“I thought I knew about Liz Maguire’s impressive career as a champion of family planning, reproductive health, and safe abortion. As she recounts in her memoir, we met in the early 1980s, when she was project officer for my first project funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In retrospect, it’s amazing that we survived a perilous four-hour ride with an open gas can bouncing in the back section of the rundown taxi. By 1993, Liz had risen to the prestigious position of Director of the Office of Population at USAID, the first woman to hold this job. And when in 1999 she assumed the position of CEO of Ipas, the leading international organization for safe abortion, I readily accepted her offer to serve on the Board of Directors.
What didn’t I know about Liz’s career? A lot, it turns out from reading her exceptional memoir Advancing Reproductive Choice: Leading with Conviction and Compassion. This volume pieces together how her initial interest in romance languages and an international career led to graduate studies in demography and sociology at Georgetown University and jumpstarted her career in population and family planning. The memoir recounts how she progressed through the ranks to the top job at the USAID Office of Population and how the work of this Office expanded in countries worldwide under her leadership. USAID remains the undisputed leader in international family planning, but it operates under burdensome political, legal and regulatory constraints, especially in relation to abortion. Thus, Liz’s career took a truly radical turn when, after 22 years at USAID, she left to assume the role of CEO at Ipas, a non-governmental organization that operates unfettered by government regulations. Instead, she faced the challenges of working in unquestionably the most controversial area of reproductive health. The book chronicles the progress made in this field over the 16 years of Liz’s tenure at Ipas and represents an important historical account of the organization’s work over this period. It also provides useful insights into the strategic approach that Liz took in guiding the work of this organization through political minefields as it expanded its funding, staff, and operations worldwide.
The upbeat tone of the book provides valuable insight into Liz’s success as a leader in this field. Forever an optimist (though also a realist), Liz took on new challenges as opportunities. With an indefatigable work ethic, Liz recruited excellent staff and motivated those around her to rise to her own level of performance. Always generous in giving credit to others on her team, Liz led by example. She was equally at ease in meeting Presidents and dignitaries as in visiting with providers and clients in the slums of Mexico, India, or Africa.
For those of us who knew “part of the story,” it was particularly rewarding to learn more of the details of Liz’s personal life. The book begins with an account of the early years: the family that nurtured her to be the curious and lively young person ready to make her mark on the world; her early travels in France and Italy; her first job with the Voice of America; and her chance encounter with Terry Maguire, who would become her husband and lifelong partner. Later in the book, she returns to her private life following her retirement from Ipas in 2015 (and her longing to return to their second home in Nice, France, post – pandemic).
She ends her memoir with reflections on living her core values, threading quotes from persons she has admired with descriptions of how she has lived these values: passion, empowerment, perseverance; compassion, love and friendship, gratitude; smiling, enthusiasm, optimism; kindness, honesty, humility; curiosity, adventure, and continuous learning.
Her gift to the next generation comes in her final chapter on “thoughts on leadership.” She recommends authors whose work may be useful, then goes on to discuss the responsibilities of leaders, personal leadership qualities, and leadership during challenging times. And consistent with her current efforts to mentor young people in this field, she concludes with “empowering the next generation.”
Those of us who work in international development often joke that we are trying to save the world. Liz Maguire comes about as close as anyone I’ve met in accomplishing that goal, through her tireless work to improve the lives of women and girls worldwide. Her memoir provides the blueprint of how she accomplished so much over her 45-year career and will undoubtedly inspire many a young reader to “want to be Liz Maguire” when they grow up. It will be a tough act to follow.”
“Ms. Maguire has done a beautiful job on so many levels with this book. She captures, through the remarkable path of her personal journey, the arc of history in this transformative era for women’s reproductive rights and health. Her career spanned decades in which the recognition of women’s needs for reproductive services moved from the construct of control to the vision of empowerment. Women’s inherent right for reproductive autonomy and justice emerged as the defining characteristic of a field that for too long failed to acknowledge that truth. Maguire’s book describes the reality of turning priorities into actual practice that can change the course of a woman’s life. Maguire describes with candor and compassion the many dedicated and visionary people she met along her path that helped bring about change on a global level. Much remains to be done, as she describes, and the challenges can be discouraging, but the courage of the partners she describes from all corners of the world give hope for continuing progress. Her heartfelt and inspiring vision of leadership offers a path that builds community and commitment. This personal narrative gives insight into how the journey of one can bring real change to this complex world.”
“This is a fascinating and surprising book on many levels. It is a story about the author's long and ground-breaking career advancing women's reproductive health and rights, but it is also a frank and charming story of her early life, combined with wonderful vignettes from the experiences she and her husband shared in rebuilding an old house in Nice and living and traveling in France and the rest of the world. She also shares core life values and guiding principles that would benefit anyone's life and career. The main focus of the book, however, is on reproductive health and on this subject Ms. Maguire has a unique vantage-point. While the struggle to provide family planning and abortion rights goes back to the early 19th century, Ms. Maguire’s career, spanning the last three decades of the 20th century and into the 21st, have seen the most revolutionary progress in this area in both the developed and developing world. The book accurately reports on that progress and also on what remains to be done in easy-to-read, non-bureaucratic prose. It gives well-earned and overdue tribute to the many professionals around the world working, often under difficult conditions, to advance women's reproductive health and rights. It deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone who cares about these issues.”
