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Alumni matters: 12 Questions with... Natacha Heffinck

Natacha Heffinck

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1. What or who inspired you to become a lawyer?

become a lawyer? My upbringing and work at Ashoka (a social entrepreneurship organisation) inspired me to become a lawyer. 

I spent most of my childhood growing up in various countries in Africa and Asia. The rich diversity (and economic disparity) I encountered in these countries inspired me to take up studies in a field that would have a tangible impact on the lives of others. I first did an international politics degree, with a focus on international law, and then a BA in law. 

In 2005, I moved to Mumbai to work as a legislative assistant for Ashoka, wanting to learn first-hand what a legal career would entail. I worked with the Law for All Initiative, conducting field research in remote villages across the country, meeting with social entrepreneurs to better understand where the law had been/could be used to advance their work. This was the final push I needed to become a lawyer.

2. Why did you decide to join the Global Fund?

I joined the Global Fund at a junction in my career where I was ready to translate the invaluable skills I acquired through my work at HSF (particularly under the mentorship of Andrew Lidbetter and Nik Kiri) into something more personally fulfilling and international. 

I am now Principal Legal Counsel at the Global Fund, advising country teams across West and Central Africa and South and Southeast Asia on grant design, negotiation and implementation. I also advise on the drafting of organisational level policy and provide legal support to our Grant Approvals Committee. Finally, since the pandemic started, I have been actively involved in the design of the Covid-19 Response Mechanism. 

3. As Principal Legal Counsel for the Global Fund, the Covid-19 pandemic must have had a significant impact on your work and highlighted its importance. Can you tell us more about that?

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the fight against HIV, TB and malaria.

In early 2020, the Global Fund launched the Covid-19 Response Mechanism (C19RM) to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the three diseases. Most recently, we received over US$3.5 billion from the US and German Governments to fund the C19RM. I have been very closely involved in the development, design and implementation of the mechanism and work with my country teams to help ensure that the funding gets to those countries expeditiously and with the adequate assurance and oversight mechanisms in place. 

Separately, as our grants operate on a three-year cycle, many of them were due to end in 2020. Grant-making had to, therefore, be done entirely remotely. It was quite a challenge for everyone involved, but our teams managed to sign 157 grants by December 2020, with a value of US$8.1 billion. 

4. How close are we to ending AIDS, TB and malaria as epidemics?

I wish I was asked this question in 2019. The pandemic has unfortunately taken a toll on global health systems, including efforts to fight the three diseases, and threatens to reverse the health gains of the last two decades. 

This has made the fund-raising efforts for C19RM (and other Covid-19 response efforts) all the more important for the following activities: (1) Covid-19 control and containment; (2) Covid-19-related risk mitigation for programmes to fight the three diseases; and (3) reinforcement of health systems, generally. 

Despite the pandemic, the aim is still to achieve the ambitious Sustainable Development Goal targets of ending the epidemics by 2030. To that end, the Global Fund is working hard with its implementers and partners to get these targets back on track and safeguard and accelerate existing gains, while at the same time exploring ways to build health systems to deal with the current (and possibly future) pandemic(s).

5. How do you feel that a global urgency and focus on ESG, both from business and government, is influencing or helping the Global Fund and its work (if at all)?

For one, the Global Fund, as an organisation, takes ESG very seriously. For a few years now, it has an ESG Investment Framework in place to ensure alignment between its investment management and its strategic objectives, values and principles. 

Separately, in terms of external funding, the focus on ESG is certainly an influencing factor. There has been an increase in private sector and government contributions for our last replenishment. The increased focus on ESG principles may also have had a spill-over effect on our private sector engagement. The Global Fund works with many private sector partners on delivery innovation and alternative funding mechanisms. In case of interest, I’ve included a link here for further details: https://www.theglobalfund. org/en/private-ngo-partners/.

6. What career path would you have taken had you not become a lawyer?

I never had a plan b! I have many interests outside of work (jazz, travel, running, snowboarding etc.) but none that would have led me to a different career path. 

7. What’s the most unusual request you’ve ever had from a client?

I have been quite fortunate to have had very pleasant clients over my career (at HSF and elsewhere). Maybe the most unusual request was being asked to get documents signed while the client was at a dinner party – running them through the final changes while their guests patiently waited, to make sure all was in order before submission the next day. 

8. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?

It would probably come from my rowing coach, Jimmy King, when I decided to leave the team in my final year of undergraduate studies. I was coming off the back of a long injury and knew this was the right time to move on. I was worried about letting the team down, but he was clear that I would only be of benefit to any team if I took care of myself first. That is a good life lesson on all fronts – especially given the demands of the legal sector.

9. Tell us about one of your proudest achievements

I have two – my daughters, Talya and Aline. They are kind, smart and strong-willed people, who will hopefully grow up to do good things. They are at home wherever my husband and I are, and I hope we can instil in them the sense of open-mindedness, respect for others and wanderlust I had growing up to mixed heritage parents of my own. 

10. What’s something funny or interesting people don’t know about you?

Maybe one that people wouldn’t know is that one of my first languages was Portuguese. I moved to Angola when I was three weeks old (I don’t remember any of it now, however!). 

11. If you could invite any four people to a special dinner party, who would it be and why?

  1. An athlete – I love sport, especially athletics. Any of Eliud Kipchoge, Haile Gebrselassie, Kara Goucher or Alison Felix. They all have fascinating personal stories, notwithstanding their impressive sports achievements.
  2. An author – Arundhati Roy or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (ideally both if they were free!). They have very informed perspectives on race, religion and politics, which I would like to probe into more.
  3. A musician – Joshua Redman or Daniel Barenboim and his piano. I have been a long-time fan of jazz and never missed a Redman performance in London. More recently, during the pandemic, I have discovered Barenboim’s music and am hooked. 
  4. Trevor Noah, who would masterfully orchestrate the conversation at dinner.

12. Where is the first country you will be travelling to post-pandemic and why?

I spend a lot of time thinking about this. On a personal front, in order: Belgium to see my parents; the UK to see our friends and to revisit our favourite restaurants; and the Philippines (preferably Siargao or Palawan for a month – wouldn’t that be lovely!). On the work front, any of the countries I advise. My last mission was to Kachin State in Myanmar in December 2019.