Problem Solving in Global Health (GLHLTH 273s) taught how to use critical thinking and entrepreneurial skills to assess needs, apply theory of change to create a solution, and ultimately create a sustainable model that can improve health outcomes. Through guest speakers and in-depth case studies of the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine and Project M, a widely successful HIV awareness and testing intervention in South Africa, I learned about key elements of successful global health initiatives.
In order to apply these lessons, my team spent the semester identifying a pressing global health issue, researching existing solutions, and developing our social venture idea. As a result of this process, we created Mu Maaso, a menstrual hygiene initiative for girls in rural Uganda, which we pitched to a panel of global health and business experts (and won best presentation in the class!).
Why GLHLTH 273S
After spending a summer at WISER (a girls school in rural Kenya) and witnessing how innovations such as a medical records software at the clinic I worked at hold so much potential for improving health outcomes, I wanted to obtain more tangible tools and guidance for creating health innovations.
1. Innovation is not at all linear–when done right, it is an iterative, often frustrating process. Our proposed solution evolved drastically throughout the semester as we learned more about menstrual hygiene and sought feedback from experts in this space, and we often reverted back to previous versions of our solution as we identified problematic new elements.
2. Defining a scope early on is crucial–wanting to solve everything is infeasible. When we settled on tackling menstrual hygiene, we quickly realized that it is a complex space with countless upstream socioeconomic and health determinants. As we developed Mu Maaso, we struggled with simplifying our solution and tried to create an intervention that could simultaneously mitigate both the short-term shortage of menstrual pads and provide long-term empowerment and education. Thus, I learned that it is important to clearly define a gap in existing solutions and develop a solution for that specific issue. As the program or product scales and is shown to be successful, then additional elements can be incorporated.
3. Successful innovation is a team effort, not a race. As we brainstormed solutions, we dismissed several on the basis that they weren’t “innovative enough,” and were similar to existing interventions. However, I learned through Mu Maaso that analyzing existing, effective solutions and learning from innovators in the menstrual hygiene space is crucial, while blindly striving for something that is completely original is ineffectual and quite impossible. Thus, I hope to take this mindset of humility and curiosity with me in future innovation efforts.
Final Presentation & Report
Mu Maaso is an initiative to establish girls’ clubs located in rural Ugandan primary schools that double as shops for menstrual hygiene products. Our girls’ clubs ultimately have two components: 1) educational programming to empower girls and increase awareness about menstruation 2) dual function as a menstrual pad shop, where girls make and sell pads to practice leadership skills while increasing access to affordable pads in the community.