Sparking a Global Health Movement for Young People: Kristen Eddings’s Vision (and a Party)

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she taught English in an orphanage. But what was really holding back that country, Eddings felt, was the horrible state of health conditions. She was determined to make a difference.

Naturally, there weren’t a ton of entry-level positions in global health. But Eddings found herself a full-time job working for Lisa Cohen, the executive director at the fledgling Washington Global Health Alliance on March 1, 2008. It was the first and only hire Cohen made until about a week ago, and it made a critical difference for the Global Health Alliance in its formative days, Cohen says. After less than two years on the job, Eddings was featured in a book by Lubise Binder called “Ten Ways to Change the World in Your Twenties.”

“Kristen is amazing,” Cohen says. “There are a lot of people who are passionate about global health, but she really brings it all together with a focus, and a real adroitness. She’s young, but she’s strategic. I talk to my husband a lot about what a phenomenal working experience we’ve had together. I trust her completely.”

A big opportunity to show what Eddings could do came in October last year. She went with Cohen to a meeting at the Gates Foundation with Fil Randazzo, a senior program officer, and Lisa Verhovek, the manager of community relations. They were there to brainstorm about how to better engage young people with global health issues. Verhovek’s twenty-something assistant, Lacey Birk, was there. “She’s cut from the same cloth as Kristen,” Cohen says of Birk. “They had a vision from the beginning. Some people are talkers. They are doers.”

Ideas got kicked around, like you’d expect. When it was done, the two go-getter assistants were asked to research the issue and come up with a proposal. They proceeded to combine the concepts of changing the world, and having a party, because those are two things twenty-somethings want to do. They recruited a steering committee of advisors with experience at Boeing, Vulcan, and Russell Investments that didn’t include the usual global health suspects. They found underwriting support to pay all the expenses of a evening event at the swanky Pan Pacific Hotel, featuring local blues/reggae/world pop band “Publish the Quest” and a DJ “spinning a mix of MJ and Black Eyed Peas.” No podium, just a very short program, and “a sweet swag bag.”

And so “A Party With a Purpose” was born. Make it fun, they figured, and you can make a difference. By getting 500 people paying $25 a ticket, the idea is to generate enough in ticket sales to make a small but tangible difference, on a specific global health cause. In this case, they envision supporting 63 centers to treat the dehydration that people suffer from rotavirus infections.

We’ll see whether Eddings and Birk can indeed pack the room, and whether young people can actually have a good time while raising their awareness of rotavirus. Crazy as it sounded to me at first, Cohen sure sounded confident these two will make it happen. “This is really just the start for them,” she says.

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