Grand Challenges Canada

As another summer comes to an end, we are saying our goodbyes and extending our thanks to this year’s summer students. Over four busy and project-packed months, the students have made a variety of important contributions to Grand Challenges Canada (GCC). From developing Gender Equality modules, drafting reports on stillbirth, helping screen the Humanitarian Grand Challenge’s second round of applications, to preparing for the 2019 Women Deliver conference, there was never a dull day for the students. Not to mention, they are leaving GCC having created wonderful relationships with each other and with the rest of the GCC staff.

We asked our dedicated summer students to reflect on their time spent with us. Take a look below at some of their experiences, lessons learned, favourite innovations, and insights into the work they’ve done over the summer and aspire to do in the future!




Development Innovation Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Kinesiology (University of British Colombia), pursuing a Master of Science Degree in Global Health (McMaster University) in September 2019.

The culture at GCC is unlike any other workplace I have been a part of, especially in the global health field. The value of teamwork is continually emphasized – even as a summer student I felt like an important part of the GCC team. It’s hard to narrow down my favourite experiences, but having the opportunity to cross-cut across so many different programs and work with Deal Leads during the investment process has deepened my understanding of the business of global health. I valued the opportunity to learn about the funding mechanisms within global health and the legal parameters for distributing funds and investing in innovations. 

While working on a landscape and portfolio analysis for the Saving Lives at Birth program this summer, I learned a great deal about horizontal approaches to managing antenatal and intrapartum care in LMICs. My favourite innovation is Kybele; I felt Kybele’s strategy for improving the “third delay” in hospitals in Ghana through an obstetric triage system demonstrated the importance of understanding the contextual challenges of under-resourced facilities in LMICs.

My time at GCC has made me think about working in global health in order to create widespread, sustainable change in underprivileged settings. While I had thought global health policy was my ultimate career route, I feel my range of career options has broadened as a result of working at GCC.


Development Innovation Summer Student

Currently completing a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Western University)

The collaborative working environment at GCC has taught me a lot about how much you can achieve when you utilize each other’s strengths, skills, and experiences. I have learned that it is important not to underestimate yourself and your capabilities. There may be instances where you worry that you don’t have the knowledge or skills necessary to succeed, but if you never try, you’ll never know! Each and every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, so embrace it and give it your all, every single time.

During my time at GCC, I was able to learn and build upon many skills under the guidance and mentorship of so many talented individuals. My advice for future summer students is to get to know the people that you work with as they can offer great advice, career insight, and open doors to opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take that first step and introduce yourself!

My favourite GCC innovation is Tiny Totos Kenya, a social enterprise that partners with daycare centres in underprivileged communities in Kenya with the primary goal of creating safe, secure and stimulating environments for children. I particularly love how this innovation empowers mothers to provide a better future for their children – a future in which they can grow up to be strong, educated and independent leaders within their communities.

I am particularly interested in addressing health inequalities among women and children. I aspire to continue pursuing my academic interests in the areas of public, global and environmental health and use this knowledge to work towards creating long-standing and sustainable solutions to critical global health problems.


Finance Co-op Student

Currently completing a Bachelor of Science in Actuarial and Financial Math (McMaster University)

One of my favourite memories at GCC was our monthly mentorship sessions. It gave me the chance to have meaningful conversations with people in the organization that I did not usually cross paths with during my day-to-day work. Receiving advice and words of wisdom from colleagues with very diverse experiences was invaluable. It taught me that embracing uncertainty can sometimes be good for you, which has helped me move forward as I try to decide between my interests of law and finance. 

Malaria Research and Training Centre (MRTC) is testing a vaccine that will be used as a tool to prevent infection during pregnancy and improve newborn outcomes. This is my favourite innovation because no malaria vaccine has ever been tested on pregnant women, nor has any vaccine to date been FDA-approved for use during pregnancy. If successful, this project could radically change malaria management for pregnant women in developing countries and will improve standard practice, which currently relies on mass administration of a drug that is losing efficacy.

A piece of advice for future GCC summer students: be open-minded and curious about everything you do! Any task, big or small, is an opportunity to learn and grow!


Knowledge Management and Translation Summer Student

Completed a Master of Public Health Sciences (Queen’s University)

During my experience at GCC, it was important to embrace the challenges and feelings of uncertainty that often present themselves in a fast-paced environment. Sometimes, the most exciting opportunities are also the ones that challenge us most, so always remind yourself of the big picture and pursue opportunities that will give you the greatest learning experiences. At GCC, I’ve had the opportunity to shadow different roles and directly engage with innovators. Learning how to effectively lead and carry out these projects has helped me appreciate my professional strengths and weaknesses in a wide range of settings, while gaining exposure to diverse global health issues.

My favourite innovation is Mobile Creches – I’m primarily interested in this innovation because of their work ensuring children of migrant workers in Indian construction industry are able to enjoy their childhood as a basic human right. This innovation works to ensure that child development outcomes are met by carefully monitoring age-appropriate milestones, while also fostering a sense of independence and empowerment among mothers to generate their own source of income.

I want to continue exploring the areas of maternal and child health, with particular focus on improving access to gender equality and mental health services among marginalized mothers and their children living in resource-poor communities. In the future, I’d love to gain further experience in monitoring and evaluation, specifically on topics related to improving child development outcomes, mental health advocacy and the prevention of gender-based violence.


