Boss ladies in public health.

On Thursday afternoon, Events Editor Lexie Lehmann ventured uptown to Columbia’s Medical School campus to attend the book launch of “Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World and Why?”, written by Chelsea Clinton and Devi Sridhar. At the event, Clinton and Sridhar discussed the governance of leading public health organizations and the process of co-authoring their book.

When I found out that Chelsea Clinton was giving a talk at Columbia on the launch of her new book with Devi Sridhar, I knew it was something I wanted to check out. The event was hosted by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, where Clinton is an adjunct assistant professor in Health Policy and Management. The introduction for the event was given by Linda Fried, the Dean of the Mailman School. Question and answer were moderated by Michael Sperr, Chair of the Department of Health Policy.

Chelsea Clinton and Devi Sridhar are two incredibly impressive scholars and mothers who have been collaborating on this book for several years. In addition to being an adjunct professor at the Mailman School, Clinton is also the Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation and holds a doctorate of Philosophy from Oxford University in International Relations. In 2015, she published a positive self-help book titled, “It’s Your World: Get Informed, Get Inspired, and Get Going!” Sridhar also possesses an incredibly impressive resume. After being the youngest person to become a Rhodes Scholar at age 18, Sridhar has gone on to work as a professor in Global Health Politics at Oxford University. She currently serves as Professor and Chair in Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh Medical School.

Their book, “Governing Global Health”, presents four case studies of the world’s leading public health organizations: the World Bank, the World Health Organization, GAVI Alliance, and the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS. Research was conducted to examine how these four organizations are governed, financed, and held accountable for their decisions. The organizations were also evaluated for transparency and accountability. By comparing and contrasting the governance strategies of each of these organizations through specific lenses, Clinton and Sridhar were able to draw conclusions about the influence and effectiveness of their public health strategies.

While Clinton and Sridhar were unable to delve into detail about the findings of their book, they briefly discussed a handful of key questions that guided their research profess. Firstly, they inspected the organizations’ governing bodies, and how much those bodies are comprised of national states, NGOs, private foundations, etc. Next, they questioned how the institutions were financed, and how that money is distributed to the earmarked budget (budget that is already designated for a particular purpose) and extra budget spending (spending that is allocated according to the discretion of the governing bodies).

Thirdly, Clinton and Sridhar discussed the issue of transparency. They noted that all four organizations, excluding the World Health Organization, have open practices. The Global FUnd and GAVI Alliance have been leaders in transparency, while the world Bank has made strides in recent years in light of added scrutiny. The effects of transparency, Sridhar and Clinton discussed, were particularly apparent in the recent ebola and Zika crises. Due to a lack of accountability, organizations with less transparency were arguably less adept at responding to the crises and acting accordingly.

Clinton and Sridhar concluded that the Global Fund and GAVI model can indeed meet specific and results-based missions, while the World Bank and World Health Organization must reform in ways in which key powers trust the agency and delegate responsibilities. At the end of their short lecture, Clinton proposed an answer to the question, “is this the best time to be living, in terms of global health?”, with a rather blunt answer. Clinton argued that while the world has certainly made strides, (such as a reported 40% decline in infant mortality rates), we still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do. She encouraged, however, that she believes moral imperative is strong, therefore we must organize and mobilize effectively to capitalize on that strength.

After their more formal lecture, Clinton and Sridhar began a quick and casual question and answer with members of the audience. One audience member asked about the process of co-writing, which Clinton joked was “more fun than doctoral work” because it was nice to have someone always there to bounce ideas off and to problem solve. She described the process as “constantly catalytic”. Sridhar echoed Clinton’s words, describing her and Clinton’s relationship as one of “intellectual soulmates”. (#bestfriendgoals) The two also discussed what aspects of their research were surprising to them to find; Sridhar interestingly noted her surprise in finding out how much of a financial stake the Gates Foundation had in funding many major global health initiatives.

Another question was asked regarding whether or not we should expect to see the power dynamics among global health organizations to shift to empower the developing countries facing the brunt of the global health challenge. Clinton responded that the findings in her book report attempts by both GAVI and the Global Fund to place developing countries at the meaningful center of the decision making process. That being said, she noted that from reading the board minutes of the four organizations that the United States still has a pretty blatant ability to control the body’s agenda – which doesn’t seem to be on the way of changing anytime soon.

Overall, the trip to 170th street was well worth it and I was incredibly thankful to have the opportunity to attend such an amazing event with such inspiring female leaders. While I would love to be one of the lucky few who get to sit in on one of Chelsea’s lectures at the Mailman school, it was great to get a small glimpse of the experience at this book launch.

UPDATE, 3/6/17: The byline previously incorrectly stated that this event was held at Columbia’s Manhattanville campus; it has been changed to reflect that actual location, the Medical School campus.

Photo via Bwog Staff