Global Health Corps and the Fight for Health Equity

Founded in 2008, Global Health Corps is an organization with the goal of attaining global health equity. As Northwestern University’s Class of 2015 begins to search for their post-graduation plans, whether it is employment, research, or higher education, GHC should be on the mind of anyone interested in global health and development.

One of the co-founders of the organization, Andrew Bentley, graduated from NU in 2006. “I was motivated by a mix of things,” he says. “Frustrations I had seen in our domestic healthcare system, a lack of coordination between some of the medical care providers, among other things.” After graduation, Bentley worked for Google, where he saw young people coming up with innovative ideas and, as he explains it, “really running the show”. Bentley spent some time working on the Obama campaign and continued to be impressed with the skillsets and drive of the young people he was working with. “Young people can bring great new energy, new ideas, and an inventiveness to problems and challenges that need change.” It was that time in his life that Bentley began to independently study global health. He met the other cofounders of GHC at a conference for young leaders in global health in 2008, where the idea for a TFA-like system for global health volunteers was born.

Fast-forward to 2014, and GHC has become an established entity, with Bentley remaining involved as a consultant for the team. “What I’ve heard from most fellows is that being a part of [the global health] community is life-changing. They develop passions, become confident in their work, and feel supported in the field,” he says. “Even if you’re not a part of GHC, the global health community that has developed is pretty amazing. There are so many different ways to contribute.”

The mission of the organization is that “our generation must build a world in which everyone has access to comprehensive health care.” Through establishing meaningful relationships between local and international fellows, GHC provides a strong base for the years to come; making a lasting impact that will guide individuals toward a healthier world. Their mission, however simply phrased, is tackling an immense challenge. We live in a world where 6.3 million children under the age of five died last year, where clean water and sanitation aren’t accessible to 748 million people, and where the global prevalence of HIV is a shocking 0.8 percent (WHO). Yet GHC is driven by a sense of hope and passion that is made clear when speaking with alumni of the program.

The strategy of the organization is to pair two fellows with an existing non-profit organization in the health sector that has needs their fellows can fill. They look for fellows who have a variety of backgrounds that will be helpful in problem solving, then match these individuals with an organization. Fellows undergo training through workshops and conferences to maximize impact potential, and then spend a year working in the field. These partnerships, according to the GHC website, “build a global ecosystems of fellows and alumni impacting health equity.”

For GHC alumna Chelsea Ducharme, being paired with an international fellow was one of the biggest benefits of the program. “I lived with my co-fellow and another pair,” she recalls, “learned so much about the culture, and made a really good friend.”

Ducharme worked in Kasese, Uganda at a local NGO called ACODEV (Action for Community Development). The organization focuses on education, empowerment, and advocacy, she says, and as the fundraising manager, Ducharme worked on resource mobilization and lent a helping hand to anything else the organization needed.

As with all GHC selected organizations, Ducharme focused her efforts on promoting health as a human right. The benefit of working with GHC is the strong network in the six countries they place fellows in. The placement organizations vary; fellows can be placed in small community-based organizations, government agencies, large international nonprofits, etc. The program begins with a two-week training session at Yale, one of the benefits Ducharme found most rewarding of her time in the program. “There are great retreats and great development opportunities,” she says. “You make a great set of friends – it’s not just the staff and coworkers that inspire you, but also your peers.”

It was this idea of collaboration that Caitlin Callahan, a NU graduate, found so valuable from her time in GHC. “GHC embodies the idea of an interdisciplinary approach to global health,” she says. “The co-fellows had a broad realm of backgrounds. To address public health issues, you have to bring many different fields to the table.”

Callahan spent a year working as the Nutrition Fellow at Public Health Solutions in NYC. The organization institutes direct services, foods stamp enrollment, early intervention services, among other things. Callahan’s focus was on working with WIC, a nationally funded program that provides free nutritious meals for women and young children based on income level. She conducted a large-scale research project using bodegas, the local corner stores in NYC, as an opportunity to bring healthy options to food deserts in NYC to improve the nutrition of families.

From New York originally, Callahan relished the opportunity to get the chance to continue her work in public health in her own backyard. “I didn’t really understand the whole complexity and magnitude of issues that were affecting NY neighborhoods,” she says. “My experience turned out to be hugely beneficial because I was able to understand how I could personally make a difference, even an impact, in the communities I really care about.”

Both alumnae speak highly of their experiences and of the opportunities they’ve chosen to pursue post-GHC. Ducharme currently works for Northwestern as the Global Health Program assistant at IPD, while Callahan attends Georgetown Law School. Their differing paths and experiences with GHC speak to the power of the organization: an opportunity to bring individual skills, expertise, and passion to make a tangible change in the broader fight for health equity. Both have shown that passion and drive have no boundary; as the organization continues to send fellows abroad and to work in the US in the years to come, the power of youth, openness, and collaboration will continue to make a difference in the world.


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