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The New Face of the ADA

by Kelly Close, Alexander Wolf, and Hannah Martin

Twitter summary: Kevin Hagan steps in as new CEO of @AmDiabetesAssn – our interview on his goals for #diabetes & organization

The diaTribe team got the first patient interview Kevin Hagan just after he was announced as the new CEO of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) on February 19. As we described in our initial coverage of his appointment, Mr. Hagan seems to have heaps of non-profit experience, coming to ADA after having the lead role at the $450 million international childhood hunger organization Feed the Children as well as Good360. While CEO at Feed the Children, the organization increased the number of child sponsors for Feed the Children more than 12-fold and consistently increased fundraising efforts as well – major growth for the organization, and we hope to see these sorts of increases come out of his work at the ADA.

This new role at the ADA is Mr. Hagan’s first venture in diabetes, and he is forthright that he has a lot of learning to do – both in terms of the intricacies of the scientific knowledge so important to understanding diabetes as well as the complexities of the diabetes landscape at large. In our interview, we heard Mr. Hagan’s perspectives on why he’s excited to join the ADA, plans for his first steps as CEO, the current state of diabetes, and more. Although there is certainly a formidable learning curve ahead, we were moved in our talk by his dedication to helping raise public urgency around diabetes and improving the lives of all people touched by the disease.

diaTribe Interviews ADA CEO Kevin Hagan

HANNAH MARTIN: First of all, thank you so much for speaking with us today, Mr. Hagan. This is a terrific opportunity, and we're so appreciative for your time.

ALEX WOLF: Our first question is broad - we know that your background has been focused extensively in food and hunger, and we're curious about what prompted your transition into diabetes and how you think that your background has prepared you for the role as CEO of ADA?

KEVIN HAGAN: You know, what really attracted me to the role with the ADA is a personal family connection. My mother has diabetes. My father has diabetes. My brother-in-law has diabetes. My grandparents had diabetes. And then about eight or nine years ago, when I was much younger, I was diagnosed with pre-diabetes, which led me on a path to get healthier and watch more closely what I was doing and really the lifestyle that I was leading.

And it was really that personal connection, because it always made me wonder growing up with a family with quite a few people with diabetes, “What would life be like if you didn’t have diabetes?” And I saw various family members suffer through the ordeal that diabetes can be, and then when I sort of came face to face with this as well that’s why I decided to take significant action.

It was really interesting because it’s that real personal connection that just drew me to the work and the thought that my field could be used to have an impact on the lives of millions and millions of Americans - the 30 million Americans that have diabetes – both type 1 and type 2 – and the 86 million people that have prediabetes - that really it seemed like a perfect intersection of personal connection and a skill set that I could contribute.

HANNAH MARTIN: Our next question centers on a related point. What are your top priorities for the ADA, and as a corollary, what do you most hope to accomplish while you're here?

KEVIN HAGAN: In my mind, I put it in four buckets, which are prevent, manage, cure, and then advocate. It's how I had explained it to the board and I said, “Obviously, we want to focus our resources on prevention, but we also can't forget the management and treatment of current people with diabetes. And then of course you never want to forget the cure, and then we have to make sure we advocate for proper resources to fund additional research.”

What I want to do is just go in and make that assessment so we’re able to address the need and figure out potentially new ways that have never been tried before in terms of disseminating information to all the critical stakeholders.

ALEX WOLF: When you refer to diabetes and a cure, are you referring to type 1 or type 2 diabetes, or both? If both, do you think that the ADA should fund both equally? Where should the ADA be focusing its time between these two diseases?

KEVIN HAGAN: When I speak of a cure for diabetes, I speak of a cure for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. With regard to funding, that’s something I won’t be able to answer until I’ve had a chance to delve more deeply into understanding each form of the disease.

KELLY CLOSE: That sounds good – we’ll be back in six months on that question! On the advocacy side, what may need the most help is coordination. There are many nonprofits in diabetes who are often working in silos. Has that been the case in other fields in which you’ve led? How should the ADA be a leader in changing this?

KEVIN HAGAN: Silos are very common, not only in organizations, but within industries as well, so I fully expect to find them at ADA and within the greater diabetes community.  And yes, there are many silos within the hunger field, but I have to give us credit.  Many of the anti-hunger organizations got new leaders within the last 3-5 years and we all worked diligently to stay connected to one another and coordinate our efforts. I think it’s really paid off. Now we are more focused on collaboration rather than competition.  And a testament to that fact is that some groups started funding other’s program work and doing joint programming.  It’s been a real joy to see this unfold and I hope I can help bring that same mentality of collaboration to the diabetes world.  