“Having worked with Liz Maguire while at USAID, I have always admired her dedication and skills in supporting comprehensive reproductive services to people around the world. This gives a broad perspective on where and how this was done, including mentioning the many people who have had such an important impact on making change.”
“Liz Maguire’s reflections on her career advancing reproductive choice provide insight not only into her life and incredible professional legacy, but also about the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights as a whole. From her early days at the Population Reference Bureau, collaborating with the who’s who of family planning, through her time at USAID including co-leading on the US delegation to the International Conference on Population and Development (among other remarkable accomplishments), she tells the story of the evolving family planning field and what it was like to be a woman doing that work. Her thorough and thoughtful recounting of her time at Ipas explores even more specifically her emphasis on advocacy for safe abortion and ensuring that women and girls have the ability to control their bodies, their health, and their lives. Throughout her career she paved the way for the women who followed her, and as she notes in her final chapter, she continues to mentor and support people working in this field to this day. Those who know Liz will be delighted to learn more about her family and life before and after her long career. Those who don’t know Liz will appreciate the chance to get to know her through her memoir.”
“This is a magnificent book for anyone interested in development cooperation. Elizabeth Maguire writes about her decades of experience throughout Africa and Asia as well leading a large international NGO. Her dedication and knowledge have led to her life as a strong advocate for women's health and rights, no matter where they live or how much money they have or do not have. She is an example of true leadership.”
“I had the pleasure of working with Liz during her last few years at Ipas - her warmth, dedication, and tireless energy were so inspiring. What a treat to now get to learn more about her whole career, her travels, and her personal journey. I wish I had that context when I worked with her. She has always been an undaunted, curious, and insightful woman. Thanks for sharing your story, Liz!”
“Liz Maguire’s memoir chronicles her life from early childhood to retirement and beyond. Her mission was and is an important one: improving the sexual and reproductive health of women and girls. I enjoyed reading about her and was impressed by all she has accomplished both professionally and personally. It was extraordinary to understand through her detailed narrative the incredibly complex and demanding path she had to follow to do the work to which she has dedicated her whole professional life. I learned a lot, not only about Liz, but also about the work being done to help women all over the world.”
“This book, written by Liz Maguire, the first woman to head US government support for family planning overseas, and a passionate advocate for abortion rights and access around the world, should be read by all concerned with progress toward gender equality at the global level. Readers will find a firsthand account of important historical events along with a compelling personal story. The discussion of her core values will be especially meaningful for young people aspiring to lead, whether in complex bureaucracies or in movements for social justice.”
“This memoir by Elizabeth Maguire, the first female Director of the Office of Population at USAID, covers critical events in the global sexual and reproductive health and rights movement starting with the Mexico City policy when the Global Gag rule was first instituted by President Reagan and repealed by every Democratic President since then.
Liz Maguire highlights the most exciting time in her career at USAID which was participating in the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. The ICPD dramatically changed the focus from demographic targets to the family planning and reproductive health needs of individual women and adolescents.
In 1999, Liz Maguire became the President of Ipas, the only international NGO solely dedicated to improving access to safe abortion and family planning and advancing the reproductive health and rights of women and girls. She shares her strategic approach to expanding Ipas’s impact by working with governments and civil society to advocate for legal and policy change; and developing research, technology, and innovative solutions to reduce stigma, expand community education, and improve access to comprehensive abortion care and family planning services. Understanding the need for culturally appropriate programs and solutions, Ipas opened offices in 16 countries managed and operated only by local staff.
Throughout the book, Liz reflects on her personal and professional journey and shares her core values as a leader and mentor. All those interested in sexual and reproductive health and rights and stories from a fascinating global career will be inspired by this memoir. It has been my honor to work with Liz Maguire over two decades to advance this important mission.”
“Elizabeth Maguire has written an impressive, interesting, and very readable autobiography. She tells the story of her youth, career, and life experiences that enabled her to become a true leader. Her passion for her work in reproductive and sexual health and rights is evident throughout the book. Despite the difficulties of working in a field that generated controversy over the years, particularly in the United States, she always remained optimistic about what could be accomplished and what was accomplished. Her story highlights the teamwork that made advances possible. She is grateful for her many colleagues and mentors. She provides useful guidance on being a CEO of what became a large non-profit organization. It is enlightening to learn about the core values that guided her work and life: among them compassion, gratitude, curiosity, and perseverance. During her years as a CEO, she devoted energy to mentoring the next generation of leaders. She will continue to be a mentor in the next chapter of her life.”
“Advancing Reproductive Choice is a must read for professionals and students that are involved in sexual and reproductive health. Tracing her life story and 45-year professional career, Liz takes the reader on a wonderful journey that details her development as an effective, ground-breaking, and caring global health leader. She provides insights to many of the major SRH events over the past four decades, including the key issues discussed, accomplishments, achieved and remaining gaps ahead. Especially important, Liz reflects on what she has learned as a global leader, lays out key management lessons learned, shares her own core values that have sustained her, and outlines challenges ahead for the SRH field. It's a fun read with many nice personal touches. I'm definitely going to recommend this book to all my global health graduate students at George Washington University.”
“Elizabeth Maguire offers a compelling and inspiring personal account of her rise to global leadership on one of the most important and controversial issues of our times—family planning and a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. If you’re interested in the equality and advancement of women and girls, the history of US international family planning assistance, a career in global health, or Ms. Maguire’s winning style of leading with compassion and conviction, you will love this book!”