Summer Students

Shouri Bagchi was the 2014 Communications Summer Student at Grand Challenges Canada and at the time of publication was completing his IMBA at the Schulich School of Business, York University

We have recently launched our 2015 Summer Student Program. This is an excellent opportunity to look back at our team of students from 2014. At the end of August, another exciting and productive work term for the Grand Challenges Canada 2014 Summer Student Team ended. When we started on this journey in May, we had each taken some time to express what we hoped to learn through our time here. We now have an opportunity to reflect on what we learned and what we accomplished over a great summer.

The Grand Challenges Canada 2014 Summer Student Team

The Grand Challenges Canada 2014 Summer Student Team

It has been an amazing experience: our tasks have been challenging and educational and an easy camaraderie permeates the student “bull-pen”. Opportunities for engagement have been plentiful: weekly speaker series from thought leaders in the field of global health and innovation have stimulated us intellectually whilst summer potlucks have (literally) whetted our appetites. We have had some engaging discussions; some planned, many extempore about topics varying from the work we do to the topical (often controversial) issues facing humanity today. What has always struck me is the intelligence and maturity with which each summer student has contributed to the dialogue.

Recognizing that each of us have worked on very diverse projects and deliverables I felt it would be beneficial to leave a brief record of our tasks and accomplishments for the next batch of summer students. With this in mind I posed the following two questions to my fellow students:

What projects did you work on over the summer?

What learning will you take away and what were your major accomplishments?


In their own words, the responses from the Grand Challenges Canada 2014 Summer Student Team:


Elizabeth Munn – B.Sc in Life Sciences (Queen’s University)

This summer, I worked primarily with the Global Mental Health team. This core group, like the other staff at Grand Challenges Canada, provided the kind of environment that encouraged students like myself to take the initiative, be creative and really engage- not only in our individual projects, but in the organization as a whole.  I was able to work on individual and team projects that ‘dug deep’ into the Global Mental Health program- creating a data capture system to analyze our portfolio- but also on projects that spanned the broader landscape- supporting our Community Meetings and working with external partners like the Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN).  It was an incredible, hands-on opportunity to work within the global health framework, and a great privilege to see what goes behind an organization like Grand Challenges Canada that really does ‘punch above its weight’.

Judi Balasingam

Judi Balasingam – 3rd Year BBA Finance & Strategy (Schulich School of Business)

Throughout my four months at Grand Challenges Canada, I have had the pleasure of working alongside Jocelyn Mackie (VP Operations and General Counsel) and many others on an operational and financial level. As the business analyst, I have had the responsibility of analyzing financial and programmatic data, also researching and making recommendations to attain a more efficiently run organization. Specifically, I have chosen an online application system that will register and collect applications for our ‘Saving Brains’ program, reducing excessive time-use on manual file tracking. Moreover, I have also been given the task of analyzing organizational-wide data requirements in a presentable manner to move the organization towards more consistency and standardization in regards to data management.

Amna Manzoor – 3rd Year BBA Finance (Schulich School of Business)

This summer I supported the Finance team through an array of activities. Short term assignments included processing accounts payable, assisting in monitoring operational budget spending and analyzing budget variances. On the other hand, long term assignments consisted of conducting spot check audits to ensure that GCC funds are properly utilized. I also conducted institutional and financial due diligence for future grantees. Finally, I assisted the CFO in preparing reports such as a variance report for the senior members and completed a funding report to our partner agencies. Overall, my experience at Grand Challenges Canada over the course of four months has been phenomenal and has greatly contributed to grow my interest in social finance.

Maia Johnstone
Maia Johnstone – B.Sc (Hons.) in Health Studies & Psychology (University of Toronto)

This summer at Grand Challenges Canada I have learned first-hand how interdisciplinary the field of global health is. While my academic background is in global health and policy, I am thankful that the projects I worked on spanned a number of disciplines. I gained exposure to the operational, financial, and legal work that forms of the foundation of GCC’s health-focused goal of saving and improving lives, and this has certainly expanded my understanding of what it means to work in the field of global health. My assignments fell under the Targeted Challenges program, and I especially enjoyed defining the role Community Health workers play in innovations we support. With the results of this study I was able to inform strategy for developing partnerships in the Saving Brains portfolio. In this role I have not only acquired concrete skills but have greatly appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with the team at Grand Challenges Canada.

