Sparking a Global Health Movement for Young People: Kristen Eddings’s Vision (and a Party)

5/7/10Follow @xconomy

Young people get a bad rap in the media. They slack off, don’t vote, and have no money and no voice in society (except for a few outliers like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg). If they are being asked about business or some serious issue, many are afraid they’ll say something dumb on the record. Some actually do.

Every once in a while, I talk to a twenty-something like Kristen Eddings who has a rare combination of drive, focus, and poise. Eddings called the other day to pitch me on an event she’s orchestrating on June 3. Her goal is to rally 500 people in their 20s and 30s from around Seattle for what’s being called “A Party With a Purpose.”

The idea is that Seattle has a talent pool teeming with youthful idealists who want to make a difference for global health, but don’t really know how. Undergrads at the University of Washington often get pumped up by inspirational global health books like Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains Beyond Mountains,” but good luck trying to execute on that vision if you’re under 30. If you want to make decisions at a place like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, go ahead and get your MD/PhD, toss in a master’s in public health, and spend a few years overseas working for the World Health Organization. Do all that, and then maybe you can get a good job when you’re 40 and already have a mortgage and kids in school.

OK, I exaggerate a little, but it’s not far off the point Eddings was trying to make. She’s a Seattle native. She’s 25. She has a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from Seattle Pacific University. She’s a program assistant at the nonprofit Washington Global Health Alliance. That doesn’t exactly put her on speed-dial with the president of the WHO.

But there’s that focus and fire. A few minutes into our phone call, I tried to tell her politely that she has a fine idea for an event, but that it’s not really a story. She had this to say:

“It’s not really a story about an event. This party is the beginning of a young people’s global health movement. This is going to be viral. It’s going to be a big deal.” Eddings added: “Young people feel they have something to contribute, but they cannot get a job in the field. This is a way that more of them can contribute.”

OK, she got my attention.

So who is this young woman? She caught the global health bug on a summer abroad experience in Sierra Leone, the tiny nation in west Africa, where … Next Page »

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