HillTop 2012: An Interview with our Co-Chairs


GlobeMed at Columbia’s annual HillTop is only 9 days away! In anticipation of this amazing conference, which brings together GlobeMed chapters from all over the Northeast, we interviewed our HillTop co-chairs, Isabelle Fisher and Katie Houghton, about their plans for the conference and what attendees can look forward to this year.

1. How did you decide on the theme for this year’s HillTop, “From Person to Person: The Ripple Effect of Grassroots Mobilization”?
Firstly, we wanted a theme that was central to GlobeMed’s mission and model. Secondly, we wanted to build off of last year’s summit and HillTop, which both discussed partnership. After some brainstorming, we came to realize that the partnership component of the GlobeMed model depends on the fact that both the chapters and our partners operate on a grassroots, community-based level. Though the term “grassroots” is used often in GlobeMed discussions, we felt that it is often poorly defined, and that the reasons why a grassroots model is effective are not always well-articulated. We also felt that a better understanding of the concept of grassroots would enable GlobeMed chapters to both be more effective partners and to better advocate for health equity on campus and in our daily lives.

2. What lessons did you take from last year’s HillTop?
One of the most common pieces of feedback we received from last year’s HillTop was that while the conference was thought-provoking, there were few concrete “takeaways.” Thus, one of the main goals of this year’s HillTop is for delegates to leave with tangible, useful skills they can implement in their own chapter’s work. The main manifestation of this is the activism workshop, in which Jennifer Flynn Walker from HealthGAP will give us a basic training in how to be effective advocates for a cause and catalyze local change.

3. Tell us a little about the Keynote Speakers.

When we were brainstorming about our keynotes, we decided that we wanted to prioritize involvement in grassroots-based action over direct involvement in global health. Grassroots models can be used to address a wide variety of issues, and so we wanted to broaden the context in which the term is examined. Martin is the CEO and Cofounder of KickStart International, which is a nonprofit that works towards economic development through promoting social entrepreneurship. After working for several other development-related nonprofits, Martin realized that the “top down” models weren’t working, and searched for a different approach, eventually founding KickStart. KickStart’s staff are almost entirely local, and the organization aims to create self-sustaining and locally-driven economic growth. We thought that it would be really interesting to hear his perspective on why KickStart uses the model they do.

David Cohen is the Executive Director of Village Health Works: an organization that operates a health facility in Burundi with a model of partnership similar to that of GlobeMed. They do some incredible work, and we thought that it would be an interesting counterpoint to Martin’s talk to hear from an organization that focuses on one region and community rather than individuals all over a larger region, as KickStart does. Village Health Works addresses health concerns in a very general sense, through promoting food security, education, and economic development as well as providing clinical services. This idea of “health” as something more than “healthcare” has significant rapport with the GlobeMed model. David has also worked for the Obama 2008 Grassroots campaign, and so we thought it would be interesting to hear his thoughts about the differences between grassroots in the context of domestic politics and grassroots in his work now.

4. What influenced your choices for Small Group Speakers?
We wanted to have a wide variety of professionals from a wide variety of fields, in order to examine the application of grassroots principles beyond the realm of global health. We also aimed for younger individuals who have had experience “on the ground” as activists and project implementors, and can speak directly to their experiences applying a community-based model for change.

5. What are some of the events you have planned besides the Keynote and Small Group Speakers?
As mentioned above, we’re really excited about the activism workshop. Additionally, we will be having a networking event in which all the organizations who are presenting, plus several others, will have a table set up, and students will have the opportunity to walk around and talk to them informally. We think that one of the most powerful things about HillTop and Summit are simply that they bring together so many passionate and motivated individuals, and we wanted to create an event conducive to informal, but productive, interaction.

6. What are you most looking forward to for this year’s HillTop?
Quite honestly, it’s not one specific event! We’re more just excited for the synergy and enthusiasm that happens when you bring together members of the GlobeMed family.

7. What message or lessons would you like attendees to get from this conference?
We would love if delegates could come away with a clearer idea about the meaning, advantages, and challenges of a grassroots model. More concretely, we want delegates to leave with tools to become better activists on campus: more eloquence discussing global health issues, more capable of taking local political action, and, perhaps most importantly, a reinvigorated drive to fight for global health equity.


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