Chief Operating Officer

Helen Keller International
September 10, 2019
New York, NY
Post Type
Experience (minimum)
10+ Years
Education (minimum)
Travel Required?
Base Salary
Not specified


Helen Keller International



Chief Operating Officer

(New York, NY)


Co-founded in 1915 by Helen Keller, Helen Keller International is dedicated to saving and improving the sight and lives of the world’s vulnerable. We combat the causes and consequences of blindness, poor health and malnutrition with more than 120 programs in 19 African and Asian countries, as well as in the United States. Renowned for our reliability, efficiency and high level of technical expertise, Helen Keller promotes the development of large-scale, sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing issues in public health.



HKI is headquartered in New York City with a satellite office in Washington, DC and regional offices in Africa and Asia Pacific, and an affiliate in Europe. With an annual operating budget of about $80 million, and approximately 1000 staff, HKI’s programs are supported by a diverse array of donors, including the governments of the United States, Canada, Ireland and the UK, multilateral including the World Bank and various UN agencies, and numerous foundations and corporate partners.


HKI is a global leader in developing and promoting evidence-based approaches to improve eye health and nutrition and combat neglected tropical diseases. We build programs based on scientific knowledge and local situational analyses, and rely on ongoing program monitoring and evaluation, as well as operations research, to maximize our impact and develop new scientific and programmatic knowledge. We place a high value on documentation and sharing our work particularly through peer-reviewed publications and presentations at scientific fora.


HKI is seeking a Chief Operating Officer to lead global program operations and administrative support services and to ensure the full integration of our matrixed organization.


Functional Relationships

Reporting to the President & CEO, the COO serves on the Executive Management Team (EMT) for the global organization, and guides and directs a diverse team of high-level global and regional directors and managers, who in turn supervise professional teams of their own, including key global administrative function leads (excluding Finance and Human Resources). Internally, the COO helps to animate an integrated and participatory global senior management structure through participation in multiple cross-functional and/or regional teams, especially those led by the CFO, the Chief Program & Innovation Officer and the VP, Human Resources. Externally, the COO represents HKI with relevant partners and external experts on operational matters.


HKI has a matrixed reporting structure with a mix of vertical and horizontal reporting lines intended to balance the need for consistent global standards and compliance with the ability to adapt those standards to be most effective in the many contexts where we work.  Strong communication skills and a spirit of teamwork among colleagues, both hierarchically and laterally, are essential to thrive within this structure.


Scope of the Position

As a member of HKI’s EMT, the COO is a key contributor to strategic global initiatives, and organization-wide planning and decision making. In particular, the COO is responsible for leading strategic planning processes and benchmarking progress.


Harnessing the talents of his/her team, the COO leads the optimization of systems and procedures to ensure that reliable data, information, and knowledge are accessible in as close-to-real-time as possible to key decision-makers throughout the organization, and ensures effective coordination and teamwork among HKI’s functional units, whether part of global management or field offices, to maximize efficiency, productivity, and impact.


In addition, the COO leads the efficient implementation of program objectives and activities by ensuring sound management and optimal performance in all areas of administration including but not limited to project implementation, knowledge management, safety and security, office management, and information technology, while calling upon the expertise and respecting the authority of other subject matter experts


Working closely with relevant staff, the COO ensures all aspects of operations are fully integrated with the work of program teams to fulfill the HKI mission and the objectives established in grants.  The COO likewise ensures the effective integration of all these stakeholders in pro-active business development.


The position is based in New York with periodic travel to field sites, as well as international travel for meetings and training.


Specific Responsibilities


Strategic Planning and Vision

  • Lead periodic strategic planning process and benchmark progress, including ongoing development and supervision of operational performance metrics and dashboards. (Note:  current strategic plan runs from 2017 – 2021.)
  • As a member of the EMT, contribute to strategic global initiatives, and organization-wide planning and decision making in support of HKI’s strategic plan.
  • Provide leadership and direction to the short-, medium- and long-term planning processes of HKI’s programs in Africa and Asia, and support direct reports to ensure implementation of related plans.
  • Identify trends in the sector and their organizational consequences.
  • Identify strategic operational opportunities and potential partnership
  • Spearhead and/or partner with CEO on special projects. Liaise with legal and other external experts to support our internal analysis and decision-making.
  • Search for continuous improvement toward an agile and lean organization..


