health. For example, the relationship between digital technologies and health or climate and health. Or the question: How do we finance health in the future? 

Obviously, we can all agree that these topics are super important. The slogan of this year's World Health Summit is: “A Defining Year For Global Health Action.” What makes this year so defining?

Carsten Schicker:
 I'm not a pessimist by nature but I'm sure there will be another pandemic coming, we just don't know when or where. That's just one reason why we need to engage in global health and not stop our efforts because we just came out of this pandemic. We have all seen that global health does not seem to be a hot topic anymore in the public discussion. Other topics have gained more visibility. Many people also had enough of hearing about the pandemic, vaccination and other related topics. But it's quite obvious: Health remains the very basic prerequisite for anything in life. There is no economic development without health, there is no education without health, there is no security without health and most of all, as we all know, there is less happiness in life without health. So, we need to raise our voice and say: ‘Look this is not over, we are not done yet.’ There are still many things we need to do and we also need to shift our local perspective and look at the topic of health on a more global level. And Germany, especially, has a very important role to play there. We can become a very strong soft power in the world through smart engagement in global health. Germany could become, and in some ways it already is, a driving force that chooses dialogue, multilateralism and partnerships over military or economic power play. And that's important for us as well. The World Health Summit was born in Berlin, we have always been in Berlin and we remain visible in Berlin. We also receive strong support from the German government and I believe we are in the right position to drive things forward and make sure that these problems continue to be addressed.  

Would you say that the pandemic has changed the role of the World Health Summit?

Carsten Schicker:  COVID-19 has shown that isolation and silo thinking are clearly not the right answers to solve global problems. We need diversity, equity and inclusion in our debates and in our solutions. The World Health Summit is one of the few forums globally where all sectors, politics, academia, civil society and the private sector come together, argue and hopefully find solutions. And it is not a forum of just the global north. Especially, in the past years we've seen a strong increase in participation from the global south. People from all over the world participate in our panels and discussions and work on solutions. That's actually what we want to become even more: We want to move from being a conference where people meet once a year to a permanent platform where people work on solutions throughout the year and where we serve as a catalyst for these solutions. That's our aspiration.

What concrete opportunities does the World Health Summit provide for our Hub members to network, share outcomes or even make plans for further collaboration? 

Carsten Schicker:  First of all, I would like to invite you all to come, meet and network. As it’s my first World Health Summit, I'm really eager to meet as many people working in global health as possible during these three days. All participants have unique networking opportunities during the entire World Health Summit. We have a wide range of thematically focused sessions where you can interact and contribute to the discussion and solutions. An we are constantly working to become even more interactive and have more interactive formats both during the conference and throughout the year. Obviously, the Global Health Hub Germany has the strongest network of people working on issues of global health in Germany. That's really a treasure for us. So, we are really eager to collaborate with you and have as many of your members as possible at the WHS to also show that Germany is a key player in global health. The goal is powerful collaboration to better engage the strong German community and to broaden the network of that community with the world.

There are also many other global health initiatives and institutions in Berlin. How do you think they can work more closely together and create synergies? 

Carsten Schicker: We need to be clear about what is each initiative's own strength. I come from the private sector where we would ask: ”What's your unique selling proposition?” Then we need to think hard about where we are complementary, or where do we just double the work or create less impact than we would if we combined forces. That obviously needs an honest discussion and I also believe more transparency among each other: about what we are actually working on, about where we have been successful and also be honest about where we have failed. We need to come into a learning mindset both for our own organizations and observing other organizations to see what has worked and what has not worked to collaborate in the best possible way towards our mutual goal: better health for all. 

When you look back in five years’ time, what would you like to have achieved in your position? 

Carsten Schicker:  I wish the WHS to have evolved to the platform for global health. A platform that remains inclusive and science-based, that promotes equity and is regarded as equitable in its approach. A platform that not only fosters discussions and collaboration but catalyses solutions and shapes the global health agenda for the better. If we achieve this, we have made a huge step towards a healthier world for all and also towards Germany being a strong power in that change for the better.

This interview was conducted by Julia Schmitt.

Image source of the top picture: World Health Summit

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Interview with Carsten Schicker, Managing Director of the World Health Summit
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