Posted by: davidjolson | 05/17/2010

What the London School did with a million dollars

This is a guest blog written by John Donnelly of Burness Communications from the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

GENEVA, Switzerland – So what if your group wins the $1 million Gates Award for Global Health? How do you spend all that money? That’s what people really want to know.

Check out the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s decisions after winning the award last year.

“At first, it was like getting a blank canvas,’’ said Alice Perry, the school’s alumni relations manager. So the school formed a committee of intellectuals. No surprise there.

And the committee decided that one of the best ways to build up health systems in the developing world was to increase its distance-learning program, offer more scholarships, and to increase the number of scholarships for needy students attending classes. Again, no surprise.

“We wanted to make sure everything we did would benefit not only the school, but also would build up capacity in a country,’’ she said.

But then the intellects went a little wild. It started the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine’s Got Talent – a takeoff of Britain’s Got Talent, which featured judge Simon Cowell and the breakout performances of singer Susan Boyle.

They didn’t do a live performance, or presentation, before a panel of judges. But the judges did receive some creative ideas that would improve the health of communities, help the environment, or be sustainable projects into the future. All told, the awards were for £100,000, or roughly US $145,000.

One winner was a series of lectures on public health held in Kabul, Afghanistan, that would be open to anyone in the community. It was awarded the highest amount possible under the contest, £15,000 (US $23,000).

“It’s really hard to get a visa to the U.K. from Afghanistan,’’ Perry said. “So we thought it was a great way to provide health information to people in Afghanistan who cared about it.’’

In another case, the school brought in a 16-year-old from a poor part of London to work alongside a researcher. But instead of funding the boy’s activities, the program found another funder to assist him.

“We’re happy people have been creative with this,’’ Perry said.

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