Daniel Hughes completed a B.Sc. in Life Sciences from Queen’s University and is working toward an M.D. from the University of Toronto. Daniel was a 2015 Programs Summer Student at Grand Challenges Canada.
It has been just over a week since my summer with Grand Challenges Canada came to a close. With still a few days to go before I am back to school, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some reflections on a summer spent engaging in bold ideas with big impact toward saving and improving lives.
12 summer students were hired this year to work across the full breadth of the organization. About half supported the communications, investments, stakeholder relations, and legal teams; the rest worked with the Targeted Challenges and Stars in Global Health programs, providing focused and cross-cutting support alike.
The Targeted Challenges focus innovation on three critical areas of health:
Healthy mothers and babies around the time of birth, through the Saving Lives at Birth program
Early childhood development, through the Saving Brains program
Improving mental health treatments and increasing access to care, through the Global Mental Health program.
As a cross-cutting student I worked with all three programs, as well as with other innovator-defined challenges through the Stars in Global Health program.
I have a background in health promotion and rural public health research, but I would say that my interests in global health are still very broad. I found the cross-cutting position a great way to survey the scope of challenges and innovations at a broad level, also with opportunities to do a deeper dive into select areas. One of the highlights of the summer was working on impact projection models, a great example of getting to learn the specifics of how individual innovations work, but also the potential impact those innovations could have at a systems level. If I had to give three key takeaways from my summer experience, I would organize them as follows: communication, focus on outcomes, and mentorship.
Communication: Firstly, I learnt that effective, targeted communication is essential to conveying your ideas in a meaningful way. By targeted I mean that you have to tailor your message to your audience, by understanding who they are and what they want. In an organization as fast-paced as Grand Challenges Canada, this kind of thinking is key to ensuring that no information or ideas are left behind.
Outcomes: The second takeaway from the summer, and an idea that drives much of the strategic thinking of the organization, is the importance of a focus on outcomes. To me this means always having a clear vision of success. This helps to determine strategic goals and next steps to put you on the best path to actualize that success. I sometimes had to remind myself that just because you can do something, does not mean it is necessarily worthwhile to pursue. By thinking in an outcomes-focused manner, it becomes clearer how best to triage, plan, and execute to push your ideas forward.
Mentorship: The final takeaway was learning the value of mentorship. A great piece of advice I received was that you should try and surround yourself with people who think the way you want to think and solve problems the way you want to solve them. It especially helps when they offer to share their decision making with you. This is the best way to learn some of the less tangible skills that are vital for working in teams, finding solutions and driving projects forward.
Learning the importance of targeted communication, outcomes-focused thinking, and mentorship are three lessons I know I will take with me into the next phase of my career, but that still doesn’t come close to expressing everything that I’ve taken away from this summer experience. I strongly encourage all who are in the first steps of launching careers in health, social and business innovation to learn more about Grand Challenges Canada (see Dr. Peter A. Singer’s recent Annual Letter), check out some of the inspiring innovations in its pipeline, and certainly to apply for a summer position next year.