Prof. Anne Donahue
Prof. Anne Donahue

BOSTON – Boston University announced today that it is the winner of a grant from the Grand Challenges Explorations, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A team of BU researchers including Anne Donohue and Elizabeth Mehren of the College of Communication (COM), and Jennifer Beard and Monica Onyango from the School of Public Health (SPH) and the Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD), will use the grant funds to develop its concept titled “Pamoja,” the Swahili word for together, for communicating the importance of investments that support global development.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant and through this project we hope to achieve a better understanding of how public health aid is serving low- and middle-income countries,” said Donohue, associate professor of journalism at COM and Pamoja principal investigator. “Through the creation of a global health student newsroom with student participants from BU and our partner universities in Kenya, we will aim to uncover and share the quiet but compelling stories of how international aid affects those who receive it.”

“Our hope is that finding and reporting on the positive stories about the ways in which aid is working will serve as an antidote to donor fatigue,” said Beard, assistant professor of international health at SPH. “An old adage in the public health profession is that public health is invisible when it is working, but consumers read and hear about the failures all the time. We want the positive stories to balance that coverage and reveal global health successes large and small.”

Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide who are taking innovative approaches to some of the world’s toughest and persistent global health and development challenges. GCE invests in the early stages of bold ideas that have real potential to help solve the problems people in the developing world face every day. The BU collaborative project is one of over 80 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 grants announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We continue to be impressed by the novelty and innovative spirit of the Grand Challenges Explorations grantees,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “These projects hold real potential to help improve the health of millions of people in the developing world, and ensure that everyone has the chance to live a healthy productive life.”

To receive funding, the Boston University team and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 9 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a creative idea in one of five critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and communications. Applications for the current open round, Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10, will be accepted through November 7, 2012.

Prof. Elizabeth Mehren
Prof. Elizabeth Mehren

Students in the United States will team up with peers in developing countries to tell global health stories and share real-life experiences about the ways in which people benefit from projects supported by international donors. Connected by Boston University’s online teaching facilities, these international student teams will work together to research and develop stories using multiple platforms such as in-depth narratives, videos, podcasts, blogs, games, apps, music, and humor.

During the initial phase, students from BU will work in partnership with students from Great Lakes University of Kisumu and Bondo University College (both located in western Kenya) to build relationships with local civil society and government stakeholders to tell stories of seemingly intractable problems, creative interventions, and public health successes small and large. Stories will be disseminated to a global audience through formal and informal channels. In addition to social media, students will also work with professional mainstream media partners. Likewise, students in the developing world will get their stories out to various local media sources, tapping into local radio and audio podcasts on cell phones.

Anne Donohue is an award-winning public radio producer and editor. She was the special projects editor at Monitor Radio for five years, and has also been a contributor to NPR, the BBC, WGBH, WBUR and other public radio programs. She has a special interest in international news, politics, and health and has reported from China, Egypt, Japan, Indonesia, and throughout the United States. She has won numerous journalism awards for productions on women and AIDS, population and women’s reproductive health, and treatment of women and girls in the developing world.

Jennifer Beard has been working in the field of international public health for the last 10 years and teaches courses in professional and scientific writing at SPH. Her most recent research has focused on the populations considered to be at high-risk for HIV/AIDS including sex workers, injection drug users, and their children. She has worked in Ghana, India, South Africa, Ukraine, and Zambia.

Monica Adhiambo Onyango, clinical assistant professor of international health at SPH, has over 25 years of experience in health care delivery and management. She teaches courses in managing disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies, and sexual and reproductive health in disaster settings. Her current research interests focus on reproductive health, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, health care among populations affected by disasters, and the role of nurse midwives in improving maternal and child health.

Elizabeth Mehren, a professor of journalism at COM, is a former correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, where she wrote news, feature and magazine stories about events ranging from presidential politics to the Roman Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal to the Olympic Games and the Academy Awards. For 15 years she served as the paper’s New England bureau chief, reporting from a six-state region. Mehren previously served as a reporter and news editor at the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland Tribune and the Hayward (California) Daily Review.

About Grand Challenges Explorations

Grand Challenges Explorations is a US$100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, over 700 people in 45 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of US$100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to US$1 million.

About the Boston University College of Communication

Established in 1947, the Boston University College of Communication (COM) specializes in Film and Television, Journalism, and Mass Communication, Advertising and Public Relations. With more than 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, COM offers a strong liberal arts core with a heavy focus on preparing students for careers as communication professionals. COM’s faculty is a blend of traditional academicians and widely- experienced professionals.

About the Center for Global Health & Development

The Center for Global Health & Development (CGHD) at Boston University is a multidisciplinary research center that engages faculty from across the University to help solve the critical global health and social development challenges of our time. The mission of the center is not only to conduct high-quality applied research, but also to advocate for the use of this research to improve the health of underserved populations around the world. Through its collaborative work with scientists worldwide, the CGHD seeks to strengthen individual and institutional capacity to conduct and utilize research.


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