Turning great ideas into healthier communities

Blogs

The Business Case for Investing in Youth Through Global Health Education

August 17, 2017 | Brooke Briggance, FACES for the Future Coalition | This post appeared on the Global Health Fellows Program II website.

FACES for the Future Coalition participants and GHFP-II staff pose with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (center) as part of the 2017 Global Health Youth Summit
FACES for the Future Coalition participants and GHFP-II staff pose with Congresswoman Barbara Lee (center) as part of the 2017 Global Health Youth Summit

As the Deputy Director of the FACES for the Future Coalition, I am often asked to articulate a “return on investment” (ROI) for working with students at the high school level. I often start by explaining that FACES for the Future is a health career pathway program that serves underrepresented youth by offering them an array of services intended to expose them to health professions. In order for our programs to operate fully, we rely on health-focused organizations to invest in our work and directly support it.

This is where the conversation usually turns to ROI. If an organization is interested in investing in FACES students, usually the conversation will go in one of two directions; either growing and diversifying the health workforce or supporting at-risk youth as a community benefit. But both of those impacts are difficult for our program to measure. We know through qualitative evaluation and alumni engagement, that many of our former students become health professionals. But we also know that some of them start businesses, or go into teaching, or head to law school.

How many of us are exactly what we dreamed of being when we were 16? I know my path has been circuitous. I started out pre-law with an intention of going into child advocacy and policy work. Then I worked in a Department of Neurology as a Patient Advocate, was an Executive Director for an education foundation, and did my graduate work in World Religions. It wasn’t until I got invited to a FACES for the Future graduation that all of those pathways merged and I became what I am today. The truth is, life is not always linear and we may not be able to guarantee that a student hosted in an internship or mentored in a global health program, is going to be the nurse or respiratory technician they aspire to be today.

But over time, I have come to believe there is another ROI that we don’t often discuss, that should matter to us just as much as whether or not that young person eventually becomes a health professional. Simply put: teaching youth about global health just helps make the world a better place.

Chad Blevins, GIS Coordinator for USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) (left) assists Global Health Youth Summit participants, David and Vincenz, in a mapping activity
Chad Blevins, GIS Coordinator for USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) (left)
assists Global Health Youth Summit participants, David and Vincenz, in a mapping activity.

In our work with USAID and the Global Health Fellows Program II (GHFP-II), we have explored complex subject matter with our students. Through the Global Health Youth Summit and the curriculum we’ve developed in partnership, students have tackled issues like maternal/child health, climate change, refugee health, and ethics. They have been challenged to ask hard questions of themselves around leadership, interpersonal communication skills and their commitment to equitable access to health for all persons. They have been educated about what USAID does in the world, the various professions represented and have connected the dots from their own experiences to those of people half a world away. Many of our students come from immigrant backgrounds and have seen firsthand the impacts of not having clean water resources, or the ability to combat the spread of infectious diseases. What an amazing opportunity for students at the high school level—to delve into these topics and find their voice—under the guidance of caring and trained professionals!

Every time we work with FACES students and introduce them to the topics and skill sets relevant to global health careers, we are growing a better informed, more deeply passionate and committed citizenry interested in viewing health and well-being through a global lens. Our students become better informed voters, activists, contributors, and donors to global health causes because they were exposed to the pathway. They speak about global health topics to their friends and family, and are better able to filter the false information that is so easily spread these days.

Not everything we dream for ourselves when we are teenagers comes to pass. But the values and belief systems we are exposed to during adolescence can change us and help us become the adults we want to be. What better way to ensure that the work of USAID and GHFP-II continues than by creating a community of citizens who understand the value of the work, who have been supported to find their voice, and who are ready to advocate on behalf of others. Now, that’s a return that’s worth the investment!

Brooke Briggance is the Deputy Director at PHI's FACES for the Future Coalition.