Gail McGovern, Photographer: Mike McGregor
“Pursue your passion”
Gail McGovern is the American Red Cross longest serving President and CEO other than its founder, Clara Barton. During her tenure, Gail has empowered the organization to better fulfill its mission and prepare for future challenges. Under her leadership, American Red Cross has supported 88 countries and their national societies, and invested more than $1 billion in international humanitarian response, recovery, and preparedness services.
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Gail McGovern, Photographer: Mike McGregor

When asked about her journey to the American Red Cross, Gail speaks of how her family inspired her to give back to the community. As a young woman, she volunteered at hospitals and tutored students. She later earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University, where she was one of 50 women in a student body of 2,000, and an MBA from Columbia University.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, Gail held senior leadership positions at AT&T and Fidelity Investments and was a faculty member at the Harvard Business School. “This venerable institution was facing a series of challenges, but I believed that my business experience, coupled with my commitment to giving back, made this an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” she said of being offered the American Red Cross position in 2008.  

A few weeks after joining the organization, Gail traveled to the Sichuan Valley in China, which had recently been struck by a devastating earthquake. She spoke with many survivors, including a seven-year-old girl standing in front of rubble that had been her school. The girl had been painting outside with her art class when the earthquake hit and was one of only 15 children, among 200 students, who were spared. Gail has said this journey was a pivotal moment for her in recognizing the importance of our Movement’s global humanitarian mission.

In January 2010, an earthquake in Haiti devastated the nation’s infrastructure, killing hundreds of thousands. Gail traveled to the country five times that year to help oversee the American Red Cross provision of food, water, medical care, emergency shelter, and cash grants. Since then, Gail and her team have steered generous support from the American public to help in the recovery and invested $424 million in Haiti’s earthquake recovery over the last decade.

Gail’s work mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors has been a humbling experience, but one that has taught her about leadership and made her more grateful. “I’m a kinder person,” she said.

“It’s a slippery slope, particularly for a woman…but when you’re leading a mission-driven organization, you can always lead from the heart.”

– Gail McGovern, United States of America

Under Gail’s leadership the American Red Cross has also regularly partnered with sister Red Cross and Red Crescent teams to provide aid and hope to migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers around the globe. In August 2021, American Red Cross was asked to care for evacuees from Afghanistan arriving at US military bases at home and abroad. More than 800 Red Crossers answered the call to welcome families in need.

In addition to confronting professional challenges, Gail is also a two-time breast cancer survivor. She received the news about her second diagnosis in January 2010, the day after the earthquake in Haiti. “This challenge has certainly been a personal one—but one that is put in perspective almost daily with the challenges I see in the faces of those we serve,” she said.

“My advice to women – whether they are under 50 or more senior in their careers – is to pursue your passion”

– Gail McGovern, United States of America

Gail was recently recognized as one of Forbes’ 50 over 50, celebrating women who have achieved significant success later in life. “I’ve pivoted many times in my career and my advice to women – whether they are under 50 or more senior in their careers – is to pursue your passion,” she said.

For Gail, one of the strengths of the Red Cross is that it embraces change. Her hero is Clara Barton, and she keeps a quote from the American Red Cross’s founder in her office: “I defy the tyranny of precedent … I go for anything new that might improve the past.”

Gail has devoted the past 14 years to strengthening the American Red Cross and the humanitarian efforts of our international movement. She is a kind, compassionate, and genuine person who lives out our movement’s values in her daily life.

Gail McGovern

United States of America, 2008

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Over 75 countries have established quota policies to ensure more women have leadership roles within domestic politics.

– O’Brien and Rickne, 2016

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