National Institute for Health Innovation’s new general manager aims to help turn health research into community impact

The (NIHI), based at the University of Auckland, has appointed a new general manager to lead the strategic development and day-to-day work of transforming research into innovative approaches to today’s most pressing health problems.

Vanessa Ding

Vanessa Ding has a background in psychology and biology as well as wide-ranging leadership experience in product development, strategic sales, marketing and social enterprise. Most recently, she was head of development at Ignite Aotearoa, a mental health and wellbeing social enterprise run by Emerge Aotearoa, a national charitable trust.

“At the National Institute for Health Innovation, we discover and develop solutions to big public health problems,” said Ding. “University of ӰAPPresearchers discover the issues and potential ways to address them, while NIHI supports the programmes, clinical trials, technology and commercialisation of what’s needed to turn the research evidence into something that has an impact in our communities. I’m excited to have the opportunity to help implement innovative approaches that can bring greater equity and accessibility to hauora in Aotearoa.”

NIHI is managed by UniServices, the research commercialisation and knowledge mobilisation company of the University of Auckland.

“Vanessa understands that high-quality, policy-relevant research and research-informed service delivery come from a collaborative organisational culture in which the whole team – project managers, digital developers, financial analysts, and researchers – work hand-in-glove together,” said Professor Chris Bullen, Director of NIHI. “I am delighted with Vanessa’s appointment as NIHI’s new GM and look forward to working closely with her as she leads the team into the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2022 and beyond.”

Ding’s first major professional success was in research – in her early 20s, she had a paper published in the New Zealand Journal of Psychology that was well cited for its findings about workplace discrimination against overweight women.

“While I didn’t end up pursuing a research career, the experience helped me understand the power that quality research can bring to making change in health and social outcomes,” said Ding. “In the private sector, I’ve seen products with great user experience and engagement but not always a robust evidence base, while the reverse is often true in the academic space. NIHI bridges the gap between evidence and user-centred solutions.”

As general manager, Ding aims to grow NIHI in capability, scale and impact as a centre of excellence for the development of evidence-based solutions and policy ideas for public health issues.

“I’d like us to be the go-to for any public or private organisation looking to solve complex health problems in ways underpinned by research evidence,” said Ding. “That means ensuring NIHI has the strong, stable infrastructure to do this in a modern, innovative way. I’d also like us to live up to international standards for health institutes across the world and contribute to solutions globally. For me it’s all about supporting people to thrive, not just survive.”

“NIHI is more relevant than ever in today’s world, not only because of Covid-19 but also because of the public health crises we have related to addiction, mental health and obesity,” said Toni Laming, UniServices Executive Director of Business Units. “Vanessa brings in the skills and passion needed to enable the delivery of equitable and transformative healthcare solutions.”

About the National Institute for Health Innovation

At NIHI, we measure our success by our contribution to improving people’s health in New Zealand and around the globe. We discover, develop, test and deliver innovative approaches to today’s most pressing health problems. Our work is focused on preventing disease, improving people’s health, reducing health inequities and enabling the delivery of more effective and equitable healthcare. We provide independent scientific evidence that supports individuals, communities, clinicians and policymakers.

Supported by University of ӰAPPand UniServices infrastructures, we are experts in providing researchers with complex project management, IT, data management and analytics support, delivery of commercial health projects and commercialisation/ deployment of health initiatives. Our team consists of academic researchers who identify areas of potential research, design studies and analyse and communicate the results; project managers who ensure projects are delivered on time, scope and budget; developers who build and maintain our products; data managers who are responsible for reporting and data; and biostatisticians who help us analyse the data we collect.


Vanessa Ding, General Manager, National Institute for Health Innovation

Karen Kawawada, Communications Manager, UniServices