East Meets West: Helping Haiti
Janet Lin led a disaster response team of UIC emergency medicine physicians to Haiti in 2010, a few weeks after a 7.0-magnitude earthquake killed 230,000 and injured 300,000 people.
Six years later, her work in Haiti isn’t done.
Lin, an associate professor of emergency medicine, has developed a community-based training program to prepare the resource-poor nation for future health hazards and disasters.
Although she returns to Haiti a few times a year to assist with training sessions, Lin wants to develop a sustainable business model to scale up the program and reach more people.
She found a campus partnership to try to make that happen.
Lin is collaborating with Nancy Harvey, executive director of the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, to develop a business plan for expanding disaster risk reduction training in Haiti. Their project received a UIC Center for Global Health Seed Grant in 2015.
“We want to try to truly create a sustainable program — one that will function regardless of donor funding,” said Lin, director of Health Systems Development in the Center for Global Health. “We want a program that is of value to all people — not just community members but also to the government, and one that is economically viable.”
The training aims to empower community members to reduce disaster risks and improve the delivery of health care, Lin said.
“We are tapping into business principles to really align the public health, emergency medicine and business realms and trying to determine how we grow this and scale it up without losing the richness of this program,” Lin said.
Harvey traveled with Lin and her team to Haiti in March to see the training program in action.
“They were teaching in one classroom but it seemed very obvious that it would be valuable more broadly — and any place where disasters happen with some regularity,” Harvey said. “What they developed is so wonderful but it’s of limited value until it can be scaled up. We need to discover a way that it can be distributed more broadly and predictably, with sustainable funding. It could have enormous impact.”
Each training session teaches 20 participants about causes of disasters, household preparedness planning, first aid and more — with the goal of participants sharing their knowledge with other community members.
Two UIC graduate students, Nicole Laramee and Imran Desai, are spending eight weeks in Haiti this summer to continue Lin and Harvey’s work and find partners that can fund and expand the training program.
Laramee, a master’s student in public health, has traveled with Lin to Haiti twice this year.
“It was eye-opening for me, having never been to a developing nation before,” she said. “The earthquake effectively destabilized the country, which was already fragile. To have the opportunity to go to Haiti and work on something beneficial was a really humbling and rewarding experience. I want to find an avenue that could bring this training to the whole island.”
Desai, an MBA student in marketing and business analytics, made his first trip to Haiti with Laramee June 9.
“I strongly believe that along with the noble intentions of a nonprofit project or organization, there is a need to streamline and mold their activities into a sustainable business model,” Desai said. “I am eager to create a pitch for strong sustainable business models by collaborating with local entrepreneurs and multinational companies in Haiti.”
Lin said the community has welcomed the training program with open arms.
“You see a resilience in the people and an openness and desire to better themselves,” Lin said. “People are very much invested, not just for themselves as individuals, but they’re thinking of it at a community level. They see the value of a training program like this and making it a success.”
Lin and Harvey formed their collaboration after being connected by College of Business Administration Dean Michael Mikhail. Lin met Mikhail at a dinner and told him about her work in Haiti.
“We’re a university community that has diverse colleges with impassioned experts,” Harvey said. “Janet is an impassioned physician. I love the spirit of building business. Here at UIC, you can combine these together in really interesting ways that have value for our students and for the communities we serve.”