UC San Francisco has appointed Won Ha, a communications professional whose experience includes advancing nonprofit health care and climate change advocacy, as vice chancellor for Communications.
Ha brings a background in crisis communications, issues and brand management as well as media relations and marketing strategies, which he has practiced in complex and decentralized organizations in advocacy, nonprofit and industry settings. He is a graduate of UC Berkeley, where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Rhetoric and his Master of Arts degree in History.
He currently serves as vice president of Strategic Communications at the Energy Foundation, an organization focusing on climate change, where he leads a team working in state and federal venues. During his tenure at the Energy Foundation, he helped establish the first-ever issues management program in climate change and clean energy advocacy and a regional communications network that integrates numerous advocacy organizations’ communications work.
Prior to that role, Ha was executive director of Issues and Brand Management at Kaiser Permanente, a nonprofit, integrated health care system comprising hospitals, health plans, and physician groups, in eight states and the District of Columbia. At Kaiser, he led the national issues, crisis, and brand management function and advised the leadership team during a period that encompassed health care reform and the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
Returning to the Health Sector
Ha is excited to be returning to the health sector and contributing to the mission at UCSF.
Won’s broad experience building and leading strategic communications and managing complex issues in large, decentralized organizations like UCSF positions him well to serve as vice chancellor for Communications.
“Amid deepening political and cultural divisions, and escalating attacks on health care and science, UCSF’s mission to serve the public – from the local to the global – is more important now than ever,” he said. “I’m honored to join UCSF to help raise its leadership voice and profile in research, education, and care delivery at a time when the public needs it most.”
When he joins the leadership team at UCSF on August 26, Ha will report directly to Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS, as a member of the Chancellor’s Cabinet.
“Won’s broad experience building and leading strategic communications and managing complex issues in large, decentralized organizations like UCSF positions him well to serve as vice chancellor for Communications,” Chancellor Hawgood said.
Ha will work closely with Francesca Vega, who also was recently appointed vice chancellor for Community and Government Relations (CGR). Their positions are new for UCSF after Chancellor Hawgood created two offices for communications and CGR in recognition of expanding responsibilities due to UCSF’s ongoing growth. As Vice Chancellor of University Relations for 14 years, Barbara J. French oversaw both areas until she retired in June.
Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
A native of Seoul, South Korea, Ha was 5 years old when he and his family moved to the United States. It is not lost on him that controversial immigration policies and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion loom large in the national conversation.
“The cultural reckoning taking place across our nation has rightly spared few social issues,” Ha said. “In the context of higher education, health care, and academic medicine, one could argue that access, including its economic, institutional, and cultural barriers, is an important prism through which issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion should be understood.”
Ha was hired five years ago to develop and lead Energy Foundation’s first strategic communications program.
“Communications strategies are at their most basic level about connecting speakers and audiences with messages that serve the interests of both,” Ha said. “This is why a communication team’s diversity of backgrounds and experiences can help build stronger, creative strategies that connect with audiences more authentically. While there is certainly more to do in reflecting the diversity of our communities, I’ve had the privilege in recent years to work with communications teams that include more and more women and immigrants, like myself, in leadership and senior staff positions.”
Ha believes that advancing UCSF’s values of diversity, equity and inclusion is critical to its mission, like it is at the Energy Foundation. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion have become an increasingly important orientation in climate advocacy for developing strategies that address the economic, social and environmental inequities tied to climate and energy policy issues,” Ha said. “For example, decisions about where to locate polluting power plants have far too often disproportionately impacted neighborhoods that are home to some of the most vulnerable communities.”
Throughout his career, Ha has focused on two key priorities: driving change and influencing audiences by clearly articulating an organization’s vision in support of its brand identity and mission; and supporting and developing communications professionals by providing them with guidance and resources to be successful, while giving them room to grow.
“Whether navigating the long road that was health care reform or engaging in the political and cultural conflicts that mark climate change, I have relied on these priorities as guideposts,” Ha noted.
Perhaps most importantly, Ha has learned, is taking time to listen.
“Who speaks, who is empowered to speak, and for whom – these are some of the fundamental issues at the heart of our national dialogue on diversity, equity and inclusion,” Ha said. “As a communications practitioner, this requires knowing when to lead and knowing when to step back and let others, including those from underrepresented communities, speak and lead.”
Asked what his game plan is when he joins the team at UCSF, Ha says, “I’ll listen, learn, and partner – essential steps in developing all good strategies to move forward.”