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How Atypical Partnerships Can Strengthen Health Systems

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What can a former supply chain manager at Gap or a self-employed graphic designer contribute to global health?

A lot!

Health systems are burdened by complex issues, which require a diverse group of individuals and organizations to identify and, ideally, solve the challenges we face. Global Health Corps (GHC), the organization I work for, believes that by embracing a philosophy of partnership and building a network of diverse problem solvers, we can create a new health equity paradigm. GHC was founded by a team of six twenty-somethings following the 2008 aids2031 Young Leaders Summit, hosted by UNAIDS and Google, that recognized this complexity and created an organization that mobilizes young people to join forces to address this need. GHC originated on the premise that partnerships between people with seemingly disparate backgrounds, but a common drive, are imperative to driving change in global health. Our fellows come from a range of professional backgrounds, but have a common purpose. From consultants and architects, to teachers and financial planners, each fellow contributes something different to our broader mission of establishing health as a human right, and each plays an equally important role in making that a reality.

Partnerships come in all forms and each of these alliances is essential to producing broad and lasting change. Below are a few lessons and examples that apply to nearly any organization:

  • Collaborate with program partners and supporters both inside and outside the space in which you operate. Partnerships with government agencies, private companies, and other non-profit organizations that complement a group’s mission are vital to driving the organization’s movement forward. These partners can not only provide financial support and guidance, but can also champion ideas and collaborate on programs regularly. For example, employees from our partners at Hewlett-Packard serve as mentors to our fellows throughout their fellowship year (and sometimes beyond)! Their professional expertise and belief in innovative solutions make them wonderful counselors to our fellows. We also work with organizations such as Still Harbor to provide ongoing reflection and service leadership activities throughout the year, and Yale University Global Health Leadership Institute (GLHI), which hosts our annual Training Institute. These types of partnerships allow for programs to be much more robust and impactful than if they were to operate in siloes.
  • Develop relationships with those on the front-lines. Although many organizations carry out global missions, it’s crucial to forge partnerships with those executing on the ground. We work with over 30 placement organizations, such as Partners in Health, that are established in the global health space, yet have specific needs that our talented fellows can fulfill. We work closely with the organizations to identify candidates with a deep commitment to social justice and who fit their operational needs. GHC and our placement organizations work together throughout the year to ensure the fellows are well equipped for a career in global health after their formal fellowship concludes. By working closely with groups on the ground, each party is equally accountable and invested in the work, making a project or mission more likely to succeed!
  • Foster a sense of community and collaboration.  Our fellows always work in teams of two–an international fellow partnered with a fellow from the host country—allowing for cross-cultural knowledge sharing. In addition, they come together four times a year to reflect and reenergize, all while sharing and learning from each other’s experiences.  It’s important to cultivate a sense community and common vision among the membership of an organization.  We’ve seen members of  our community continue to work together long after their fellowship year concludes – encouraging and supporting each other as they work towards bringing about change in the global health space. The hope is that this type of community will serve as a sounding board and resource for ongoing collaboration, as members work towards driving the mission forward.

Our community of 216 fellows and alums are responsible for many inspiring and pioneering campaigns, and we know the momentum will only continue because of these strong partnerships bolstering the movement. For example, one of our 2011-2012 fellows organized the first-ever flashmob in Burundi—with the aid of our partner PSI— to promote safe sex, and most recently spoke about it at a TEDx in Uganda, featuring Africa’s most dynamic change-makers. Last year, architecture fellows in Rwanda worked with MASS Design Group on the Butaro hospital to enhance lighting and ventilation systems that will not only improve patients’ health, but also streamline hospital operations. Our fellow Ben Hartigan explains the project in a video here.

These are just a few of the stories that demonstrate how and why atypical partnerships and models work. Health issues do not operate in silos; they are systemic. Everyone plays a role and collaboration is crucial!  Together we must resist complacency, and establish health as a human right.

Anne McPherson serves as Community Engagement Associate at Global Health Corps, where she oversees communications and supports development activities. She is also a former Edelman employee. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnieMcP09, and look for Global Health Corps updates on the organization’s TwitterFacebookYouTube, and Pinterest pages.

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