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Symposium to help social entrepreneurs learn how to improve global health

MIDDLEBURY — How can innovators have an impact in the field of public health? Organizers of a symposium, “Social Entrepreneurship and the Future of Global Health,” hope to prompt this question among participants when the event takes place at Middlebury College Jan. 22-24. The Middlebury Center for Social Entrepreneurship’s (CSE) fourth annual symposium will feature keynote speakers Jennifer Staple-Clark, founder and CEO of Unite for Sight, and Dr. Mitch Besser, medical director and founder of mothers2mothers. During the symposium, both Staple-Clark and Besser will receive the CSE 2015 Vision Awards. Events, which are open to the public, also include workshops, a “hackathon,” and roundtable discussions.
“Jennifer and Mitch each identified a major health problem and, with their colleagues, said ‘We’re going to do something about it,’” said Jon Isham, director of the CSE and a professor of economics at Middlebury. “They never focused on obstacles or limited their goals, and they went on to make significant contributions to the field. I’m excited to see what our students and the larger community can learn from them.”
According to Isham, several factors make public health a timely topic for this year’s symposium, including an increasing interest in the subject among students. After the college established a public health minor in 2009, seniors graduating with this minor more than doubled from eight in 2011 to 17 in 2014. A growing number of Middlebury students also are participating in the college’s chapter of GlobeMed, an organization that helps students and communities work together to improve public health among the world’s poor. The Ebola crisis in West Africa focused attention on the subject as well, Isham said.
Staple-Clark will kick-off the symposium on Thursday, Jan. 22, at 7 p.m. when she engages in a public conversation titled “Responsible Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship,” with Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Svea Closser and two Middlebury students. In 2000, Staple-Clark, then a sophomore at Yale University, founded Unite For Sight in her dorm room. Now the organization is a leader in global health education and in providing cost-effective care to some of the world’s poorest people. Its Global Impact Corps offers year-round healthcare delivery in three countries: Ghana, India, and Honduras. Volunteers for the organization — students and professionals — train with Unite for Sight’s doctors.
On Friday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m., Besser will participate in a keynote conversation,?“Communities Caring for Communities: A Vision for Better Health Care,” with Pam Berenbaum, coordinator of Global Health Programs at Middlebury.
In 1999, Besser, a graduate of Harvard Medical School, joined the University of Cape Town’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, assisting with the development of services for pregnant women living with HIV and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mothers to their children (PMTCT). Recognizing the need for an education and support program that would contribute to successful PMTCT services, he created mothers2mothers, in which mothers living with HIV are employed to work alongside doctors and nurses in understaffed health centers, educating and supporting pregnant women and new mothers with HIV. These Mentor Mothers, as they are called, reduce the workload of doctors and nurses and increase the effectiveness of interventions that protect babies from HIV infection and keep mothers healthy and alive. Two Mentor Mothers, Queen Mda and Nozandulela Samela, will serve as workshop leaders during the symposium. Mothers2mothers has reached more than 1.2 million HIV-positive mothers in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
New this year as part of the symposium will be a “hackathon,” which will bring together students, faculty, staff, and community members to compete as teams to create a one-minute public service announcement regarding a public health issue. On Jan. 23, teams will begin work on their announcements, which may take the form of a video, radio spot, dance or other medium. Team members will present their announcements for judging at the close of the symposium on Saturday, Jan. 24.
The full symposium schedule is available on the CSE website. For questions, contact Heather Neuwirth, associate director of the CSE, at [email protected] or 802-443-5961.?

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