Franklin Baer ’72: Culture for Service Award Winner
Baertracks: Health Systems Development | Former Senior advisor to IMA World Health and vice president of SANRU NGO
Biology and natural sciences major
Franklin Baer ’72 is a citizen of the world, devoting his life’s work to international health care programs in 30 countries over the span of 35 years.
His lifetime of service includes 20 years as a senior advisor-consultant for Interchurch Medical Assistance (IMA) World Health and as founding member and vice president for Sante Rurale (SANRU) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Today, Baer continues to build bridges across diverse groups, strengthening health systems through design, management, leadership training and creativity.
A biology and natural sciences major at Goshen College, Baer traces much of his formative experience, prior to his work with global health, back to Goshen.
“It is not difficult, in retrospect, to recognize that my four years in the blending environment of Goshen College shaped me significantly in terms of beliefs, spirit, culture and service,” Baer said. “However, it is difficult to tease apart the threads of Goshen College, for they have become finely woven into the fabric of my being.”
Upon graduation, Baer and his wife, Retha Yoder Baer ’71, volunteered with the Teachers Abroad Program (TAP) in Zaire, now the DRC, through Mennonite Central Committee. After Baer and his wife earned diplomas from the Antwerp School of Tropical Medicine, Baer went on to receive a master’s degree in tropical medicine from Johns Hopkins in 1976. During his seven years with MCC, Baer helped to create one of the first decentralized health zones in Zaire to be managed by a faith-based organization.
“Starting with his early years of international service with the Mennonite Central Committee, Frank has chosen a career to serve Christ through his work primarily focusing on agencies of the church,” said Paul Derstine, retired president and CEO of IMA World Health. “Along the way, he has mentored countless colleagues to become strong leaders within the Protestant and Catholic faiths in places such as the Congo, Liberia, South Sudan and Haiti.”
Baer earned his doctorate in public health from Tulane University in 1982, after which he served for 10 years as the project manager of the USAID-funded SANRU Basic Rural Health project in Zaire. That project supported the creation of 100 of DRC’s 200 decentralized health zones with half managed by church-based health networks.
After leaving Zaire in 1991, Baer became a freelance consultant specializing in consensus-building, integrated design, leadership training and participatory evaluation of primary health care systems in collaboration with faith-based organizations and non-governmental organizations.
From 2006-2013, for example, Baer helped the Ministry of Health of Liberia to apply system strengthening and decentralization strategies to rebuild that country’s war-torn health system.
“When expertise is needed to develop or review healthcare programs, Frank’s name is generally at the top of the list of numerous major development organizations, particularly those with a focus on Africa,” Derstine said.
Over the years he has served as a technical consultant to most of the major donor and Non-
Governmental Organizations for assignments in health systems strengthening. In 2017, he was awarded the Christian International Health Champion Award by the Christian Connections for International Health (CCIH), for his dedication to global health from a Christian perspective.
In 2019, he received the Global Achievement Award from Johns Hopkins University.
“It seems that Frank never stops learning about public health systems applications and best practices through his lifelong approach to applied creativity,” said Scott Todd, former IMA World Health program officer. “His application of this practice has been consistent, leading him and others to explore new solutions and learning, whether in a Washington D.C. boardroom or the most remote Congo village.”
When Baer isn’t traveling, he is an active member of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
As Baer now eases into retirement, he continues to work around the world from his home office. He hopes to return to the DRC at least once a year to support SANRU health zones and faith-based partners in providing quality health care across that vast nation.
“Life is full of minor and major events that influence our lives in known and unknown ways,” Baer said. “It is apparent that God’s hand directed us down a particular series of pathways and that he will continue to do so for our future.”
Those who know Baer agree.
“There never seems to be a conflict with those of differing worldviews,” Todd said. “His primary focus remains on serving God through understanding and improving health systems in any and every community that he has been led to around the world.”
－Mackenzie Miller ’21