Development Innovation Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Arts in Diaspora and Transnational Studies, Equity Studies, and Political Science (University of Toronto)

Working at GCC teaches you how to prioritize among different tasks and work efficiently, especially in 15-minute meetings. As well, the sessions we had with guest speakers were really helpful for understanding the multitude of different paths to a career in global health. Being given important work and autonomy as a summer student, I learned to not be afraid to ask questions when I needed clarification, and to take ownership of projects assigned to me. 

My advice for future summer students is to reflect early and often on what you want to learn at GCC and how you want to leverage this experience for future positions – and don’t be afraid to share those goals with people you work with! I learned about the innovation Afya Research Africa when I got to work on a landscape assessment of private clinics providing health care in rural Kenya. Their co-ownership model ensures community buy-in, while the financial service enterprises set up and operated by partner communities to subsidize the cost of these clinics ensure that health care in low-resource settings is both accessible and sustainable.

My professional background is in helping feminist organizations, in Toronto and elsewhere, advance gender equity. While I’m not sure of the exact path I want to take in the future, I hope to continue advancing social justice and access to health at the grassroots level.


Information Technology Support Summer Student

Completed General Arts and Sciences (Durham College), pursuing Computer Systems Technology (Durham College)

The most important experiences from GCC that I will take with me are the ones that gave me the opportunity to work with such an amazing and diverse group of people. I valued the first-hand learning experiences I got from working with staff, especially with my IT manager. The most valuable thing I learned is how GCC’s IT operations work, and the production experience with Window Servers, Ticketing Systems, Asset Management and Mac OS Server.

My favourite GCC innovation is the Lucky Iron Fish, I love how it’s such a simple solution for a huge problem!

I would say the best advice for new students starting out at GCC is to not be afraid to ask questions. This office has a great group of people that have a very diverse set of skills – there is always someone who can provide advice if you need assistance.

My current short-term academic goal is finishing off my last year of my program. My long-term academic goal is to continue my education in computer science and progress into IT management.


Knowledge Management and Translation Summer Student 

Completed a Master of Public Health, specializing in Global Health, and Environment and Health (University of Toronto)

The work environment at GCC tends to be go! go! go! all the time. Learn to embrace it early on in your summer term and leverage the sense of urgency to keep you motivated and focused on the tasks at hand. Plus, it makes it exciting to come to work each day when there is so much always on the go!

My tasks this summer pushed me to refine my data visualization techniques to ensure that information was communicated in a meaningful and clear manner. Something else I valued was being surrounded by so many talented people that are genuinely so passionate about their work – they motivate me to want to work even harder and smarter!

Sanisol (X-runner) is memorable to me because I was given the opportunity to lead the development of an impact model for this innovation, which involved actually getting to speak with the innovators. It was a welcome treat to be able to interact with the very people behind GCC-funded innovations.

My career aspirations involve contributing to the water, sanitation, and hygiene sector. I hope to focus on improving sustainable access to safe drinking water and clean sanitation facilities, especially as they intersect with climate change.


Communications Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Arts (University of Toronto); pursuing a Master of Science in Media, Communications, and Development (London School of Economics and Political Science) in September 2019.

Being part of the communications team has given me the experience to channel effective communication with different levels of personnel. Understanding what each stakeholder requires is essential in the long-term success of each innovation, as well as the development of GCC. Thus, maintaining clear communications between the internal and external team is an element I will emphasize for future opportunities.

One of my favourite innovations is MomConnect – a mobile app catered towards mothers in South Africa. This app allows comfort and accessibility for mothers to take care of themselves and their babies, while connecting to a larger community. It provides mothers with the agency needed to make an impact on women’s health. 

For future students, do not be afraid to make mistakes!  Within the GCC environment, mistakes allow for greater progress and catalyze both personal and team growth. Everyone at GCC supports the learning process and can help facilitate developments in all aspects of your career.

I am interested in the impact of visual representation related to issues of conflict and development, and hope to work in operations communication in the field.



Development Innovation Summer Student

Completed a Bachelor of Science (McMaster University), Master of Public Health in Global Health (University of Alberta)

My experience at GCC has greatly improved my understanding of monitoring and evaluation. I was able to help innovators, who received seed funding from Stars in Global Health, complete their “Results-based Management & Accountability Framework” (RMAF). Working with innovators really opened my eyes to the difficulty in finding a balance between ensuring that the impact we are measuring is meaningful, while addressing contextual challenges and what innovators can realistically measure. 

Out of all the interesting innovations, the MAMaZ Against Malaria program in Zambia stood out to me. Through strengthening rural emergency transport systems with bicycle ambulances, the project helps to reduce severe malaria mortality in mothers and children. It’s appealing to me since the project engages the community and builds capacity by training community health workers, which I think are key aspects of developing ethical and sustainable projects.

My piece of advice for future students is to be open to going outside your comfort zone by taking on a new project that might be intimidating. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – whether it is to better understand something you’re working on, or about someone’s career path. Everyone is very open to help you learn and it can be really eye-opening to hear about other people’s journeys! 

My main interest is in infectious diseases, especially vector-borne and neglected tropical diseases. The influence of social dynamics on their transmission constantly evolves, which forces you to think of big picture solutions beyond the biology of the disease. I hope to eventually work in this field to develop solutions to reduce the burden and help prevent outbreaks of these types of diseases. 


We wish all our 2019 summer students the best in their future pursuits and hope to see them back at GCC in the near future!

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