Forming Effective Partnerships in Global Health: One Public Health Practitioner’s Experience in Haiti

| November 13, 2012 | 0 Comments

Image credit: USAID.

It is difficult to comprehend the large scale on which global health operations run. Indeed, it is remarkable to note the myriad actors and organizations interacting to improve global public health. What is clear is that the resources at their combined disposal have the potential to provide enormous benefit to those in need. What’s not so clear, however, is the most efficient way for these groups to collaborate and form partnerships in order to maximize the use of these resources.

To get a firsthand perspective on this issue, HCGHR interviewed Christen Parker, co-founder and Executive Director of MPM Haiti, a non-profit organization committed to empowering Haitians through educational scholarships, microcredit lending, and public health education. Through her experience on the ground in Haiti, Parker has identified two approaches for facilitating collaboration and partnership in global public health: the first is improving communication among NGOs working in Haiti, and the second is improving communication between these NGOs and local grassroots groups.

According to Parker, among the first priorities is “for all of the NGOs in our area to… get together, sit down, and map out what services [we are all] providing. Not just to see where there’s overlap, but to see how we can refer people to other organizations effectively.” This type of forum would enable aid agencies to combine forces, to coordinate needs and assets, and to allocate resources more efficiently.

Yet this may be easier said than done, as Parker remarks of her experience with this collaboration: “I have seen lots of egos get in the way of communication, and people are pretty protective of their limited resources.” Certainly, fostering partnerships and improving public health requires a commitment to collaboration from all parties.

In addition to NGOs, there are a number of Haitian-run grassroots groups that often receive less recognition on the international stage. They are overshadowed by larger NGOs and international aid agencies, though the role they play in the health of the nation is equally important. These local groups perform needs assessments and intervene in areas that are of critical importance to their communities,
albeit with very few resources at their disposal.

There is another opportunity for collaboration here: grassroots groups are well established within local communities and are acutely aware of the specific needs of their communities—information that an international agency may lack. On the other hand, larger international organizations can provide the funding and support essential for improving the health of local residents. As Parker said, “The local grassroots organizations and the larger NGOs really do need each other.” Even today, however, partnerships between local and international agencies have yet to come to fruition.

One barrier to such a partnership is the lack of organization within local grassroots groups. They require organizational structure—a president, a treasurer, a written charter—and established channels for approaching larger non-profits and aid agencies. One of Parker’s colleagues has already begun helping local groups implement better frameworks, yet much work remains in figuring out strategies for
partnering local groups with international aid.

Looking forward, we should be optimistic about the opportunities that partnerships in global health can provide. However, such partnerships will require a deep commitment to communication and cooperation from everyone involved. When resources are pooled and projects are collaborative, the potential for improving health around the globe can only increase.

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