Susan Krenn, who worked her way up over the past 36 years from a job in the media library to become executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, is retiring effective Jan. 8.
Krenn is the heart and soul of CCP, helping build it into the largest center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and overseeing $100 million in programming each year in more than 40 countries. At the same time, she has become a beloved leader in the field of social and behavior change, helming the bi-annual International SBCC Summit since it was launched in Ethiopia in 2016.
“When I joined what is now CCP in 1985, I couldn’t even imagine that I would spend my entire career here, learning, growing and thriving alongside CCP across these many years,” she said. “It has been such an honor to be part of the phenomenally talented and passionate CCP team and a truly wonderful journey.”
Krenn’s tenure at CCP spans the globe. Prior to assuming the role of the center’s executive director in 2009, she was director of CCP’s Strategic Communication Program Unit. She also served as regional director for CCP’s Africa Division between 1994 and 2008. Susan has worked professionally in Africa, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean, including a three-year field position in Nigeria.
“I have admired her leadership from up close and seen her solve major problems with ease, drawing on the vast experience she has accumulated and the outstanding talent she has fostered at CCP,” says Rajiv N. Rimal, PhD, chair of the Department of Health Behavior and Society, where CCP is housed. “And she has always done so with a great sense of humor. She makes it look easy when it’s anything but, which often belies the hard work underneath. We will all miss her.”
Under Krenn’s leadership, CCP has continued to flourish and grow. It has more than 750 employees throughout the world and repeatedly wins competitively bid projects large and small, including Breakthrough ACTION, Knowledge SUCCESS and the Nigeria Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI), to name a few. In NURHI, enormous strides were made to improve the uptake of modern contraception in a place where family planning was not the norm.
Krenn is uniformly admired by her colleagues. Her inclusive leadership and mentorship style has left indelible marks on CCP and contributed to the development of public health leaders in dozens of countries.
She has positioned the center to play a leadership role responding to various public health crises, including Ebola, Zika and, most recently, COVID-19. She stood side-by-side at a news conference with then-President Barack Obama in the early days of the Ebola crisis in West Africa. During the current pandemic, CCP again went to work, awarded nearly $27 million to work in 22 countries on COVID-prevention messaging, including vaccination. She also oversaw a groundbreaking effort to create a COVID Behaviors Dashboard, which includes information from what is believed to be the world’s largest daily survey of COVID knowledge, attitudes and practices.
She has long been a champion for women and girls, helping put them on the footing they need to live healthier and more empowered lives.
“She’s not just our director,” says William Glass, MS, one of CCP’s deputy directors. “People around the world look to Susan as one of the pillars in this field.
“She has been involved in groundbreaking work for decades. She continues to push us to innovate. She wants us to always be at the forefront.”
One thing that sets Krenn apart is the way she cares deeply about the work, the people who are impacted by it and the people who are employed by CCP around the world. When the U.S. government announced in March 2020 it would be closing borders to some from overseas, Krenn leapt into action.
She stayed on the phone all night to personally help change reservations for team members who were in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Guinea. “She was going to make sure everyone every one of our people could get a ticket home,” Glass recalls.
The unassuming Krenn should not be underestimated, colleagues say. Not only is she protective of her team, she also does not shy from challenges. After the social unrest following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, she worked with others at CCP to create a center-wide Anti-Racist Action Group to examine how we could do better in our own environment.
“She’s able to be a strong manager shepherding a $100-million operation while at the same time being one of the most empathetic people I know,” says CCP’s Alice Payne Merritt, MPH, another deputy director. “Every single person in every single context in which she has worked feels that.”