Reflections on my six months at CGHP…
By Lucy Gilder
In the past decade or so, the term ‘global’ has become an increasingly common prefix: global citizen, global warming, global politics, global network… It is a term at once both exciting and unnerving. As a concept, ‘global’ connotes the vast and limitless. But this scope can be frightening; bringing about the unexpected and unwelcome consequences of a startling interconnected world. Even so, to work towards something ‘global’ is an aspiration that many young people, including myself, dream of. It was near the end of my master’s degree in Spring 2019 that I spotted an organisation called ‘Cambridge Global Health Partnerships’ were looking for an intern, so I wasted no time in submitting my application. The very name of the charity seemed to check everything on my list of employment criteria: ‘Cambridge – great! I can stay in the city I love; Global Health – cool! I can learn more about international development; Partnerships – well.. that was the part I didn’t fully understand, but more on that later. I was keen to work for an international cause, doing something that would benefit a larger number of people in the long run. Job X also had to offer opportunities for self-development. In neither respect did CGHP disappoint.
Trained in the humanities and social sciences, global health was not a prevalent topic in my education. As a student of Social Anthropology, I was somewhat familiar with the issues and challenges associated with international development. One of which is the imbalance of power, when one party provides all of the governance and funding for development while the other merely receives it. The question of power imbalance is continually addressed in contemporary anthropology, as a discipline that forefronts the privilege and biases inherent in ethnographic fieldwork. Indeed, the problem remains today that many, if not all, theories of development derive from Western academia and rarely from LMICs (low and middle-income countries). James Ferguson and Arturo Escobar are two highly influential anthropologists known for their critique of development, a praxis they claim masquerades for neo-colonisation. Both thinkers advocate a bottom-up approach to development, a way of working embedded in CGHP’s health partnership model, which uses THET’s Principles of Partnerships to ensure projects are equitable and sustainable.
Beyond my academic training, the only relevant work experience I had was volunteering for several international development organisations as a master’s student. I started off at Afrinspire, a small Cambridge-based NGO that supports grassroot organisations across East Africa. For a time I was also involved with Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps – a team dedicated to verifying footage of human rights abuses using open source intelligence. Towards the end of my degree I joined a multidisciplinary Development i-Team with the Centre for Global Equality, connecting students with university researchers to assess the marketability and social impact of inventions in LMICs. I knew that applying for the CGHP internship would be a great opportunity to expand my experience in the sector, and gain insight into an area of development that I had little exposure to.
Though I’ve had many part-time jobs in the past, joining CGHP was my first experience of full time employment. The wonderful yet tiny team I became a part of were amazingly welcoming and supportive, which helped ease my transition. Another transition I made during the internship was the process of understanding key concepts in global health, such as the partnership model I mentioned earlier. These past 6 months at CGHP have taught me about the actionable principles that feed into partnership work from start to finish, providing me with a real insight into the bottom-up approach to development advocated by the anthropologists I had studied.
In addition to learning more about how partnerships work at a conceptual level, I also gained exposure to how they operate logistically, and the sheer time and effort that goes into planning visits to and from Cambridgeshire. Observing dozens of partnership meetings throughout the internship gave me a sense of the important role of diplomacy in handling relationships with partners. Awareness of what you say and how you say it is crucial, as is the need to coordinate a project in the most collaborative way possible.
Interviewing CGHP members about their global health work left a huge impression on me, after realising how low-resource health systems can be strengthened at a relatively small financial cost. This gave me a profound appreciation for the power of people as resources and their ability to respond to limitations creatively and innovatively. Developing my knowledge of global health more broadly, helping to organise CGHP’s annual event, ‘The Role of Health Partnerships in Tackling Global Health Challenges’, was particularly instructive. Listening to the many fantastic speakers throughout the evening taught me about the barriers to the ‘healthy lives for all’ goal set by the UN, such as the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance or the struggles of treating diabetes and malnutrition in low-resource health systems.
Day-to-day life in the CGHP office has allowed me to develop various skills and knowledge of systems and processes commonplace in the charity sector. Volunteer management gave me valuable insight into handling a CRM system while being GDPR compliant. I’ve developed my creativity skills through producing engaging content in the form of newsletters, flyers and website articles. I’ve (partially) overcome my fear of using Excel through data management and analysis for an evaluation report. As part of this report I interviewed a range of clinicians and allied health professionals, hearing stories about their time overseas and how it had changed them, personally and professionally. It felt particularly rewarding to bring all the various strands of my research together into the final report.
Another major part of the internship, and something which sadly didn’t come to fruition, was the organisation of the second biennial ‘East of England Global Health Conference’ – scheduled for March 2020 but postponed until Autumn due to the pandemic. I really valued and enjoyed the amount of responsibility I was given to plan for such a large event. It tested my ability to manage my time and consider logistics in more detail than I’ve ever done before. Planning the event also put me in contact with a range of senior academics, clinicians and researchers and I learned a lot from their professionalism. Working closely with the team at Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (ACT) introduced me to a wide range of charity sector vocabulary, complete with terms such as ‘restricted fund’, ‘donor relationships’, ‘donor care’ and ‘hospital engagement.‘ I never appreciated before the importance of nurturing the relationship between charities and their donors, individuals and communities.
I’ve spoken a lot so far about the knowledge and skills gained throughout the internship but I also wanted to illuminate what, for me, was most impactful and which is harder to qualify. Building strong working relationships with the wonderful CGHP team: Evelyn, Sophie and Kristijan was informative, humorous and ultimately great fun. They offered a warm and supportive working environment for learning new things and offered plenty of opportunities for self-development. Their generosity and team spiritedness has left a strong impression on me and is certainly something I will take with me in future employment. Moving forwards, at the end of April I will start a new job at RAND Europe, as a Research Assistant working on the Home Affairs and Social Policy team. I wish my intern successor and the rest of the CGHP Team the best of luck for the future!