Forging Partnerships to Improve Global Health

This post was co-authored by Sonya Soni and Hannah Smalley.

It is no secret that the world is rapidly changing. Leadership in the international development community must radically change to meet the emerging needs. As Global Health Corps (GHC) fellows, young leaders committed to tackling global health inequity, we see opportunity to advocate and to make a difference where we originally saw paralyzing obstacles at enormous scale generated by this changing dynamic. The GHC community provides a much-needed platform for youth leaders to expand and implement ideas; to partner between sectors and across borders; to generate continued commitment and curiosity in this field. GHC fellows are not only able to make a difference during our fellowship year at our placement organizations, but we are able to start a ripple-effect: challenging other youth to involve themselves and creating a network of deep relationships to build sustainable change.

On a larger scale, our generation, the 'youth', have found opportunity to use this evolution in power structures to create positive impact. We bring a new energy and optimism (we like to think of it as 'rational idealism') to challenge the side-tabled agendas and the most difficult issues marred by cynicism and the expectation for failure. Young professionals must confront the new obstacles that are born with our generation and will dictate the lives of our children. And our generation offers new solutions by prioritizing innovation: new skill-sets, new approaches. Our backgrounds do not qualify us as traditional players in this field; without an advanced degree, we can still make a difference if given the resources. Furthermore, opportunity is not reserved for privileged college-graduates; our generation has sparked investment in cross-cultural partnership and private-public sector collaboration.

This week, Women Deliver 2013 (WD), a monumental convening of leaders to advocate for gender equality, represents another platform to engage new voices. The amazing young men and women at WD are leaders from every walk of life and from every corner of the world. Their passion trumps their degrees as qualification for attendance to this conference, as well as this generational movement. The attendees not only participate in the conference, but partner and further engage a global community through social media, as exemplified by the live tweeting stream promoted throughout the conference (see: #WDLive and #WD2013).

This equitable involvement is representative of the larger change in development dynamic, as it expands to include young women's voices at the forefront. Historically, young women from resource-denied communities have been left out of the international conversation; the few positions of power are often reserved for women from privileged backgrounds. Consequently, the development community has denied the ownership and voice of female leaders, maintaining rather than demolishing the very inequity it strives to eradicate.

To combat this imbalance, organizations like WD and GHC have highlighted the need and opportunity for partnerships between young female leaders from the developed and the developing world. In practice, two young women, one from the Philippines and one from Seattle, are GHC co-fellows currently working with female community health workers in inner-city Boston to address the wide gaps in America's weak primary health care system. Similarly, a young Ugandan woman shares her knowledge, skills, and resources with her GHC co-fellow from San Francisco to address her country's HIV epidemic through health systems strengthening at the Infectious Disease Institute in Kampala. As women partner to address global health disparities, chronic poverty, educational gaps, and gender inequality, they are a testament to the dream that no one group monopolizes how interventions are conceptualized and delivered.

This more inclusive dialogue is the most powerful tool in the process towards redistributive justice. Ultimately, women and youth are not products of their environment, as we are often mistakenly told, but are outcomes of the expectations that we place on them. If we expect them to be stewards, rather than beneficiaries, of the social change movement, equitable partnerships among youth will not only be subscribed to by a few NGOs like Global Health Corps or Women Deliver, but will be the norm in all international institutions.