Global Learning: On-the Ground Learning in the United States


What a thrill it was for me to personally welcome our 2021 and 2022 Equity Initiative Fellows to Atlanta!  Our Fellows resumed travel outside of Southeast Asia and on-the-ground learning during the two-week Global Learning component, held in the United States, June 4-18.  Each cohort spent alternating weeks in Boston and Atlanta, and as I accompanied them in Atlanta, which has been my home for many years, I greatly enjoyed the face-to-face interaction with our Fellows and the chance to examine the American landscape for health equity through their eyes.

EI’s Global Learning component offers Fellows both a telescopic look at a particular society and an opportunity to draw comparisons with their own.  Fellows also engage in discussions with health leaders and scholars, and build up their personal “tool box” of skills in negotiation and communication, important for advancing their own equity agendas.  This year, our staff put together a program that took a comparative look at the context for health equity in the United States, with a strong focus on racial inequities in health and the unfinished struggle for social justice.

I marveled as I watched our Fellows engage with health leaders and advocates for equity in Atlanta.  While they navigate different historical contexts and social dynamics, our Fellows and speakers found common ground in their shared dedication to advancing equity.  Fellows heard Veda Johnson and her colleagues from PARTNERS for Equity in Child and Adolescent Health describe health inequities associated with social determinants and race, and the work they have done to increase access to care through school-based health centers. They were inspired by the passion of Camara Jones, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Sheryl Heron, Emory University, School of Medicine who spoke passionately and simply, about the paths that can be taken to overcome racial inequities in health.  Paul Wolpe, Director of the Emory Center for Ethics, described the roles of equity and ethics in science, health, and medicine; his colleague, Carlton Mackey, highlighted ways that the creative arts can be used to advance social justice.  A presentation on gun safety as a public health issue by Mark Rosenberg, founding director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, provided a useful example of the ways in which political tensions can impede much-needed public health research and the importance of listening to and understanding adversaries to reach agreement to move forward—relevant to many issues and situations our Fellows will face. Visits to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Carter Center, and other sites in Atlanta gave Fellows a deeper understanding of the history of the civil rights movement in the United States, and the global struggle for human rights.

While I did not accompany the Fellows to Boston, the program focused Fellows’ attention on the incentives and constraints that shape the path to health equity, and also highlighted methods and approaches that can be effective in introducing changes that will help achieve improved health equity.  Among the Boston presentations, Lincoln Chen, CMB president emeritus, led a discussion on advancing health equity in Asia, and Winnie Yip, professor of global health policy and economics at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, contrasted the roles of government and markets in the financing and delivery of health care. Illustrative examples were provided by William Hsiao, K.T. Li Professor of Health Economics at the Harvard Global Health Institute, who highlighted the challenges that Taiwan faced in developing a technically sound national health insurance plan that would fit into the political space, and Marty Chen, one of the founders of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalizing and Organizing), who spoke about ways to extend access to health care to informal workers.  Fellows developed their “how to” skills as Lawrence Susskind of MIT and the Consensus Building Institute led a training session on negotiation techniques, and Marshall Ganz of the Harvard Kennedy School showed how Fellows can use the power of public narrative to build broad-based support for their initiatives.

Many other speakers in Boston and Atlanta contributed their expertise to the two-week learning experience, and Fellows enriched sessions by sharing their own insights and experiences. Equally important, the in-person learning experience created countless opportunities for informal exchange and bonding among the Fellows—bonds which will enrich their work as leaders for health equity.  I am grateful to all who helped make Global Learning such a great success.   A special thank you to our Southeast Asia and U.S. staff for their tireless attention to every detail of the two-week program. 

Barbara J. Stoll, MD
President, China Medical Board