Jan. 24 2017

Navigating Geneva’s Complicated Global Health Stakeholder Landscape

A cross-disciplinary student team is mapping the web of international health organizations in Geneva with an eye to forging health partnerships.

As the European headquarters for the United Nations, Geneva is ground zero for international organizations working to make the world a better, healthier place. Diplomats, policymakers, and health workers alike can find work at a plethora of agencies in this Swiss city. To name just a few: the World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria all call Geneva home.

With dozens of health organizations headquartered in Geneva, and many more with offices located there, the scope of these NGOs, the issues they work on, and how they’re all connected can be difficult to fully grasp, especially for those new to the field. It’s a problem turned into an opportunity for Mailman School students Julie Kvedar, Carol Liang, JinJin Wu, and Caitlin Zuehlke who spent their summer practicums producing an interactive map detailing information about more than 80 health actors in Geneva. Arranged through the Office of Field Practice, the students developed the project with Global Development (GD), a Geneva-based agency that aims to forge cross-sector partnerships to address global issues.

“Caitlin, Carol, JinJin, and Julie created a platform that can be used by a wide range of health actors,” says Cassie Landers, assistant professor of Population and Family Health and faculty lead for the Office of Field Practice. “Together with Global Development’s President Barbara Bulc, they identified challenges the map could help alleviate, ensuring it would be a useful tool for GD and its clients, government agencies seeking partners, businesses seeking joint ventures, journalists seeking expert sources on health issues, those searching for jobs and internships.”

Built with a data visualization platform called Kumu with help from the company’s Founder and CEO, Jeff Mohr, the map can be sorted by health issue—more specifically, by each Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and their individual targets—and by stakeholder type. Using these filters, users can find organizations by issue area, and information about their locations, number of staff, annual budgets, and leadership.

Take, for example, SDG 3.8, which focuses on achieving universal health coverage and creating affordable vaccines. Under that filter, a user would get information on the six international businesses or industry associations working to reach those targets.

Hailing from a variety of Mailman School departments, the student team shared responsibilities, splitting up organizational outreach, writing and interviewing, and data visualization logistics. Tapping into the Mailman School Alumni Network, they corresponded with individuals from more than 80 companies, academic institutions, UN agencies, and non-profits to confirm information they’d put on the map, get feedback from potential users, and determine the right categories of information to include in the final product. In Geneva last summer, the students met with many stakeholders, such as the Head of Communications at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies and one of the UN Refugee Agency’s public health officials.

“Developing the map gave us a good opportunity to see how many organizations—Big Pharma, nonprofits, international organizations—are working toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” says Liang, now a second-year MPH in Sociomedical Sciences. “As we built the map, we realized how many missed opportunities there are for public-private collaborations—the types of partnerships that are really the future of public health.”

Working with Bulc and Global Development, Kvedar, Liang, Wu, and Zuehlke have already identified opportunities for updates to of the map that could be carried out by a later class of students. One possible vision would be to expand the map to different cities with major global health presences like New York City or Washington, DC, and eventually a full global map.

Zuehlke, who did many of the in-person interviews in Geneva, believes there is an appetite for platforms like the one they created and the partnerships they can encourage. “There really was excitement about the map and a genuine desire to use it,” she says. “A big takeaway from this experience was seeing how hungry people who work in public health are for collaborations, communication across different disciplines, and a willingness to work together.”