Students simulate international aid negotiation

Participants in the Harvard Aid for Health simulation

April 29, 2014 — A group of students recently got a crash course on a key skill for any future global health practitioner: negotiation. In a simulation exercise organized by the student-run Harvard Aid for Health, they took on the roles of delegates from international organizations meeting with the government of Malawi to hammer out the details of a new aid package. Competing agendas, rumors of corruption leaked on Twitter, and an unpredictable prime minister added to the realism of the event.

Now in its sixth year, Harvard Aid for Health aims to raise students’ awareness of the complex social dynamics involved in a high-level international aid negotiation. Organized by a student team from Harvard School of Public Health, the event also includes students from other Harvard graduate schools, MIT, and Tufts Friedman School.

At this year’s simulation, held April 11, 2014, 20 students represented stakeholders including USAID, the World Health Organization, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Prior to the event, students attended a negotiation workshop and worked with mentors to better understand their role. Each was given both a public and a private agenda with specific goals for the session.

Stephen Marks, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights at HSPH, played the Malawian prime minister as grandiose and gracious, but quick to take offense. Peter Berman, professor of the practice of global health systems and economics, served as finance minister during the simulation.

Abha Mehndiratta, MPH ’14, organized the logistics of this year’s event. A pediatrician from India who previously worked for the non-governmental organization Access Health International, Mehndiratta has experience with high-level negotiations. “I never really understood the dynamics of these meetings,” she said. “I got involved with Harvard Aid for Health to learn how to negotiate with a group of stakeholders so that everyone around the table gets something of value. That’s an art.”

The students’ response to the simulation was overwhelmingly positive, Mehndiratta said, with participants staying at the closing reception well into the night to discuss their experiences and desire to learn more.

Also on this year’s planning team were Mahlet Gizaw Tebeka, SM ’15, who organized the writing of the briefing materials, and Aileen Palmer, SM ’15, who oversaw recruitment and promotion. William Bean, instructor in the Department of Global Health and Population, Leah Kane, associate director for student affairs, and Aid for Health co-founders Cecil Haverkamp and Manpreet Singh, MPH ’11, provided support.

Guest speaker Gabriel Jaramillo, a Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at HSPH, told the students that he wished he had participated in this simulation before taking on his previous role as general manager of the Global Fund. “I was clearly unprepared for how complicated the global health landscape was,” he said. After sharing stories about working with an array of stakeholders with competing agendas, from pharmaceutical companies to civil society organizations, Jaramillo quoted former President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.”

— Amy Roeder