Niha Shamim

Niha Shamim is the 2018 Operations and Finance Summer Student at Grand Challenges Canada

The end of a long, cold winter marks the start of warmer and brighter days for the Grand Challenges Canada office with the arrival of this year’s summer students! The students are thrilled to be working alongside each other on various initiatives, and have already made a second home in the office.

This year they will be helping the team with various initiatives ranging from impact modelling, system optimization strategies, pipeline development, innovator engagement, portfolio management and more. It’s safe to say they’ll have their hands full this summer, but with that also comes a great opportunity to learn new skills and build on their preexisting ones. One trait all the students share is their passion for working at Grand Challenges Canada! When we asked the students what the most interesting innovation/aspect they found about GCC, here is what they had to say:


Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Programs Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Health and Disease (University of Toronto), Currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Health (Queen’s University), with an interest in global health and epidemiology

My pursuit of a public health degree stems from the health disparities I have witnessed around the world, primarily in the areas of maternal, child and mental health. I know that in most societies if not all, women and children are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in several social and health issues. Despite the advancement in health innovations, maternal and child mortality and stillbirths are still increasing. Thus, in choosing Grand Challenges Canada’s program in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, I will be equipped with the necessary skill set and knowledge to make an effective contribution in this area post-graduation.

I hope to learn how Grand Challenges Canada forms its strategic partnerships and implements the integrated innovations in sustainable ways to improve health equity. In addition, it would be helpful to gain an understanding of how health innovations are chosen and transition from concept to scale.


Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Programs Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Science in Pathobiology and Global health (University of Toronto), Completed a Masters of Global Health Sciences, with a specialization in Global Health Management (McMaster University)

One of the most interesting innovations of Grand Challenges Canada that I’ve read about, is the Friendship Bench, a low-cost intervention targeting mental health outcomes in low-resource settings. This approach involves training lay-health workers, project “Grandmothers”, in administering CBT for individuals with HIV-AIDS. This project stands out to me, as my own Master’s project is also interested in the application of tried and true cognitive therapy interventions for older adults with dementia in settings with limited healthcare resource access.

This summer, I hope to acquire greater competencies and skills in project management, coordination, and communications. I also hope to learn more about reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health. This is an area of global health that I have had only limited exposure to, and I look forward to achieving a greater understanding of the challenges and directions defining work in this area.


Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Programs Summer Student

Currently completing a Law Degree (University of Toronto), Completed a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations (University of British Columbia)

In the past, I have been especially interested in Grand Challenges Canada’s global mental health innovations (such as Friendship Bench) I am attracted to both the efficacy and simplicity of that innovation. This year, I am especially interested in the Indigenous Innovation initiative – I am very much looking forward to learning more about it.

As a returning summer student, I’m looking forward to engaging with some of the programs and investments processes at a deeper level. This summer, I hope to have the opportunity learn something about the expansion process through both observation and participation in the launch of Grand Challenges Canada’s new programs. I hope to develop my ability to assess innovations in country-specific contexts, through learning from the experts at Grand Challenges Canada! At a more general level, I hope to improve my ability to think critically and innovatively about solving challenges in global health and beyond.


Every Women Every Child Innovation Marketplace Summer Student

Completed Bachelor of Health Sciences (McMaster University), Currently pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (University of Toronto)

One of the most interesting aspect of Grand Challenges Canada and the Innovation Marketplace is its use of a gendered perspective in investing. A good example of this is through catalyzing and scaling the Every Second Matters- Uterine Balloon Tamponade which addresses the most common cause of maternal mortality in an affordable and efficient manner.

I am excited to get a firsthand experience on the governance functions and roles that organizations play in the global health sector. This summer I hope to gain a robust understanding of how innovations can progress women’s health. I am curious to identify and address the common challenges of scaling innovations in low and middle income countries. On a larger scale, I am invested in seeing the role that Canada can play in addressing health inequities on a global stage


Stars in Global Health Summer Student

Completed a Graduate Certificate in International Development, Program Management  (Humber Business School), Completed a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in International Development – Rural and Agricultural Development (University of Guelph)

I find Grand Challenges Canada’s support and strategy for scaling innovation particularly interesting. Barriers to scale can often hinder the potential impact of an otherwise important innovation. Grand Challenges Canada conducts critical analysis to evaluate a project’s potential for scale and provides the support and resources needed for scale to be successfully and sustainably achieved.

Having initially joined the Grand Challenges Canada team to assist with the Stars in Global Health negotiation process in the Winter 2017, I am excited to continue working and learning within the global health and innovation space as part of the 2018 Summer Student cohort.

My work in Haiti provided me with clear examples of how traditional approaches to development were failing and supported Grand Challenges Canada’s assertion that integrated innovation would be necessary to solve the world’s most complex problems. This, along with my interest in engaging more in the global health space, drew me to the opportunity with Grand Challenges Canada. I look forward to learning more about Grand Challenges Canada’s various areas of work and different portfolios, as well as their intersections. I also wish to gain a better understanding of the ways in which platforms, such as Grand Challenges Canada, can garner the support of the Canadian population.


Every Women Every Child Innovation Marketplace Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology & Immunology (McGill University), Completed a Masters in Global Health (McMaster University), Currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Health Policy (McMaster University) 

The new Humanitarian Grand Challenge is incredibly exciting and inspiring – I look forward to seeing how the first round of innovations progress and impact the sector. I think innovation in humanitarian contexts can be extremely risky and uniquely challenging because of the pace and stakes of the response – there isn’t much room for experimentation or failure without major consequences.

