Jeff Glenn, public health professor and Ballard Center faculty fellow, spoke to students about social impact on global health at the first ever Peery Presenter event.
The Peery Presenter series is a new event series put on by the Ballard Center for Social Impact. The goal of the program is to give students unique opportunities to meet professionals in the social impact space and be inspired by their research and projects, Ballard Center Event Lead Cydne Baker said.
Glenn gave a lecture open to the student body titled “Social Impact in Global Health: Are We Measuring What Matters?” Glenn spoke about his career path, his interests in social impact, where he sees the field of public health going and answered questions from students.
About 12 students interested in the public health field were able to have dinner with Glenn and talk about his research before he spoke.
Brooklyn Richins, a public health student who attended the dinner, said she enjoyed seeing different perspectives from other students about how to solve global health issues. In addition to public health majors, business and pre-med students also attended the dinner and were able to collaborate with Glenn and benefit from his experience, Richins said.
Glenn said he wanted to do something to make the world better, and this desire guided his career path as he earned his bachelor’s degree, master’s of public administration and beyond. Glenn also interned with local government agencies and spent five years working for the CDC before receiving his doctorate of public health from Harvard University.
Glenn said he enjoys working in public health because it allows him to work on social issues. Nearly everything in the social sector is either a public health issue or a determinant of health, Glenn said. Glenn said his job at BYU lets him research what he is interested in, help students and teach others about public health issues.
Glenn spoke to students about his work with neglected tropical diseases. NTDs are mostly bacterial and parasitic infectious diseases that affect the poorest of people in both poor and high income countries, Glenn said, resulting in somewhere between 150,000 and 350,000 annual deaths.
Glenn talked about what is currently being done to treat and prevent NTDs and the issues that still need to be solved. Glenn used NTDs as an example of a problem that may appear easier to solve than it actually is.
Glenn spoke about the difference between technical problems and complex problems. Parts of the NTD problem are technical and easier to understand and solve, Glenn said. However, there are complex elements involved with the NTD problem that still need to be addressed or the problem will not be eradicated. It can be common in social impact to view problems in this way, as more straightforward than they really are, Glenn said.
“We cannot succeed if we rely primarily on technical solutions to solve complex problems,” Glenn said.
Glenn showed students a photo of blindfolded people touching different parts of an elephant and errantly claiming to know what it was, and compared it to organizations focusing only on specific parts of a problem instead of working together on the whole system. This is a common issue in global health, Glenn said.
“Addressing complex problems requires learning,” Glenn said. “We might have to give up some piece of the problem so we can be part of the solution.”
Glenn concluded his lecture by speaking about how it is hard to fund what cannot be measured. “Just because we can measure it doesn’t mean it’s the only important outcome,” Glenn said. Glenn’s takeaways to accelerate progress in global health include continuing to measure and implement technical solutions that are known to work and figuring out how to measure and fund learning.
Students asked Glenn questions about important donors and organizations as well as career advice.
Glenn said he did not know what to expect from the experience, but he was “excited about being able to reach different people” and share what is applicable across multiple disciplines.
In the coming semesters, Baker said the Ballard Center will invite more BYU professors and other professionals to participate in the series and have “intimate conversations” with students to help them understand what is going on with social impact in the world today.