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Social Entrepreneurship in Global Health: When Business and Humanitarianism Mix

Authored by: Student Guest Bloggers Jennifer Long and Rachel Park

We were generously funded by the Office of International Program Development at Northwestern to attend Unite for Sight’s annual Global Health conference on April 17-18, 2010 at Yale University, where we were exposed to a variety of viewpoints and business propositions in the realm of global health. The conference brings together students, entrepreneurs, businesspeople, academics, and field workers from all over the world to network and discuss global health issues. The conference material ranged from keynote speeches by Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and current Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, who bashed rich countries’ propensity toward military spending and away from global funding, to leaders of international health IT firms to 5-minute entrepreneurial pitches.  Seth Godin, prolific business book author and entrepreneur, had an especially amusing speech culminating with, “Just because you’re a non-profit doesn’t mean you’re good,” pointing out the negative externalities and opportunity costs associated with funding projects in the developing world.

While I enjoyed the keynote speakers, my favorite part of the conference was attending the entrepreneurial pitches.  Each presenter had 5 minutes to pitch their idea, followed by 5 minutes of intense interrogation from the audience.  Ideas ranged from low-cost in-vitro fertilization clinics in Africa to packaging U.S. citizens into groups and completely privatizing health insurance.  Many of the audiences forced the social entrepreneurs to be realistic.  A portion of the entrepreneurs pitching business ideas for developing countries had never spent more than a week or two in such an area and their business plans showed it!  The stark cultural gap and unrealistic expectations of U.S. and European citizens working in developing countries causes many good ideas to come to an end—business simply does not function the same way when people operate on “African time!” (“African time” refers to the loose schedule and frequent tardiness of Africans).

A major theme of the conference was building public-private partnerships as a part of enterprises in developing countries.  A movement for medical innovation through private funding may require government participation; a non-profit may generate more social welfare as a for-profit arm of a public company.  In general, for a U.S. nonprofit working abroad, partnering with a private organization and hiring locals delivers public goods at scale while creating jobs.  Not only does it reap the benefits of the non-profit and for-profit sectors, it is more sustainable to teach developing countries how to help themselves.

Jenn: As an MMSS/Econ major who spent the majority of fall quarter practicing case interviews and attending networking sessions with consulting firms, it was both a blessing and a shock to leave Evanston for the winter to collect data in Uganda for my senior thesis.  The years of studying economics at Northwestern have certainly made their impact–I organize my “Favorites” list in my phone by descending frequency of outgoing calls to maximize efficiency!—and  I hope to someday make an impact of my own on the world by applying the mathematical models and business tools I have learned to the realm of international health.

Rachel: When I took my first global health course at Northwestern, I fell in love with the field immediately because it incorporated my existing ideas and opinions about interdisciplinary study, social justice, and cross-sector partnerships. I studied abroad on the Public Health in Europe program at Sciences Po Paris, where the fantastic curriculum on comparative health policy helped me get my post-graduation job at Oliver Wyman, a management consulting firm, in their Health & Life Sciences practice.

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Reporting from the 3rd Annual Clinton Global Initiative University 2010

Authored by: Student Guest Blogger Lalith Polepeddi

At NU I am involved with GlobeMed, which supports a health clinic in rural Ghana. In summer 2009 through the generous support of the IPD, I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana and work at the clinic for a month. The inherent nature of these global partnerships is limited accessibility, so in going there I wanted to be able to bring back my visual experience to my group. To this end I created a to-scale 3D model of the clinic to enhance global engagement through direct visualization (www.virtualclinicsite.org). Upon completion of this project, it became clear there were many applications in addition to global engagement that could positively impact the efforts of global health practitioners.

My explorations of these applications took me to Miami for a weekend in April for the third annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) 2010 where I had the opportunity to present my project as well as interact with nearly 1,500 students conducting ambitious and inspiring work around the world. From hearing President Clinton speak about the response to the earthquake in Haiti to discussing the role of technology in global health in small group working sessions to contemplating the future of water over Cuban food, my notebook quickly became filled with more notes and ideas than my notebook for class.

One of the most innovative ideas I heard over the course of the weekend was from NYC doctor Jay Parkinson. He created a new doctor-patient model that leverages social networking to build and enhance doctor-patient relationships. His company Hello Health is like Facebook geared for doctors and patients to communicate with each other. What I was most impressed by was the way in which he got it started. He wanted to develop a way for the uninsured population in his neighborhood to get access to health services, so he created a website. Patients could log into his website, view his Google calendar, make an appointment, and enter their symptoms. Jay would get an update on his iPhone and make the house call, and the patient would pay him through PayPal. Jay would then follow up with his patients via Gchat or Skype.

How cool is that? These are tools that we use every day, and Jay simply repurposed these tools to make a tremendous impact in the way doctors and patients interact. Its simplicity is what struck me, because it emphasized to me that we as students have the potential right now to make a significant impact on many of the challenges in the world. It’s just a matter of extending our creativity with the tools we already possess to realize that potential.

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Marching for “World Toilet Day” in Rajasthan, India

In March 2010, a group of Northwestern University students traveled to Rajasthan, India for an intensive 10-day scholars program on Best Practices of Sustainable Development in Water Resource Management, in one of the most water-distressed regions of the world. Hosted by the Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), the aim of this exchange was for students and faculty to employ their first-hand experiences to develop sustainable water practices to tackle local issues on NU’s campus and work with JBF on international water advocacy.

The Office of International Program Development sent Medill alumna Andrea Hart along the group of NU students to Rajasthan. Andrea is a journalist and writer for Circle of Blue WaterNews, a news source that offers up-to-date information and resources on the global freshwater crisis. Andrea just published her first article on the experience:  “Standing In A Long, Really Long Line: Toilet Queue Serves Indian Village Effort to Promote Sanitation Awareness“, outlines the events of Janadesar’s “World Toilet Day”. Organized by JBF, almost 900 residents of the rural Indian village Janadesar, located in the Marwari region of Northwest India, which is marked by long droughts and decreasing groundwater resources, came together to celebrate “World Toilet Day” and to compete for inclusion into the Guinness Book of World Records!

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Welcome to the NU Global Health Blog!

Welcome to the NU Global Health Blog!

We hope to use this blog as a platform to share about all the exciting Global Health activity on campus and around the world! Please visit back soon to see out latest updates and multimedia projects. If you would like to get involved with the NU Global Health blog please contact IPD Communications Marketing Manager, Janka Pieper (j-pieper@northwestern.edu).

Best,

Dévora Grynspan (devora@northwestern.edu)
Director, International Program Development
Global Health Studies Program

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