At Grand Challenges Canada, I hope to learn more about how to evaluate the true impact of projects, as well as the role of innovation in humanitarian contexts. While in East Africa, I also saw many NGOs simply restructuring existing programs to align with new feminist funding language, rather than building new programs that tackle the underlying root problems of gender inequity. I’d like to learn how to both identify these “rebranded” projects without being on the ground, but also how to build projects that truly integrate women and girls rather than simply changing the wording.  The work of Grand Challenges Canada is so vast and diverse, so my hope is that the summer will allow me to get a taste of the various programs and departments, and how integrated innovation plays a role in all of them. I also hope to gain some deeper understanding of the metrics by which innovation can be quantified/qualified.


Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Programs Summer Student

Completed Global Development Studies (Queen’s University) 

The Transition to Scale Program motivates my interest at Grand Challenges Canada. From my experience, the challenges in health and community development can become overwhelming and limit the productivity of work. As such, investing in bold ideas and striving for productive impact through partnerships and innovation is important in creating action towards global health equity.

I hope to learn more about the practical support, tools, and steps needed to transition programs to make greater community impact. These practical tools bridge structural tensions such as economics and health. Through innovation, global health equity is possible and I am honoured to learn from such a diverse group of partners and peers. I hope to achieve a better understanding of both the global and local dynamics of health innovation and how social determinants of health can be addressed in innovative ways both in Canada and abroad. I bring my experience and learning from a year-long project in Tanzania on developing productive community growth tools.  I hope to build my knowledge at Grand Challenges Canada and continue to see opportunities to form partnerships at different levels across the community towards more effective, patient-centered healthcare.


Humanitarian Grand Challenge Summer Student 

Currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in Peace, Conflict, Justice and French (University of Toronto)

The OSITA project stood out to me because it is addressing the intersection of mental health, complex humanitarian crisis, and gender. OSITA: Outreach, Screening, and Intervention for Trauma trains community health workers using a mobile app to screen for mental disorders, focusing on women who have been displaced in Bogota because of conflict. I’m excited to see what kinds of proposals we receive for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge and how innovation can play a role in helping women and girls who have been affected by complex humanitarian crises.

As a second-time summer student, I hope to learn more about the due diligence process for humanitarian innovations and how we can integrate a gendered approach into the Humanitarian Grand Challenge. I also hope to assist with the review and due diligence process for humanitarian innovations, contribute to designing a more blind innovation screen for the Humanitarian Grand Challenge and work with other students to better tell stories based on our impact.


Operations & Finance Summer Student

Currently completing a Bachelor of Business Administration (York University, Schulich School of Business)

I strongly believe that empowering girls is the key to transforming societies, which is why I find Grand Challenges Canada’s “A Passion for Health: Empowering Girls and Building Healthy Communities through Agribusinessinnovation one of their most interesting pursuits. This innovation increases women’s participation in the rural economy which serves as a powerful tool for poverty reduction and economic growth. I hope to further this positive impact by supporting other innovation which empowers women, helping to break gender inequality.

As an individual with a background in business, with a focus in finance, I hope to gain a better understanding about the impact investing approach Grand Challenges employs, and learn how it is used to invest in individuals and businesses in a financially sustainable way which helps people thrive.Impact investing is evolving and the not-for-profit sector is changing dramatically, I believe that this organization is leading this change. The future looks promising and I want to be part of this movement, I can think of no better organization than Grand Challenges Canada which will serve as a platform to learn more, somewhere I can be part of a team while engaging in projects that truly matter and bring about a meaningful change. Also, I hope to learn through experience and determine how I can to establish myself as a socially-minded leader in this rapidly evolving landscape. I am determined to help Grand Challenges Canada support bold ideas that have a bold impact.


Indigenous Innovation Initiative Summer Student

Completing a Bachelor of Science (University of British Columbia)

I am interested in science and scientific innovation, especially in the field of biochemistry. I found the work being done by Monash University to produce heat stable, inhalable oxytocin to be fascinating, both because of the science behind it, and the potential impacts it could have in making the lifesaving hormone much more accessible.

I hope to learn how to evaluate and meet the healthcare needs of indigenous communities in a thoughtful and innovative manner. Additionally, I hope to learn what it is like to work in healthcare from some of the best healthcare professionals in the country. I hope to learn how to measure and communicate the success rates and outcomes of projects. Additionally, I hope to learn about the intersection between social, scientific, and business innovation and how to integrate these areas to best serve the community.


Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Programs Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Science in Life Sciences (McMaster University), Currently pursuing a Doctor of Medicine (University of Toronto).

One Grand Challenges Canada innovation that I was extremely inspired by was the introduction of affordable menstrual pads to a city in Rwanda. Aside from these pads (made from locally-sourced banana fibers), females will also be provided with menstrual health education! I have always admired Grand Challenges Canada’s feminist approach because I believe there is a great need for interventions to target these vulnerable populations and an incredible opportunity for impact-based investment

I have dedicated a large portion of the past few years into humanitarian and world development initiatives. Some of the issues that I have had the opportunity to tackle include: female education in low-income countries, local mental health resource availability, global child health & protection, health education for Indigenous women, and access to affordable medical care in low-income countries. As someone who aims to pursue a career in the field of global health, I look forward to learning about the inner-workings of one of the leading organizations in this field. I hope to expand my knowledge about reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health problems while exploring the innovations that tackle these issues. I am also excited to learn about the factors involved in the sustainable implementation of innovations in various countries and the way in which a gendered lens can be applied to impact investment.

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