An innovative alliance grows up

Lisa Cohen is founding director of the Washington Global Health Alliance (WGHA), whose members are dedicated to collaboration that creates activities and partnerships in global health that wouldn’t otherwise exist. Since its inception, WGHA has been housed at PATH. As the group approaches its fifth birthday, WGHA is pursuing nonprofit status and moving to new digs in the offices of Seattle Children’s Research Institute, an Alliance member. We caught up with Lisa long enough to ask a few questions.

Q: What’s going on with WGHA? Are you leaving PATH?

Woman in gray business suit

Lisa Cohen, founding director of the Washington Global Health Alliance. Photo: PATH/Mike Wang.

A: It’s not about leaving PATH or going somewhere else. It’s more about becoming a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. When the Alliance was formed five years ago, we didn’t know if this was going to take. We all agreed that we would be hosted by an organization to serve as the secretariat. PATH offered to host us, and we ended up staying for the life of our grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Now it’s become clear that the Alliance is adding value for our members. For example, we’ve increased the profile of the global health sector at the city, state, and national levels. So the time is right to move. But I cannot emphasize enough how great a partner PATH has been. The Alliance wouldn’t exist without PATH’s support.

Q: You said it’s become clear that Alliance is adding value for your members. Does an example come to mind?

A: Sure. We have increasingly been working with the economic development folks here—the Puget Sound Regional Council, the City of Seattle, the state Economic Development Commission—to identify global health as a sector in and of itself. Before, it was lumped in with life sciences, and while we certainly have elements of that, we’re much broader. So we’ve been calling out the global health sector as an economic driver of this state, something that the state can point to that sets us apart—like aerospace, like Microsoft. And this sector is different—it’s literally saving lives worldwide.

Q: When you look back, what are some of the Alliance’s most notable accomplishments?

A: A couple of our programs come to mind. One is the Washington Global Health Fund, which is the first of its kind in the nation. It funds commercialization of global health technologies, and that includes manufacturing. So it promotes job creation in the state and the development and manufacture of global health technologies.

Another is our Global to Local project. We’re setting up a model in partnership with a hospital, Public Health, and a community health provider to use the tactics and expertise that PATH and others use globally to improve health here at home. That’s going to be a nationwide model, I believe. (See the video below.)

The other thing that’s happened is broader engagement of young people. Our Party with a Purpose, which is now called Agency, is a galvanizing event. You get more than a thousand young people coming to learn about global health.

Q: That’s a lot of work. Why do you stick with it?

A: Anybody who’s been to any of the areas where PATH or our other members work knows you cannot walk away untouched. You can’t walk away uninspired. It puts everything else in perspective.

We hear on a daily basis in the news about garage fires and stabbings and minor wind storms. And what we need to be hearing about is the people who are dedicating their lives making things better. And I don’t mean just people here helping people in the developing world. I mean people in the developing world who are helping people here. I mean the brave people who come here to start a new life. Once you meet each other, there’s no going back to stereotypes.

Global health quiz

What’s a phase-change material and what’s it got to do with vaccines? Look for our answer Friday.

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