On December 7, 2017, Calaneet Balas began her role as president and CEO for The ALS Association.
This article is the first in a new monthly blog series called “Calaneet’s Corner.” Each column will provide you with a mission update and let you hear directly from Calaneet. Our first column goes behind the scenes to get to know Calaneet.
What most excites you about leading The ALS Association?
Between the progress of science and the impact of the Ice Bucket Challenge, there’s a lot going on, particularly in the research space. Promising treatments are on the horizon. We’re potentially at a phenomenal tipping point for the disease. This is an unusual place to be for any disease, but especially one like ALS. I also look forward to tackling some of the bigger challenges that people with ALS face, such as the high costs of home health care.
The 2018 Leadership Conference for The ALS Association executives, board members, and other staff was held in February. Can you tell me a bit about that? How did it motivate and inspire you?
The Association’s annual Leadership Conference highlights the power and impact of collaboration – both within the Association and with our external partners. So many great ideas were brought forward, and I was personally involved in many in-depth conversations about improving people’s lives and what we can do in the future. In my mind, Leadership Conference spotlighted what’s already happening, but also created more momentum.
How do you spend your spare time?
If I’m able to find any free time, you’ll find me doing something outdoors – running, walking, hiking, or biking. I’ve done many triathlons and half-marathons. I enjoy being physically active. It helps me think. Fresh air is good for the soul. I also love spending time with friends. And, I like really good food.
What is one life-changing moment you’ve had?
I love to travel – especially experiencing the outdoors and exploration. When I lived in Asia for a couple of years, I had the opportunity to travel all over the world and experience many cultures. From that time, I took away that instead of asking why someone does something, we should ask, “Why not?”
It’s a less judgmental way of looking at things. You flip the lens so you’re looking from a more positive angle – opening your mind instead of closing it. Those years living abroad permanently changed my perspective.
People who spend time with you will hear you talk about finding “Mission Moments” and about “The Why.” Tell me more about that.
We need to focus every day on what we do and why we’re doing it – to keep our minds on our vision to create a world without ALS. Mission Moments are clear examples of movement toward that vision and of our purpose as an organization. If we’re paying attention, we experience Mission Moments every single day – or even multiple times each day.
I have this folder on my computer desktop called “The Why.” In it are email messages, stories, anecdotes, and other things pointing directly to why The ALS Association exists, who we serve, and what we do for people with ALS and their families. When I’m having a difficult day, I often only need to glance at that folder on my desktop. For the most part, I don’t even need to open it. Just knowing it’s there brings me right back to where I need to be.
Fast forward one year. What do you want to have achieved for the Association?
First, I’d rather say, “What do WE want to have achieved for the Association?” It won’t be about what I have done.
I have sincere hope that we will be able to point to two or three things that have concretely gotten us closer to a new treatment or to a cure for this awful disease. Have we improved the levels of research dollars spent on an annual basis? Have we taken steps to improve FDA outcomes? (We’ll be weighing in very soon on the draft FDA guidance document for ALS drug development.)
I want us to look back in a year and know, without a doubt, we’ve made progress together –Association-wide, the combined team made up of chapters and national office staff – toward getting closer to a treatment and cure for ALS.