2021 Annual Forum: A Valuable Exchange in the Virtual Space


The Equity Initiative’s Annual Forum (AF), an important component of the EI program, was held virtually this year (February 5-7). Eighty Fellows from 12 countries participated in a weekend of shared learning, an exchange of ideas and experiences, and a chance to build connections across cohorts. The continuing impact of COVID-19 was a recurring theme for discussion and prompted Fellows to seize the urgency of the moment and commit to working together to develop a vision for the future in which all sectors of society share the goal of health equity.

The AF provided an opportunity for Fellows to meet CMB’s new president, Barbara J. Stoll, learn more about her background in academic medicine and pediatrics, and hear her early impression of CMB’s programs. Dr. Stoll expressed her excitement about meeting the Fellows during the Forum and through individual conversations. She underscored how impressed she is by the Fellows’ commitment to health equity; their diverse expertise and life experiences that enrich the program; and their resiliency during this challenging time. The weekend’s discussions reinforced her optimism for the future.

Keynote speakers were Roger I. Glass, Director of the Fogarty International Center and Associate Director for International Research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and Sohail Inayatullah, a futurist and professor at the Graduate Institute of Futures Studies at Tamkang University, Taipei. In his presentation, Dr. Glass stressed the importance of bringing the benefits of science – including stunning success in the development of COVID-19 vaccines – to as many people as possible. That means focusing on affordability, infrastructure for distribution, and pushing back against an “infodemic” of misinformation. Dr. Inayatullah said that images, metaphors, and narratives are persuasive tools that can challenge core assumptions and lead communities toward their vision of a better future. He encouraged Fellows to apply these techniques to their work in health equity, reminding them that novel, even utopian, ideas can move into mainstream thinking and ultimately be translated into policy. 

Breakout sessions – often led by Fellows – focused on skills for design thinking and media presentations. A highlight of the weekend was the Fellows’ country presentations.  Fellows shared updates on their in-country programs, including developments related to COVID-19 and other health trends, policymaking, and challenges to equity. Although we would have loved to have been together to share this important EI experience in person, participants found value in the virtual sessions. That said, we are anxious to be together when in person gatherings can safely resume.