From Dyson College to Global CEO
José Luis Castro ‘88 is a man who has improved public health worldwide and transformed many lives along the way. A leader in international tuberculosis control and other public health programs, Castro is the chief executive officer (CEO) of two separate international health organizations, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, a 96-year-old organization headquartered in Paris, and Vital Strategies, a global health organization that seeks to accelerate progress on the world’s most pressing health problems, headquartered in New York City.
As the CEO, Castro is responsible for leading the development and execution of the long-term strategy of both organizations with a view to creating lasting and significant impact upon global health.
Castro holds a BA in Political Science from Pace University’s Dyson College, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the university in 2005. He holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Castro spoke with the Dyson Digital Digest about his life-saving work and reflects upon his Pace University days.
What is a typical day like for you?
My work days are very long, usually 12 – 15 hours. I start every day at 5am and exercise for one hour, mainly running. Following this, I write for an hour or two. At the office, I usually structure my day to work on strategic issues of the organization during the morning, and then focus on operational issues during the afternoon. I try to speak to at least 10 different staff members every day by phone or in person. I spend a lot time during the day in conference calls with international experts and CEOs of other organizations working on global health.
My work involves extensive international travel, usually 10 to 12 days every month. Depending on which part of the world I am, my work hours change. Sometimes I may have to join conference calls at 3am or very late at night.
An interesting part of my job is that often I meet or speak with ministers of health of different countries, heads of state, royalty, sports celebrities, heads of international organizations, journalists, medical experts, scientists, patients receiving treatment or former patients.
What is the most memorable or meaningful experience you’ve had on the job?
While writing and preparing a book we published about patients who survived multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), I met a young man who was an MDR-TB patient who had been cured after more than 22 months in treatment and even had to have a lung removed. At the end of the interview the mother hugged her son and this moment was captured by our photographer.
This photo, which I display prominently, is a reminder of how important it is we do our work well. The TB patients are not just statistics. They are somebody’s son. Somebody’s sister. They are people who are very important to their loved ones and their communities. It is moments like those that make it worthwhile to go through all the challenges and difficulties of the work we do.
As a Dyson College undergraduate student, is this the future you imagined or planned for yourself?
I have always been a builder, organizer and a teacher. I founded student groups in the arts, history and first aid. As a college student I was elected treasurer of the student government and president of the World Politics Society. In my senior year while serving as president of Pi Gamm Mu, the international social sciences honor society chapter at Pace, I organized a “year of leadership in programs and in services” that catapulted the chapter to gain national and international recognition. It won the highest award from the international society that year. I also led the Pace Model United Nations team to win the top award in the National Model United Nations competition of 1987.
I wanted to go on building organizations that would serve the public. In public health, I found this opportunity. I helped build the New York City Bureau of Tuberculosis Control in the 1990s during the City’s biggest tuberculosis epidemic and it is still being used for that. Later, I advised the government of India, helping that country build its national tuberculosis control program in 1998. I went on to establish the World Lung Foundation, the International Management Development Programme, The Union’s South-East Asia office in New Delhi and The Union’s Asia Pacific Office in Singapore. All of these organizations have had a huge impact in people’s lives.
Why was it important for you to dedicate your time and talent to the Model UN team?
The Model UN team program at Pace is a unique experience for any student at Pace. It is a place that allows him or her to develop competencies in academic and practical skills. The Model UN program prepared me remarkably well for my current job. I apply many of the skills of communication, diplomacy and research to my job in global health and leading my organizations.
Can you describe how and why as a young man you came to major in political science?
I left Cuba as a child when my family emigrated to the United States. The government of Cuba had classified my family as “undesirables” for having different views from the government there. I was always curious about political processes and how governments made policy, especially how issues are agitated and settled by different interest groups in a society. I found that studying politics at Pace enabled me to learn and understand about different political systems around the world and in particular about the United Nations and its role.
You also served as a Pace University lecturer while working for the City of New York. What motivated you to teach?
I love teaching and learning. As a teacher I had to prepare a lot for my classes and I found this to be intellectually stimulating. I also wanted to give back to Pace because the university has been so good to me, and teaching and helping other students learn was a way to do this.
What advice do you have for a current student or recent graduate wishing to pursue a career in international development?
There are many opportunities to become involved. The need for talent and people who get things done is huge. Students should prepare themselves well in communications, leadership, and management. Get involved with a local or international organization as an intern that allows them to practice and learn in the field. I also like to share the advice my grandfather gave me when I started working: Listen a lot, speak little, and work very hard.
Is there anything else you’d like to share or think our readers should know?
That everybody needs a mentor, a teacher, or an associate that helps them learn and understand the world better. I was fortunate enough to have Professor Linda Quest as a mentor at Pace and will always be very grateful for the opportunity to have studied international politics with her. She is definitely one of the brightest people I have ever met.