Posted by: blog4globalhealth | 06/14/2011


Young professionals weigh in on their role in the global health community

Inquiring minds want to know – how do young people get started in the global health realm? What are the incentives to joining this interdisciplinary field and how can we break down barriers to entry? The younger generation and professional allies asked these questions and many more at the panel “Youth Voices and the Leadership Pipeline” at the Career Day kick-off to the Global Health Council’s Annual International Conference.

Speakers had plenty of ideas for job-seekers and other members of the audience looking to build a strong pipeline for future leaders to tap into. Jonny Dorsey of Global Health Corps, a fellowship program for recent graduates and young professionals, moderated a panel featuring his Global Health Corps colleague Barbara Bush; Maya Cohen, program director for GlobeMed; and Maggie Savage, chapter director for FACE AIDS.

According to panelists and their international audience, here are the five main strategies that young people passionate about global health can use to get started in their quest to becoming life-long advocates for global health:

1. Community is a core element to success. In addition to traditional “networking,” building strong relationships is a way to get a feel for the field, as often, we model our own individual trajectories based on real-life examples of careers we encounter on a more personal level. Cohen and Savage both emphasized that a crucial metric of success in the fight to extend global health equity around the world is the long-term strength of the overlapping networks of global health professionals. How united will these networks be 10 and 20 years from now? Are leaders reinvesting in the pipeline to help the next wave of young people passionate about global health issues begin their careers? All panelists concurred that capacity building includes a strong emphasis on community linkages – this is what cross cultural sustainability looks like.

2. To be a good leader, find a leader. Identifying a mentor can be one of the most useful tools in a young person’s arsenal to getting started and is mutually beneficial for both parties. While mentees gain invaluable advice, mentors can rest more comfortably on their well-earned laurels, knowing the next generation of engaged thinkers are ready to step up to the plate to solve the complex set of problems in global health. In other words, the bright-eyed 20-somethings sitting in the room with their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in progress or just completed are the current speakers’ collective retirement policy. As the speakers pointed out, great mentors often make the difference for people vacillating between pursuing a career in global health and other disciplines, pushing them to stick with their passion before switching to another more traditional field like finance or architecture. Potential mentors reading this blog, consider sponsoring one or two young people who approach you this week with a gleam in their eyes, even for a 10-minute coffee break in between sessions. In addition to helping you with your research or other related work, they are the best bet you have for ongoing momentum in this field.

3. Think outside the box. Think broadly about how interdisciplinary the field truly is, and how people from all backgrounds can (and should) use their unique skills to advance solutions. Bush cited two current Global Health Corps fellows who used their architectural expertise to re-design a hospital in Rwanda. Also mentioned was Vestergaard-Frandsen’s for-profit venture to reduce malaria through a simple but ground-breaking technological innovation. Bed nets treated with insecticide may seem like old news, but this simple product has the power to transform incidence rates without sacrificing profitability. Clearly, opportunities for entrepreneurial solutions to advance health technologies and alleviating poverty abound beyond the nonprofit sector and multilateral agencies.

4. Listen closely. The importance of working with local talent to implement community-based strategies cannot be overstated. Capacity-building is one of the major tenets in the global health arena, but it was refreshing to hear it echoed amidst a group largely composed of students. Too often are resources misdirected based on what we think should happen versus what actual needs are.

5. There is no roadmap. Ultimately, it is up to this generation – my generation – to chart our own course using the resources we have at our fingertips. Fellows have access to alumni networks, students can push their universities to implement curricula dedicated to global health and professionals have every incentive to re-invest their knowledge of the field back to those seeking to get more involved in its future progression.

While many of these points may seem self-explanatory, the combined enthusiasm of the speakers distilled the facts clearly – the stakes are high, but so is the potential for change. Organizations like Global Health Corps, GlobeMed and FACE AIDS are relatively new programs that have achieved tremendous results in a short amount of time.
How? Their success largely rests on the passion and willingness of members to engage with global health issues, from fellows who work to strengthen health systems in the U.S. and further afield to nontraditional fundraising efforts like condom coutures and dance marathons. Cohen reiterated that what students should be more preoccupied with what solutions work than their respective ages. And when asked what global health looks like in 20 years, Bush responded, “It should be obvious how your particular skillset applies to global health.”

As multiple stakeholders attending the conference indicate, the initiative to partner with others to drive innovation is important. The question is, will you join the movement to strengthen the pipeline for global health?

Maggie Bronson is an intern at the Global Health Council.

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