Party with a Purpose


Seattle parties to help ‘Mobile Moms’ in Timor-Leste | 

Melinda Gates was there. Supermodel Christy Turlington was there.

So were a thousand or two others, Seattle’s young humanitarians who started a Saturday evening bash with talks about maternal health but ended it with loud, thumping dance music.

Tom Paulson

Partying for a purpose at Agency 2012

This annual Seattle do-gooder event at McCaw Hall, sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance and formerly known as Party With A Purpose, is aimed at raising awareness among young people of critical issues in global health and also raising funds for a specific cause — all combined with some serious partying.

Now called Agency, this year’s event sought to educate the glam crowd of young do-gooders (and a few not-so-glam older folks like me) about the threat of maternal mortality and some of the efforts underway to increase safety of childbirth in poor countries.

The Seattle organization Health Alliance International, which recently launched a Mobile Moms text messaging service aimed at improving maternal health in Timor-Leste, is the beneficiary of the funds raised by the event’s ticket sales (which looked to be at least $40,000. Last year’s fund-raising focus was on the Infectious Disease Research Institute‘s TB work, which raised $34,000).

Tom Paulson

Susan Thompson of HAI's Timor-Leste program

“The idea is to use mobile phones, through text messaging, to get them the information they need for healthy births,” said Susan Thompson, head of the Timor-Leste program for HAI. The long-term goal, Thompson said, is to use this project to further her organization’s broader aim of strengthening the tiny country’s overall health system.

Because of the ubiquity of cell phones in even poor communities (Thompson said they did a survey and discovered 69% of the women had phones, and nearly all texted regularly), the idea is to test in Timor-Leste if reproductive health messaging using text messages sent to pregnant women will improve health outcomes.

“So-called ‘mHealth’ projects are very popular but we need to determine if they really work,” Thompson said.

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Seattle’s Party with a Purpose is on again, as ‘Agency’ | 

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Global health is sexy.

At least in Seattle. The best evidence of this perhaps has been the annual Party with a Purpose, a celebration sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance and lavishly funded by donors like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing and others. This year, the party’s name is changing to Agency.

Why? Here’s what the artists formerly known as Partying Purposefully say:

“Agency means taking action on behalf of others. Agency is founded in the belief that focusing the power of young adults for the betterment of a single global health cause, even just for one night, can lead to world-changing progress.”

Aimed primarily at the younger set, the idea behind this event is to combine a spectacular, posh night out with educational and fund-raising activities devoted to a particular issue in global health. Organizers bravely launched the event with a focus on diarrhea and last year took up tuberculosis.

This year, the party is July 14 and they will focus on a University of Washington organization, Health Alliance International, working with mobile phones to improve maternal and child health.

Here’s a video pitch from lead organizer Kristen Eddings:

Announcing Agency from WGHA on Vimeo.

Note: Some have raised questions about the actual impact of these celebrations, if not the conflicting message they send — as I noted to much consternation last year. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger!

What I can say in defense of the idea of partying about diseases of poverty is it’s a heck of a lot better than ignoring these issues.

So party on!

A word to the wise: These events have sold out both times so if you want to go, better get your tickets as soon as they go on sale. I’m told it will be sometime in April.

Partying with a purpose, looking for an impact | 

Tom Paulson

Partying with a Purpose

More than a thousand young (along with a few not-so-young) Seattleites got together Friday to eat, drink, dance, schmooze and Party with a Purpose.

Seattle’s second annual Party with a Purpose was at McCaw Hall, a sold-out affair put on by the Washington Global Health Alliance. The event is intended to raise awareness of a number of efforts by local global health organizations and assist in the fight against diseases of poverty around the world — this year focused on tuberculosis.

“We have a global health movement among young people in Seattle,” said Kristen Eddings, lead organizer of the event for WGHA. “A party can’t change the world … But it can support and seed the change.”

Can it? Can throwing a glam party really help fight poverty and disease in poor countries?

