John Townsend, PhD, is director of the Population Council's Reproductive Health program. He provides leadership across the Population Council’s country offices, directs research initiatives, and advances policy innovations that translate into better-functioning health systems, improved sexual and reproductive health, and enhanced respect for the right to health for women and men worldwide. Townsend oversees social science research to identify causes of poor sexual and reproductive health outcomes, and research on the development, scale-up, financing, and sustainability of service-delivery models. He works closely with international health and development agencies, ministries of health, and private healthcare providers to implement policies and programs that encourage more effective healthcare practices; participates in multiple interagency committees on contraceptive technology, gender, and reproductive health services; and represents the Council in meetings with national and international policymakers worldwide.
Townsend joined the Council in 1984. He served as director of the Frontiers in Reproductive Health program; director of operations research programs in Asia and the Near East (1993–1998); regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean in Mexico (1990–1993); director of operations research in Latin America and the Caribbean (1985–1990); and country director for the Council’s Colombia office (1984). In each of these roles, he designed and tested interventions that improved the coverage, quality, and sustainability of reproductive health service delivery systems, each with a focus on client rights.
Before joining the Council, Townsend served for eight years as a social scientist with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama, and conducted research on such topics as child and maternal nutrition, physical growth and mental development of children, community development, and sustainable agriculture systems.
Townsend is chair of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, past chair of the International Medical Advisory Panel (IMAP) of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), a member of the advisory board for Merck for Mothers, chair member of the Institutional Review Board of the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), and Civil Society Representative (2017–2018) to the Global Financing Facility and the Investors Group, hosted by the World Bank. He is a member of the Maternal Health Task Force and serves as co-chair of the board of trustees of the International Contraceptive Access Foundation, Helsinki, Finland, a public–private cooperation with Bayer AG, which provides access to long-acting intrauterine methods in developing countries. Townsend was a long-term member of the Interagency Gender Working Group (IGWG) in Washington, DC, and a member of the Rights & Empowerment working group of the FP2020 Initiative. Townsend has been a designated reviewer for peer-reviewed journals, including the British Journal of Education, Society & Behavioral Research, American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Journal of Women’s Health, Pan American Journal of Public Health, Studies in Family Planning, International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, and Health & Sexuality, and has served as a technical reviewer for the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the World Health Organization.
Townsend is a frequent presenter at professional meetings, with extensive publications and studies focusing on development, population, family planning, and reproductive health. He has worked and traveled extensively in more than 35 countries, and in 2006 he received USAID’s Marjorie Horn Operations Research Award for excellence in conducting and utilizing research. He holds a doctorate in social psychology with supporting studies in public affairs and educational psychology from the University of Minnesota. He received his Leadership Development Certificate from the Columbia University Business School’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management, and received his undergraduate degrees in psychology and German from Marquette University.