Students Simulate Health Talks

A small room at the Harvard Kennedy School was transformed into the setting of a Malawi aid coordination meeting last Friday as students from four Harvard graduate schools, Boston University, and Tufts gathered to simulate a global health conference.

The 31 students who participated were assigned to play the role of delegates from agencies that included the Ministry of Finance of Malawi, the United States Agency for International Development, and the World Health Organization.

Andrea Feigl, a student at the School of Public Health, acted as a regional director of the World Health Organization. Feigl said the hands-on experience was “better than writing a paper” but said that it wasn’t easy—pushing an agenda with other stakeholders involved proved challenging.

“We wanted to make sure that WHO was more recognized in providing things for the citizens, and we fell a little bit short of that,” Feigl said of the mock negotiations. “But, overall, we were happy with the commitment to health and to our funding.”

The students attended a coaching session and a negotiation workshop prior to the event to help them assume the role of the characters they portrayed.

As part of the simulation, the students had to deal with obstacles that real-life delegates in a health conference would encounter, such as deciding how to allocate resources, determining priorities, and finding outside support.

“This experience is really nice because it allowed to simulate not one specific negotiation, but is really emblematic of all sorts of negotiations,” Joshua L. Glasser, a student at the School of Public Health, said. “You could easily apply what we talked about today to any sort of negotiation.”

Organizers said they chose Malawi as an example because it was seen as representative of the types of problems that many developing countries face. The mock negotiations concluded with a speech by HSPH Dean Julio J. Frenk.

Frenk said the conference was in line with the mission of the School of Public Health to ensure that knowledge gets translated into policies that can improve the livelihood of people.

“This exercise of simulation of the decision-making process of a negotiation is preparing the next generation of leaders who are actually going to be playing those roles,” Frenk said. “And we want that to be an integral part of their educational experience.”

Cecil M. Haverkamp, coordinator of strategic partnerships and global health practice at the School of Public Health, proposed the idea for last year’s initial conference as part of a desire to create an interactive, outside-of-the-classroom experience for students studying global health.

Singh said he believes there will be another health conference simulation next year.

—Staff writer Melanie A. Guzman can be reached at melanieguzman@college.harvard.edu.

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