At a basic level, that of raising money, it did already. The event raised funds (about $35,000) to assist the Seattle-based Infectious Disease Research Institute in developing new methods aimed at fighting one of the world’s biggest killers – tuberculosis. This is substantially less than the party cost, but sponsors like the Gates Foundation, Glassybaby, Sightlife, the Seattle Center and others paid for that.

At the broader level of supporting a movement, does throwing a party actually raise awareness and increase understanding of critical issues in global health, the other aim of this event?

That’s not clear. It certainly shows that, in Seattle at least, global health is now popular and maybe even sexy. But whether or not this translates into truly understanding what global health is all about is hard to assess.

“We’re going to do a post-party survey to try to evaluate that,” said Becky Bartlein, one of the organizers of the event. Bartlein, a recent UW global health graduate and former Peace Corps volunteer who works on drug access in poor countries, is coordinating a post-party survey aimed at finding out and “keeping the party going.”

I did my own survey of participants — when I wasn’t dancing the “silent disco” or getting berated for misunderstanding what the party invitation meant by “cocktail attire” — and found a mixed reaction among the partygoers.

Tom Paulson

Silent disco fever

Everyone had a good time, and for some that was enough. I talked to quite a few people who thought the event was mostly a celebration of the local biomedical and biotech industry. Others who work on poverty and disease in poor countries said they were concerned that such a posh party sent a confused message — celebrating the kind of rich world extravagance that actually contributes to global poverty and inequity.

I put these concerns to Eddings, Bartlein and other co-organizers of the event (who all seem to be beautiful young women, for some reason).

“There’s more than one way to fight poverty,” Eddings said. Many of those who attend the party might not go to a lecture or watch a documentary about the fight against AIDS, TB or malaria in Africa, she said. “We can’t always be trying to ‘guilt’ people into caring or getting involved.”

Bartlein, who worked in Senegal with the Peace Corps, said partying is a universal method for building purpose.

“When I worked in these poor communities, a party was always one of the best ways to bring people together,” she said. “Do we really think poor people would fault us for having a good time while also drawing attention to their needs? Celebrating is how humans connect to each other.”


Slideshow: Party with a Purpose 2011 | 

Party with a Purpose almost sold out! | 

Okay, you don’t have much more time.

Party with a Purpose is almost sold out. This Friday’s event, sponsored by the Washington Global Health Alliance, is aimed at bringing together mostly young people (and some old people like me) to eat, drink, be merry and focus on a particular global health issue.

Tom Paulson

Last year's Party with a (Poop) Purchase

Last year, they boldly based their social event on diarrhea; this year, it’s tuberculosis and the work of Seattle’s Infectious Disease Research Institute.

It’s more evidence of what I contend is a Millennials’ do-gooder revolution.

“This year’s event will be much more geared toward providing people with opportunities to engage,” said Kristen Eddings, lead organizer of the event for the WGHA. For example, Eddings said, the event will educate attendees about the Global Health Corps and encourage them to apply.

But the event isn’t limited only to those looking for a career in global health, she said. The idea is to provide an entertaining opportunity for anyone to simply come learn more about these issues, find causes to support or get involved as a volunteer. The focus this year is on bringing more public attention to a local effort that few seem aware of, the work done on TB by the Infectious Disease Research Institute.

“We’ve been lousy about getting our story out,” said Curt Malloy, senior vp at IDRI. The research organization, founded in 1993, explores novel approaches to vaccines and therapeutics.

Last fall, as reported by the Seattle Times, IDRI announced plans to begin clinical testing on a new TB vaccine — aimed at boosting the efficacy of the current vaccine. The Seattle firm also recently started testing a vaccine against leischmaniasis in the Sudan and is working on developing faster, cheaper TB diagnostic tests.

Party with a Purpose will also raise money to support IDRI’s research. It may not be enough to fund a vaccine trial. But that’s okay; the sponsors like the Gates Foundation, Sightlife, Vulcan and others are picking up the cost of the shindig so all the proceeds go to assist with IDRI’s work and every little bit helps.

The idea is to increase awareness of what’s going on in Seattle and why we’re now a global health epicenter.

Five Millennials on global health | 

Global health is a big deal in Seattle.