 Lipi Mishra
Lipi Mishra – 3rd Year LL.B/BCL Joint Common Law & Civil Law (McGill University, Faculty of Law)

My summer at Grand Challenges Canada was filled with legal research, drafting memos, reviewing contracts, and writing policies. There was no area of law that remained untouched during my tenure here. I explored tax issues related to non-profit organizations, the relationship between intellectual property law and innovation, and I even had the chance to work with our corporate counsel on strategic investment issues. Each day was unique and exciting. I was pushed and challenged by my supervisor, Jocelyn Mackie, to leave no stone unturned. Not only did I emerge out of this summer with a better handle on a wide range of substantive legal issues that affect the development space, but I was also able to envision myself as a lawyer for the first time. Through my work at Grand Challenges Canada, I have gained a new appreciation for the range of skills required in a law and operations context; an experience that I will carry forward as I begin my legal career.

Caroline Leps
Caroline Leps – 4th Year BA (Hons.) in Global Health and Intl. Relations (University of Toronto)

From sitting in on project calls, to working on individual projects, and attending board-meetings, I learned about many different actors and perspectives in global health. For example, on a micro level I learned about the importance of tool validation when conducting cognitive assessments;  on a macro level, I learned about focusing an organization’s strategy. My take-away lesson is that global health is a field that requires more entrepreneurs: in order to have maximum impact at scale, an innovative business strategy is required to ensure that essential products and services reach those in need. I worked on several projects during the summer, but the one I am most excited to see come to fruition is the upcoming Saving Brains Innovation Website.   Working with the Saving Brains and Communications teams, I helped create the layout for the website, and worked with innovators to develop the content.


Vivian TamVivian Tam – M.D Candidate 2017 (McMaster University)

To me, what is most rewarding about being a Grand Challenges Canada summer student is the knowledge that our work will have a positive and sustained impact on the organization moving forward. This summer, I’ve worked closely with our partners at USAID to harmonize a set of definitions we use to capture our innovations’ outcomes.  I’ve grappled with questions such as how to validate whether an end user has “accessed” the innovation, or how we know if an improved health outcome can be attributed directly to the innovation. These issues on assessing the impact and efficacy of innovations in healthcare are central to my interest in global health ethics, and it’s been a privilege exploring them in an environment where the answers can truly make a difference. Currently, I’m analyzing innovations that have struggled at different stages of implementation, and attempting to extrapolate ‘lessons learned’. My hope is that with this knowledge, we can better support and mitigate similar difficulties that may arise for our innovators in future.

Matthew Dickson
Matthew Dickson – M.Sc in Global Health (McMaster University)

It has been a great opportunity to do my summer internship at Grand Challenges Canada. My goal was to gain an in-depth knowledge and understanding of global health challenges with particular interest in innovative solutions, which could mitigate most global health challenges. Reflecting back through my experience, I have learned about innovations platforms strategies, such as social innovation, results monitoring and data analysis. Additionally, I possess hands-on experience in the social development field which enabled me to analyze project results for the STARS portfolio and deliver a detailed summary of our efforts to date. Lastly, this summer internship has provided me with additional skills and insight into the interconnectedness of global issues pertaining not only to health, but also research, data management, innovations and social change. In all my years in internship and co-op, Grand Challenges Canada summer student internship program was one of the best and most stimulating that I have ever taken.

Shouri Bagchi

Shouri Bagchi – MBA International Business & Strategy Candidate  (Schulich School of Business)

The role of Communications Intern for me has been an opportunity to delve into an area I am passionate about: Social Media and its use for a organization. My work term focus was on formulating a communications plan and creating and curating content for our various communications platforms: website, blog and social media. I was also responsible for pitching stories to journalists when we announced over 60 new projects to improve Maternal and Childrens’ Health in May. I also assisted with the design of a new microsite for one of our portfolios. I always approach my work with a strategic and critical-thinking lens which led me to look for opportunities to increase the efficacy of our communications efforts. Every organization has finite resources (human and material), particularly not for profit ones such as Grand Challenges Canada making efficient use of these resources imperative to our success. It is with this in mind that I have created a strategic communications roadmap for our portfolio of innovations. My final deliverable was a review of our Twitter account to identify and engage with high-impact organizations (partners, media, thought-leaders, etc.) in the field of global health innovation.

Do you want to be a Grand Challenges Canada Summer Student in 2015? We are now accepting applications! Visit our Careers page and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to find out the latest details about the 2015 Summer Student Program.