Many of the public health challenges Boston University researchers engage on a daily basis occur thousands of miles from campus. The University’s global initiative to improve health in low-income countries around the world includes projects such as an evidence-based study of childhood pneumonia that changed the World Health Organization’s guidelines for treatment. A Spanish immersion program for School of Medicine students that benefits local citizens and community health care projects in Ecuador. In Nicaragua, researchers are seeking answers to a kidney disease epidemic affecting young workers, and in Peru, a theater arts pilot program has shown promise in improving public health.
At the heart of these efforts is the Center for Global Health & Development, where numerous research projects in Africa and Asia contribute to the body of knowledge about HIV/AIDS, malaria, and infant mortality. A new focus is rapid urbanization in India and its impact on public health. To support the complex strategic and operational issues involved with international research, education, and community service, the University established the Global Programs Office and is encouraging cross-disciplinary collaborations to address major global challenges.
The Global Operations Toolkit is a primer for BU faculty and staff who are currently operating or planning research, educational, or community service programs abroad. It was one of the first projects for a team spearheaded by Willis Wang, the University’s first vice president and associate provost for Global Programs as well as deputy general counsel. Wang says that with over 400 international activities taking place around the world, the Toolkit is essential in supporting the “exciting work of BU faculty so that the University can continue to be successful.”
The Toolkit is a living document that offers accessible material on a broad range of topics. The website and downloadable PDF offer information to help researchers establish permanent programs overseas, pay staff, follow regulatory procedures, and observe other considerations when traveling abroad. It also offers essential advice on health and safety matters for faculty, staff, and students.
“We are a large, complex institution,” says Wang. “Every school and college at the University is engaged in global activities, which means that there are a lot of academic and operations issues to think about. Our Global Programs team works hard to make operating abroad as simple and easy as possible, and the Toolkit is a great starting resource. It is not password protected and we have heard that other institutions are replicating our efforts.”
In addition to using a collaborative approach, Wang has a knack for troubleshooting operational challenges. He has spoken widely on these challenges, including at annual meetings of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health.
“A big mandate is to help support the exciting research and educational programs being conducted internationally by leaders and visionaries like Jon Simon,” he says, referring to the director of BU’s Center for Global Health & Development.
“Global activities are being implemented at a rapid pace,” says Wang. One such program, the Global Health Collaborative, has completed several projects in Lesotho and Vietnam aimed at improving family medicine.
Since December 2009, when he was first appointed to his current senior leadership role, Wang has made it his top priority to support the University’s efforts to increase its global engagement by working with faculty and staff on academic, operational, and strategic considerations. The Toolkit is a critical component of these conversations.
And he is constantly searching for new ways to improve the operations of international educational programs. How can we increase engagement across all schools and faculties? Assess risk more effectively? The Toolkit offers helpful information on establishing permanent programs overseas, paying staff, following regulatory procedures, and managing currency fluctuations.
“We don’t have all the answers or know all the regulatory concerns by country, city, and region,” he says. “No one does. But we’ll pull together to find out what we need to know and work through the issues.”
Donald Thea is out to reform the treatment of childhood diseases.
A six-week immersion program for School of Medicine students teaches resourcefulness and language skills.
A research center focused on solving critical health and social development issues in poverty-stricken countries.