Management and Operations

  • Manage operations of the US Regional Management Team including soliciting agenda items and compiling agendas, task management, and review, approval, and distribution of meeting minutes with the support of the Executive Assistant.
  • Guide the work of the Global Operations Team and the Africa and Asia Regional Management Teams and their various working groups and steering committees to ensure the success of HKI’s management structure and execution of organizational strategy. Participate in related task forces as needed.
  • Ensure program and operational deliverables are met, maintaining a solid overview of progress against goals, budgets, burn rates, timelines, and challenges, assisting with problem-solving as needed.
  • Monitor and ensure cost-efficiency at Country and Regional Office level in response to fluctuating program portfolios.
  • Provide leadership and oversight of all multi-country and single country programs managed by the Africa and Asia regions.
  • Directly supervise staff charged with supervision and support of country offices and multi-country projects. Provide guidance and oversight to these senior staff and coordination with relevant subject matter experts to build the capacity of Country Directors and their management teams to ensure:
  • Program Managers work closely with finance and operations teams in a collaborative effort to achieve high-quality financial planning, management, reporting and auditing of all offices and programs, including thorough budget preparation and oversight;
  • Sound planning, implementation, and evaluation of all programs and operations;
  • Compliance with HKI standards, policies and procedures, and processes, including for all aspects of human resource planning and performance management;
  • Compliance with donor requirements, including timely and accurate programmatic and financial reporting, and required interim and final reports;
  • Understanding and compliance with host country labor and tax laws, and with internal HR policies and procedures;
  • Coherence with HKI policies and practices as regards compensation, performance management, recruitment, training & development, etc.;
  • Staff is mentored, supervised and evaluated in a way that contributes to an atmosphere conducive to professional growth and development while ensuring accountability to beneficiaries, partners, colleagues, and donors by providing ongoing feedback in a context of mutual respect.
  • Collaborate in the development and implementation of infrastructure improvements to enhance efficiency, safety, and security, knowledge management, risk management, communications and consistency of program operations worldwide:
  • Identify operational challenges that affect the integrity of resource management.
  • Create, lead and/or participate in international workgroups assigned to develop global policies and/or optimize systems and procedures.
  • Review and assess the status of policies, procedures, and workflows, identify gaps or outdated policies and prioritize improvements.
  • Develop and implement systems, tools, and processes to facilitate decision-making and implementation/execution of cross-cutting initiatives, such as business development, knowledge management, communications and program implementation.
  • Where necessary to ensure preventative and corrective action is taken.
  • Lead preparation of and monitor own department budget.


Program Quality Assurance / Research, Advocacy, and Policy

  • Provide guidance and oversight to direct reports and their staff to work effectively with the Chief Program and Innovation Officer (CPIO) and his team of technical program experts to ensure:
  • High quality, optimal impact, sustainability, scalability and cost-effectiveness of all Africa and Asia programs.
  • Technical and operational needs are proactively addressed to ensure quality programs that meet the highest management, scientific and ethical standards.
  • The accurate and timely reporting of program results and deliverables including regular highlights from the country and regional programs.
  • HKI’s work and results from Africa and Asia are presented in peer-reviewed or industry journals, and at presentations at key international meetings.
  • Support direct reports to work with CPIO and his team to:
  • Identify operational research needs and opportunities for partnerships and funding to address these;
  • Lead or support partnerships for research in HKI program areas; and
  • Engage with key regional bodies and fora to foster a supportive policy, planning and funding climate.


Business Development

  • Work with EMT to develop and implement strategies to meet long-term restricted and unrestricted funding needs, including meeting with key donors during trave
  • Work with CPIO and his team to actively scope and identify new partnerships and collaborative opportunities that enhance the quality, depth, and reach of HKI’s w
  • Enhance data and processes needed for effective decision-making and fundraising, ensuring coordination and teamwork among technical, operations and business development staff in support of an efficient and robust proposal development process.
  • Work with CFO to optimize segmented accounting information to inform effective decision especially as it pertains to strategic investments in HKI’s future.




  • Minimum MBA or comparable degree with a minimum of 15 years’ experience in a program operations leadership and management role, with several being in an international NGO environment, or equivalent combination of education and experience.
  • Strong background in the management of complex international and regional programming and operations including direct field experience in Africa and/or Asia-Pacific.
  • Demonstrated understanding of the synergy between the programmatic, operational and financial components of development initiatives both at headquarters and field levels. Experience with public health programs a plus.
  • Strategic vision and deep knowledge of INGO trends, with the ability to anticipate future consequences of those trends, and work with colleagues to incorporate this analysis in the organization strategic plan.
  • Substantial experience with a variety of donors such as USAID, Global Affairs Canada, Irish Aid, UKAid, DfID, World Bank, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, among others.
  • Demonstrated experience with INGO reporting, financial management, procurement, logistics and project management and procedures including demonstrated ability to develop and monitor budgets, and collaboratively manage operational activities of complex programs including sub-grant management.
  • Demonstrated attention to financial anti-corruption efforts.
  • Ability to foster a creative, professional, “open door” management culture; to empower senior staff, managers and staff members to fulfill their potential; and to encourage staff to challenge assumptions.
  • Excellent capacity building, team building/management, and coordination skills. An ability to delegate responsibilities effectively and coach and mentor staff;
  • Ability and willingness to work in challenging and changing environments, and to see through challenges and find solutions
  • Communication and language skills:
  • Excellent interpersonal skills, including the ability to exercise diplomacy and tact as demonstrated in previous roles that required communication with a broad and diverse set of partners such as government, civil society, international organizations, community, and political leaders
  • Excellent oral and written English skills required. (French a plus.) Ability to read, analyze and interpret documents, and to summarize the information succinctly – both verbally and in writing, using an engaging style.
  • Ability to make effective and persuasive presentations on controversial or complex topics to top management and other groups.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of the application of information technologies to HKI financial and operation areas. Advanced Excel skills a strong plus.
  • Ability to resourcefully adapt and plan within circumstances of limited unrestricted resources;
  • An ability to maintain balance when under stress
  • Demonstrable respect for all persons regardless of religion, ethnicity, class or gender, with a high comfort level working in a diverse environment with a demonstrated commitment to high professional ethical standards.
  • Residence in or willingness to relocate to New York, NY
  • Ability and willingness to travel domestically and internationally, up to 25% of the time.


To Apply

Qualified candidates should submit a cover letter and resume to noting the job title in the subject line. Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.


Helen Keller International is dedicated to building an inclusive workforce where diversity is valued.

We are an Equal Opportunity Employer where all qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, disability, or protected veteran status.

We are committed to providing reasonable accommodation to individuals with disabilities.

If you are a qualified individual with a disability and need to request an accommodation during the application or interview process, please contact us at the email above or:

Tel: 646-356-1789; Fax: (212) 532-6014

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