ALEX WOLF: Another big picture question, Mr. Hagan. Can you talk more about personally what you see as the biggest unmet need in diabetes today?

KEVIN HAGAN: I would say that what I think, at this point without being inside the organization, the largest unmet need probably is education and information around prevention.

I think it's critically important with 86 million people with pre-diabetes, it seems like a natural play to try to begin to attack the disease is really on the prevention front, but you really need funding to do that and you need the resources to support those initiatives, and then you also have to balance that need of course with managing, curing, and advocating - because all of those pieces are critical components of the whole pie. I would say my initial inclination is probably more around information dissemination and prevention.

The one thing that I would like to clearly say is that diabetes doesn’t affect just the person. I think this is going to be a real rallying point because diabetes doesn’t just affect the person who has it, it affects the entire family unit and I don’t think that could be forgotten. And within a family unit, you will have multiple generations that will seek information in multiple ways and need different things from the American Diabetes Association in order to meet their needs.

I'll just make an example of myself. I'm affected by my parents, and they were affected by my grandparents. My grandparent would seek information in a system from a very different lens than I would today, and from a 20-year old would today.

ALEX WOLF: Thank you so much. Switching gears a bit, what lessons do you think we can learn from these other disease areas that have had really successful advocacy movements? HIV/AIDS and breast cancer are two that come immediately to mind - what lessons can be learned and how we can bring those into diabetes?

KEVIN HAGAN: I think the important thing to remember is that diabetes is a very complex disease, and this affects a very large number of people as you’ve mentioned. I think part of that is elevating the conversation, and I think if we can get in the public space, elevate the conversation with the media, elevate the conversation through marketing, elevate the conversation through public policy and advocacy work, and really tell the story, I think that begins to assist with a lot of the funding. That if the public believes this is a crisis, if the public believes this is something that is essential to address, then I think the resources will come.

KELLY CLOSE: We agree, from a collective impact perspective! But, in diabetes, we think it’s fair to say that the public, broadly speaking, doesn’t believe this is a crisis. What’s the next step?

KEVIN HAGAN: I’m excited that we will be working with the Ad Council, the American Medical Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop a public service campaign this year that will help capture the national spotlight around the seriousness of this disease.  While I understand that it takes much more than a public service campaign to draw attention to this issue, combined with other strategies and tactics, I know this will focus new attention on diabetes.

HANNAH MARTIN: Right – we’re excited about the Ad Council as well! We hope that patients outside the ADA as well as inside the ADA will be able to share opinions on this! In that vein, how do you envision ADA working and collaborating with other organizations within the diabetes landscape, including smaller non-profits, patient driven movements, et cetera?

KEVIN HAGAN: I think the one thing you would hear from almost anyone who knows me is that I'm a very strong believer in collaboration. I have a much stronger belief in collaboration than I do in competition - particularly when it comes to mission-based organizations. It really has been the hallmark of my time in Feed the Children, I think, this whole partnership model. I would envision a future for the American Diabetes Association that does partner with all of those other organizations if they're willing to do that because I think the collective power of many targeted at an issue like diabetes is going to help speed the awareness for the American public.

ALEX WOLF: For the ADA, what would be a home run for the ADA five years down the line 10 years down the line?

KEVIN HAGAN: Obviously, the ultimate homerun is finding a cure – that would be a dream! But I would say that the secondary homerun really would be, without a cure, it’s really turning the tide and making sure that we are leveraging the resources that we have and that we have raised public awareness so that there is adequate attention and adequate funding targeted at turning the tide.

So that instead of more cases coming every year, and our projection that one of three Americans will have diabetes by 2050, that we see people coping with their diseases better and that we see a reduction in the number of pre-diabetes patients every year. I think that’s the ultimate goal.

KELLY CLOSE: It’s so valuable to hear your perspective, big picture. Our team and I really wanted to welcome you to diabetes - we need all of the help we can get and we are excited to work with the ADA – as so many other organizations are as well!

KEVIN HAGAN: I appreciate the welcome. I'm very excited about this opportunity. I love helping organizations really grow and do new and innovative things, and that’s what really excites me about this opportunity considering there are still many people in the world and in the US that are impacted by this disease. Thank you for all you do at diaTribe as well! 

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