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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

GlobeMed celebrates 15 years of lasting impact in global health equity

This year marks the 15th anniversary of GlobeMed, a Northwestern Buffett-supported student organization dedicated to mobilizing students and grassroots leaders to improve public health worldwide. Originally founded in 2006 by a group of Northwestern students seeking opportunities to contribute to global health equity, GlobeMed has grown into a network of thousands of students across 36 university-based chapters throughout the United States as well as grassroots organizations in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

At its core, GlobeMed offers undergraduate students experiential learning opportunities in partnership with local community leaders around the world. Students learn global citizenship and leadership skills through hands-on experiences, while contributing data analysis skills, fundraising support and more to GlobeMed partner organizations’ work to improve public health in their communities. Students also have an opportunity to participate in GlobeMed’s Grassroots On-site Work (GROW) experience, which allows students to visit partner organizations and assist with projects that could benefit from their support for four to eight weeks.

A Look Back: GlobeMed’s History

A small band of Northwestern students launched GlobeMed after noticing a health clinic in rural Ghana wasn’t equipped to adequately serve the needs of the community it was built to support.

Although the clinic was well-funded, a lack of active local leadership in mobilizing community resources meant it wasn’t able to reach many of the surrounding communities it was intended to support. Recognizing this gap, students formed a partnership with the district-level government in Ghana and left key decision-making to local community leaders.

Thanks to the guidance and leadership of local partners, the clinic eventually opened and was able to serve the surrounding communities as intended. The lessons learned from the Ghana clinic, as well as a general dissatisfaction with other global health engagement opportunities that were available to students—such as short-term volunteer stints and medical missions—led to GlobeMed’s model for global health engagement that centers on long-term community-based partnerships and has been emulated at universities across the country. 

“Everybody involved was thinking about how we could better support partners and communities in an equity- and justice-oriented way. We were aware that the existing options available to us didn't really create a framework for how to do that, and we wanted to create something new," said GlobeMed alum and founding student leader Victor Roy.

Soon after its launch, GlobeMed’s student leaders secured a sizeable donation from the Abbott Fund, which allowed them to hire full-time staff to support a national office and coordination across university chapters.  At the same time, the Northwestern Roberta Buffett Institute for Global Affairs (known then as the Roberta Buffett Center for International and Comparative Studies), provided office space, administrative support and mentorship, becoming the hub for GlobeMed’s growing national organization. 

GlobeMed’s emphasis on relationship building and experiential learning made it a natural partner for Northwestern Buffett, which is also home to programs such as the Global Engagement Studies Institute (GESI), which also offers global engagement opportunities for students rooted in long-term relationships with community partners around the world. 

A Closer Look: GlobeMed’s Philosophy and Impact

Central to GlobeMed’s philosophy is a recognition of the deep historical inequities and structural barriers at the root of today’s global health disparities, coupled with an understanding that the communities bearing the brunt of these inequities are also best positioned to address them. 

GlobeMed’s leadership practices were developed in partnership with grassroots partners and global health experts from Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. These practices reflect what GlobeMed’s community partners believe is truly needed from health equity leaders for transformative and lasting impact: amongst other things, this includes digging deep to understand systems of inequality and their root causes, allowing space for radical re-imagination that recognizes the strengths, abilities and opportunities in every person and community, and following through on commitments to one another to act with the highest levels of integrity and accountability.

To assess the impact of its programming, GlobeMed has created a collaborative evaluation method that involves regularly collecting and assessing feedback from students, staff, and partners alike. 

Ultimately, GlobeMed’s approach to experiential learning and equitable, long-term partnerships has resulted in a network of more than 5,000 GlobeMed alumni who have become leaders in global health equity in a wide range of professions.  This includes alumni who have gone on to work as attorneys, emergency room technicians, physicians, nonprofit leaders and advocacy and policy coordinators. Despite the logistical challenges posed by the pandemic, GlobeMed has successfully pivoted much of its programming to a virtual format, continuing to train and mobilize an ever-growing community of students committed to global health equity. 

 "GlobeMed has shown me the right way to help others, by centering the affected group in the decision-making process and uplifting changemakers around the world to create sustainable changes. It showed me how intertwined social justice and health issues really are, expanded my leadership skills, and most importantly allowed me to connect with their partners in Uganda and meet some of the most amazing people," said GlobeMed’s Truman State University chapter alum Alex Marko.

Read more about GlobeMed's history and work >>