By Lisa Stiffler, special correspondent
This is the first installment of our new series “Changemakers” exploring how young people, connected and globally aware, are working to change the world. If you know a young person (think “Millennial” or “Gen Y”) committed to change, global health and the fight against poverty, please send the person’s name, short bio and contact info to Jake Ellison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Matthew T. Schneider, the struggle to ease the suffering of people afflicted by HIV/AIDS or sickened by malaria is something of a numbers game. Schneider, who since October has worked at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., is sifting mountains of data to understand how to best help sick, impoverished people in developing nations.
The answers are tough to tease out. It’s hard even to know how you measure success.
“It’s focusing not just on how many people get drugs,” he said. “You want to see someone having a good outcome with the drugs.”
They’re crucial questions to answer, particularly as fear grows that the global economic downturn will translate into smaller donations for helping solve these problems. It’s becoming increasingly important that researchers figure out which programs are most effective so the policies and financial support are used wisely.
Here’s why and how Schneider got involved in global health and development:
Q: Why is “global health and the fight against poverty” an important issue for you?
When Schneider was an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, he traveled to Guatemala and volunteered at an orphanage for disabled children. He saw a degree of “pain and poverty that I’d never seen before.” He was motivated to pursue a career in global health in the hope that more people could “have an even playing field.”
Q: What personal experience inspired you? What idea is driving your commitment?
Schneider made close connections with some of the children at the orphanage. “I got to be friends with some of them – walking them to school and seeing the slums. It was an eye-opening experience.”
Even more personally, Schneider’s brother is mentally disabled. He wonders if more could have been done for him sooner, given better testing and earlier intervention.
Q: Do you think your generation is more attuned to global issues such as global health and the fight against poverty?
“It’s hard to say.” Schneider knows that his education and career track has put him in contact with a self-selecting group that’s more aware of these issues. He wondered if the economic downturn will cause graduates to look more widely for jobs, perhaps making careers in global health and the fight against poverty more appealing.
Q: Do you think your generation will make a difference?
“I hope so. I think there is great potential for doing that,” Schneider said. He’s optimistic that his peers can build on the great foundational work that’s been done so far. “It’s our turn to keep pushing and take the torch.”
Q: How did you land a job in this field?
While earning his master’s degree at the UW, Schneider also held a fellowship at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which is affiliated with the university. After graduation, his boss at the institute recommended him for a position doing similar quantitative work at the Center for Global Development.
Q: If you were to advise someone on how to get a job in this field, what would you tell them?
Schneider recommends: “Going out and traveling, just understanding what else is out there. It’s hard to go into this type of research without some open eyes.” He encourages other to pursue “what you’re good at, and what you’re interested in. If you know you like the quantitative side, look into that.”
Additionally, he urged people to remember that global health and development includes lots of disciplines, everything from architects who can design hospitals to someone skilled in international relations.
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