Archive for the ‘AmeriCorps’ Tag

Make like Apple: Think Different

About half way through my term of service with AmeriCorps, I have written lesson plans for our new college counseling curriculum and I am building our volunteer managment program from the ground up. I can imagine these activities are similar  to the process needed to write a communication plan for a health behavior intervention and then work to train the community health workers that would education the community about that health intervention, but I can not be sure. I have amazed myself with how much my thought process has changed in such a short period of time. My first concern has become what is probable rather than what is possible for organizational sustainability. Where I used to focus on only the program I worked on, I now have to make tough decisions about our limitations.

I know that professional and personal development has improved as a result of my daring to think differently about my potential and my role in a nonprofit.

GlaxoSmithKline is daring to think different(ly)  as well by expanding access to medicines for neglected diseases in some of the least developed countries. The corporation also plans to open access to their medical technologies in development to other sciences to expand research on treatments for neglected diseases. Whether out of a moral obligation or the pursuit of a financial opportunity, this unprecedented level of access has the potential to help countless numbers of patients. Furthermore, this is the first time that I have heard of a private sector company acting on the reality that universal access to treatment while necessary is not sufficient for eradication of certain diseases.

There needs to be a simultaneous focus on expanding access and improving health systems to build capacity for increased usage. Even then, it is unlikely actions GSK takes now will become the only road for eradication of diseases. As a corporate social responsibility venture, GSK may reap the benefit of positive public relations and somewhat increased profits from the now possible sales. However, it is difficult to tell how many countries will be able to afford medicines even at these discounted profits. The real benefit for developing countries lies in the potential for increased research for neglected diseases that affect developing countries most. OneWorld Health is the only major nonprofit pharmaceutical company that focuses on research and development of treatments for neglected diseases; having a major Big Pharma company devote more time and resources might be enough to tip the balance for some substantive development.

Learn to just say no

Tonight I opened Google Reader for the first time in over a month. I hoped that the feed reader had not exploded with the over 100 feeds I subscribe to. The sight of the 1000+ articles sitting there awaiting my perusal inspired me to do something that I don’t do often enough: say no. I have now dumped half of these feeds. It simply was too overwhelming and frankly ridiculous of me to think that I could consume that much information on a daily basis. It is an ongoing negative habit of mine: take on more and more responsibility until I drive myself crazy.

I miss reading and talking about public health now that my brain is constantly occupied with nonprofit management and education due to AmeriCorps. I love what I do everyday but I know that the issues that I really want to explore are in public health and not education. I did not realize how difficult it would be to devote myself to both disciplines this year.

After reading on change.org about the amazing strides that Frontline: SMS has made in advancing mobile health in Malawi, I knew that I wanted to jump back in. Reading and writing about public health will bring back some of the excitement I felt about going to grad school. I have gotten in to Emory and Johns Hopkins so I definitely need to step up my game so that I will be ready next fall.

The True Meaning of Service

I came across a memo from the Heritage Foundation entitled “How Americans Can Provide Real Public Service.” The memo agrees with Obama’s proposals to expand service programs such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps except the following key differences:

  1. They encourage the wrong motivations for volunteering;
  2. They confuse government work with public service; and
  3. By centralizing control, they reduce the individual and community empowerment that fosters public spiritedness.

I completely disagree with this characterization of service as it perpetuates a romanticized version of Adam Smith’s invisible hand of charity.

1. The author assumes that financial incentive is the only reason why people participate in government service programs. From my personal experience and from others I have met who have participated in these programs, I would have to strongly disagree. The money that AmeriCorps and Peace Corps members receive is technically not considered an income but rather a living stipend. Without this stipend, Corps members would not have the time and resources to fully devote their time to improving the communities that they are serving in. Furthermore, it is faulty logic to assume that altruistic motivation is a necessary quality to volunteer and that financial incentive either eliminates or repels altruistic motivations.

If the author of the memo had read some of the research done regarding the impact of AmeriCorps, he would have seen that the majority of AmeriCorps members increase volunteering the communities they serve in and continue to volunteer after their term of service and often enter into public service and similarly related careers. If that is not an increase in volunteering, they I do not know what you would call it.

2. It is a tragedy that hundreds people are turned away due to lack of funding. This rate of refusal is not an indication that members work for bureaucracies but rather the type of relationship that AmeriCorps members have with the community they serve is not directly exchangable through weekend volunteering. Once again, this is a question of committment, particularly in the case of AmeriCorps VISTA members who are assigned to a specific organization to build capacity within the organization to better serve the community. While short-term volunteering opportunities such as helping in food banks and mentoring children are needed and essential, some of the long-term activities that AmeriCorps members do are not and can not be done in a part-time capacity. Nonprofit organizations may lack the funding, expertise or manpower to complete these activities which are vital to the survival and improvement of the organization. AmeriCorps members help to meet these needs of the organizations that participate.

3. Expansion of service programs will meet the needs of organizations and communities that are currently slipping through the cracks. This expansion is not an intrusion but rather a way of coordinating matches between the needs of organizations and the interests of volunteers. Participation on the organizations’ part has and will remain voluntary. AmeriCorps members will learn to adapt their approach to the needs and ways of the communities that they serve in. It seems to be a rather extreme approach to assume that the ability of a community to better themselves is compromised or even eliminated due to the addition of a so-called “inhabitant.”

AmeriCorps members are not puppets for the federal government to make them do as it pleases. I would think that someone who had faith in “the civic force that is the American citizen” would have enough faith to see that people wanting to serve would put the community’s best interests before their own or anyone else’s.

Ch-Ch-Changes!

Thank you dear readers for being patient with me as I have been settling back in to life in the States. To reward you, I have a couple bits of news to share.

I will spend the next year as an AmeriCorps*VISTA member in Houston. The organization that I am working with is called the Partnership for the Advancement & Immersion of Refugees, a relatively new nonprofit that works with refugee youth to help them succeed in education. I am excited to work with PAIR to further develop their programs and build capacity in the organization.

The other piece of good news is that I with eight other bloggers will about graduate school as current and potential master’s degrees candidates in different disciplines as part of Idealist.org’s Grad School Blog Project. I will be blogging about my experiences in applying for graduate school for global health in addition to the usual issues of public health and social change that I blog about. Get ready to read about everything from how to find the program you want to the trials and tribulations of personal statement writing.