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HSPH students simulate international aid negotiations

Fourteen HSPH students participated in an innovative extracurricular exercise on March 25, joining with students from other Harvard graduate schools, Boston University, and Tufts University, to simulate the high-level negotiations behind the funding of international aid packages. Representing delegations from the Malawian government and stakeholders such as the World Health Organization and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the students spent the afternoon hammering out an aid agreement earmarked to help the country meet targets for improving maternal and child health outlined in the Millennium Development Goals. Prior to the event, students attended a negotiation workshop and a coaching session on their particular roles.

Stephen P. Marks, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights at HSPH, directed the proceedings as the prime minister of Malawi and responded to the delegates with an unpredictable mix of graciousness and prickly humor. He frequently ignored the representatives of non-governmental organizations and willfully misinterpreted a delegate’s statements as support for the country’s tobacco industry. After keeping the students on their toes throughout the negotiations, he praised the group’s performance as outstanding.

The event was intended to stimulate students’ critical thinking rather than strictly imitate reality, said advisor Cecil Haverkamp, coordinator of strategic partnerships and global health practice at HSPH. The student-organized simulation, which was piloted last year, condenses the formalities involved in this sort of negotiation to focus on the social dynamics, he said

Hands-on experiences like this help students develop the soft skills they will need on the job, Haverkamp said. “The core of public health work is mobilizing support for evidence-based policy. The evidence has to be correct and relevant, but that is only the first step. You need political and financial support.”

HSPH student Andrea Feigl, who acted as a regional director of the World Health Organization, told the Harvard Crimson that participating in the simulation was “better than writing a paper.”

Link to Harvard Crimson article

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