Five Northwestern University representatives attended the 6th annual Emory University Global Health Case Competition March 27-30 in Atlanta. The team consisted of undergraduate students Pooja Garg and Emily Drewry, Feinberg School of Medicine students Smith Sarma and Suvai Gunasekaran, and Northwestern School of Law student Abena Hutchful. Emory hosted 24 teams from schools across the country and abroad – participants traveled from as far as Sweden and Australia.
As the winners of Northwestern’s first case competition last month, our team was given the opportunity to travel to Atlanta to participate in Emory’s international competition during the final weekend of our spring break. The Northwestern competition was my first glimpse into solving a case – it was both difficult and rewarding, and I was thrilled with the opportunity to continue to develop my understanding of the process through Emory’s well-established competition. I was interested, especially, to compare the processes; having read about Emory’s past winners, cases, and participants, I had a healthy amount of nervous anticipation building up in the weeks before the process. Days before we began working on the case I was on edge – and when we received the case on the Monday the week of the competition, the edge turned into intimidation.
The case asked us to envision a new World Health Organization – to create a new vision, mission, and plan of implementation to give the renowned organization new life in the ever-changing field of global health in the 21st century. The case was daunting – all of us are aware of the incredible responsibilities associated with the organization and the great amount of aspects we would have to take into account during our work. But the case was the perfect level of challenge to spur our team into a frenzy, and the hours we spent brainstorming were some of the most challenging and inspiring I’ve had. We pulled together our solution; an information database researched and managed by the WHO, in a collaborative effort that required skills from each of our respective disciplines, undoubtedly one of my favorite aspects of the competition. The requirement of three disciplines within a team lends the opportunity for variance among past experiences, familiarities within the global health field, and a broader realm of cognizance that drastically strengthens the response to the case.
Our overarching response to the case was that the WHO is suffering from an information gap that is hindering their responses to both ongoing health crises as well as disasters. A database like ours, titled “The Global Hub,” would gather all the information available in the world of global health and organize it into one location for the convenience of the constantly growing amount of players involved in global health each year. The hub would house WHO’s research efforts, global health news, and most importantly, a sorted and thorough resource of the world’s nongovernmental organizations. Nothing like this resource currently exists, instead, pieces of the puzzle fill the internet and create a large amount of unproductive responses to health problems that could be streamlined by improved communication on behalf of the public, private, and civil sectors.
Per competition rules, we structured our response into a 15-minute presentation to present to judges early Saturday afternoon. I was incredibly proud of our results – our presentation was the result of each and every one of our efforts to put the best version of our solution forward. We weren’t selected as one of the four finalists to move on, but that wasn’t the only goal for the weekend. The goal was to commit to the idea of making changes in the world of global health, and we came up with a viable solution to do so – therefore creating an invaluable experience that will serve our careers someday down the road. Beyond that experience, I found great pleasure in the opportunity to work with four intelligent students in vastly different fields than mine, each of whom were driven by the same passion for global health that I am.
Representatives of the WHO may never see our solution, and we may never know what separated the finalists from the rest of the groups in the competition, but in my mind, the purpose of the weekend was absolutely fulfilled in the great efforts put forth by each and every participating team. I highly recommend the experience to every Northwestern student in future years, and will forever be grateful to the university for giving me the chance to experience both the Northwestern and Emory competitions