Health Initiative/

Estelle Willie

Director, Health Policy and CommunicationsHealth Initiative, The Rockefeller Foundation

Estelle joined The Rockefeller Foundation in 2019 and serves as the Director of Health Policy and Communications. She is a leading media and global health strategist, and an expert at knowledge translation, coalition building, and information ecosystems. As a senior leader of the Foundation’s Communications, Policy, and Advocacy team, she designs strategic initiatives for urgent global health issues. This includes managing over $50M in grant investments, co-creating public-private partnerships, building advocacy coalitions, and developing engagement strategies that reach and influence decisionmakers.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Estelle built programs and initiatives to fill gaps and initiate action in the global health response efforts. For example, Estelle designed The Rockefeller Foundation’s $23M Equity-First Vaccination Initiative (EVI), which supported hyperlocal, community-led programs to improve access to vaccination and accurate information in communities of color. Following the White House’s endorsement, learnings from EVI are being incorporated into public health programs across the United States. Estelle also created the Mercury Project, which supports causal research to find scalable and cost-effective ways to support evidence-based decision making. After raising over $20M in co-funding for the project, the Mercury Project consortium now consists of 90+ social and behavioral researchers with projects in 70 countries.

Estelle’s Covid-19 communications initiatives included building a narrative for Covid-19 testing in schools that paired evidence on the efficacy and effectiveness of routine testing programs to keep schools open with engagement strategies that included convenings, thought leadership, government relations, and media engagement. Through this work, The Rockefeller Foundation reached policy makers, health experts, educators, and parents on the value of routine testing to keep schools open and children safe. This work helped paved the way for $10B  federal program for routine testing of students, teachers, and staff through the American Rescue Plan.

Estelle launched a bi-weekly Covid-19 Communications Community of Practice that convened 21 times and engaged 950 participants from over 300 organizations. She also supported the Covid Testing Communications Toolkit, and media partnerships with 211, United Way, Global Citizen, Ad Council (among others) to translate Covid-19 evidence into practical information for decision-makers and the public, reaching millions of people.

Prior to joining the Foundation, Estelle served as Vice President of Social Impact at Weber Shandwick. In this role, Estelle served as an advisor to Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the foundation created by craigslist founder Craig Newmark to advance democracy and served as the HIV Franchise Communications Lead for Merck/MSD, helping to launch a global HIV campaign in partnership with Prevention Access Campaign. She also provided strategic counsel on social impact initiatives for Unilver, AB InBev, IBM Foundation, and the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. Previously, Estelle worked as a communications consultant for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to raise awareness of HIV and STD prevention, comprehensive sex education, TB and viral hepatitis elimination, and LGBT health. Estelle started her career as a Health Fellow on Capitol Hill for Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA).

Estelle earned a Master of Public Health in Health Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from The George Washington University in Washington, DC. She is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Authored Content

  • Apr 26 2022
    Grantee Impact Story Using Google Search Insights to Increase Vaccine Confidence and Demand In the first year of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, the United States struggled to reach the most vulnerable communities, with Black, brown, indigenous, and immigrant communities less likely to get a vaccine but more likely to get seriously ill and die of Covid-19. Community-based organizations, who have served on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, have […] Estelle Willie
  • Mar 29 2022
    Perspective Data Helps Us Paint a New Portrait of America—and Ways to Communicate One unfortunate axiom in communications work is: if it bleeds, it leads. Another might be: a divider is a headliner. We have seen this at play throughout the news coverage and social media conversations of the Covid-19 pandemic. Countless examples of unity, community, and mutual understanding in the face of tragedy have been overshadowed by […] Estelle Willie
  • Dec 16 2021
    Perspective Building a Community of Covid Communicators Our Community of Practice is giving public health communicators a place to learn, share and cope with the Pandemic Covid-19 reminded the world just how crucial effective communication is in a crisis. Public health communicators have been on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years, wrestling with new issues and needs nearly […] Estelle Willie
  • Jul 27 2021
    Perspective Misinformation Is the Biggest Threat to Ending This Pandemic Myths about Covid-19 vaccines abound: “The Covid-19 vaccines will make you infertile” “Covid-19 vaccines don’t work” “The government put a microchip in the Covid-19 vaccines” “The Covid-19 vaccines create variants” Each of those statements is false, but they are spreading widely, and studies show this type of misinformation can reduce someone’s desire to take the […] Estelle Willie