MCSE Symposium Covers Global Health

By Ellie Reinhardt

The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship (MCSE) will bring together members of the College community, the town of Middlebury and key players in the world of public health to discuss how social entrepreneurs can impact and inspire global health at its fourth annual symposium this week. The symposium, “Social Entrepreneurship and the Future of Global Health,” will be held starting today through Jan. 24.

Highlights of the symposium are two keynote speakers, Jennifer Staple-Clark and Dr. Mitch Besser, who will both receive the 2015 MCSE Vision Awards, a number of workshops, roundtable discussions and the College’s first hackathon.

Associate Director of MCSE Heather Neuwirth has been a leader in organizing the MCSE symposiums for the past four years. She said that global health was chosen as the topic for this year’s symposium because “interest in global health is growing as we realize that health is inextricably linked to all of our biggest global challenges.” 

She also referenced MCSE’s connection to global health on campus through their relationship to the Global Health minor and the College’s GlobeMed chapter.

Staple-Clark and Besser will both offer a unique perspective to how global health and social entrepreneurship are and should be related. Tonight Staple-Clark, along with Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Svea Closser and two students, will engage in a discussion titled “Responsible Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.”

Staple-Clark is the founder and CEO of Unite for Sight, a non-profit organization that works to eliminate barriers between patients and accessing the care they need. The organization focuses on eye care and partners with local eye clinics to identify community-specific issues that make receiving effective eye care for patients living in extreme poverty especially difficult. 

Staple-Clark founded the organization in her dorm room during her sophomore year at Yale University and works around the world to help inspire students in social entrepreneurship. 

“One of our goals at the CSE is to bring in speakers that share a relatable pathway for our students and community,” said Neuwirth. “[Staple-Clark]…saw an opportunity as a student, has iterated and taken risks.”

Tomorrow night, Besser will participate in a conversation with Coordinator of Global Health Programs Pamela Berenbaum. Besser founded an organization, mothers2mothers, after recognizing a lack of education and support for mothers suffering from HIV/AIDS while working at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in South Africa. 

His organization employs mothers already suffering from HIV/AIDS to be Mentor Mothers and work alongside doctors and nurses to help educate and support future mothers with or without HIV.

“[Besser] is someone who had an idea and stepped outside of his regular role and now it’s a whole organization doing great work,” said Berenbaum. 

She continued, “I will be asking him a lot of questions about his process; how he went from being a regular guy from New Jersey to being an entrepreneur, an innovator and a change maker…I’m hoping that the audience will be inspired and maybe even entertained but most importantly, comforted by the idea that anybody can do this and really take away that inspiration.”

Berenbaum, a member of both the College community and the global health community, emphasized the constant need for innovation in global health. 

“I would like to see the [global health] field embrace change and embrace improvement no matter what form it’s in…It’s important to criticize what we do and have a skeptical eye but I would like to see the doors left wide open for any ideas people have with any method,” she said. 

The symposium will also feature a number of events where attendees will be encouraged to participate, including four workshops and the MiddHackathon. 

Two of the workshops this year will use Skype to engage with active members in the global health field. The workshops will be with Jennifer Foth ’08, a program coordinator at Vaccines at Clinton Health Access Initiative from Uganda and two Mentor Mothers from mothers2mothers, Queen and Nozi, who will be speaking from South Africa.

“I don’t think it would be fair to discuss global health without people who are working in global health in developing environments so it makes all the sense to bring in these voices and to have our community engage with them,” said CSE Program and Outreach Associate Mustafa Babak.

As the College’s first hackathon, it will introduce a new kind of collaboration as students, faculty, staff and community members work to create a PSA focused on solving some of the most pressing issues in the global health world. A panel of judges will decide on the best PSA, which will then be translated into all of the languages offered by the College and released across a number of media forums.

Babak, who helped to organize the MiddHackathon, said, “A Hackathon is a tremendous tool to curate talents and capabilities towards solving a very specific challenge. I think the hackathon itself can be a tool around the world to bring in these experts to solve a challenging problem. For us, we are offering this tool at this symposium because we want to inspire our students at the College to get them familiar with this concept.”

Organizers of the symposium emphasized the importance of collaboration and inspiration as key tools for creating change.

Jon Isham, professor of economics and director of MCSE, said, “We hope that the symposium helps our attendees to reflect on the role they can play in effecting social change, connect with others, analyze selected global health challenges of our time, and engage in solution building.”

Berenbaum also spoke to the importance of this symposium. “I’m hoping that the symposium draws in a crowd of people that aren’t just the global health students on campus because global health is completely inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary,” she said. “I’m hoping they come and recognize that something like innovation or entrepreneurship or social change really requires a large skill set and any one person doesn’t need to have all the skills but you need to recognize who else you might need to pull in to help you.”