As a matter of worldwide significance, it is of course a big deal everywhere — by definition. But what I mean is that global health is today the cause célèbre for Seattle and throughout the region. It’s especially popular among the Millennials.

“Global health is the movement of our generation,” said Kristen Eddings, a program associate at the Washington Global Health Alliance and one of the primary organizers of a big global health shindig in Seattle coming this June known as Party with a Purpose.

More on Eddings and that party later. First I’d like to introduce a few other members of the movement:

Sarah Dawson

Sarah Dawson at eye clinic, Burma

1) Sarah Dawson: Burmese refugees and Seattle undergrads.

Dawson is a 21-year-old student at the University of Washington, a senior majoring in public health and Spanish. She already speaks Thai. Dawson helped launch the UW’s global health minor and wants to do something in the medical field.

And, in her spare time, she works on the Thai-Burma border helping refugees with emergency assistance, defensive training and human rights’ violations documentation.

“I’m most interested in maternal and child health issues,” she said.

Wait a minute. Before we get into the global health stuff here, what about that last bit that sounded like special ops?

Dawson used to live in Thailand, where her mother and uncle have established a humanitarian organization called Free Burma Rangers that works with refugees inside Burma (aka Myanmar). The Burmese government is not too keen on the organization, to put it mildly.

“We have some tense situations at times,” said the understated Dawson. She described one episode last summer that involved some gunfire, a fast hike through the jungle and a lot of, yeah, tension. Continue reading

Why young people are flocking to global health and poverty – a series preview | 

For the past few weeks I’ve been talking to young people, mostly around Seattle, who are involved in global poverty issues. And I’m blown away by the number of initiatives being pursued by people in their 20′s and early 30′s.

freestylee/Michael Thompson/flickr

  • A fellow heading to Mongolia to work on microfinance
  • A young Bengali couple who have started an organization to fund smaller projects that often get ignored
  • A woman who plans to work at the International Criminal Court on women’s issues

Others have noted this before, but my conversations have certainly shown it’s true: There’s something special about this generation, Gen-Y or the Millennials. They are much more internationally aware than many of their older cousins or parents, and they are very socially motivated. Whether it’s starting a business or working through a non-profit, they want to have a social impact.

I’ve written about the networking that’s happening in Seattle, creating more of a shared sense of effort or momentum, through the “Party with a Purpose.” I think the individual stories, of young people who’ve not only gotten involved but are making real progress, are more powerful. Stay tuned (and click on the “Millennials” link for more stories).

Pre-Party with a Purpose | 

What is the best way to get hundreds of the young, smart and beautiful people of Seattle to pay more attention to a deadly bacterial illness that kills millions of people around the world?


Tom Paulson

Pre-Party with a Purpose

That’s right. Party with a Purpose.

I can reveal at this point that it will be June 17, McCaw Hall and likely big. (The official unveiling, also when the tickets go on sale, is April 11)

Last year, when this event was first launched, it was all about raising money to help fight a deadly form of diarrhea. As I wrote then, only in global-health-fevered Seattle would young people be able to hold a spectacularly successful party with the theme being diarrhea.

This year, Party with a Purpose is targeting tuberculosis in partnership with a local research organization working on TB, the Infectious Disease Research Institute.

Thursday evening at the South Lake Union Discovery Center, organizers, sponsors and other supporters of the event gathered for a little pre-party gathering to get ready for the big shindig. One of the prime movers of Party with a Purpose, Kristen Eddings, with the Washington Global Health Alliance, spoke briefly.

“Seattle is the city that heals,” said Eddings. The goal for this year is to double attendance (to 1,000 people) aimed at building community and getting more people informed and engaged when it comes to global health matters.

Last year’s Party with a Purpose, Eddings said, raised $13,000 to help get oral rehydration kits out to many poor communities in Kenya. This year, she said, the goal is help fund research and get rapid TB tests out to needy communities.

So stay tuned for the big announcement Monday. I bet they sell out again.

Sponsors of this year’s TB bash so far include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Glassybaby, Sightlife, Vulcan, Swedish Hospital & Medical Center, Berk & Associates and eBioscience.