Katie Bollbach ’02

originally published September 16, 2010

Little did Katie Bollbach '02 know that a trip she took to Africa when she was 15 would be the first of many. Now, at 25, when she looks back to that voyage — taken with teacher Nicky Chapin ’52 and a group of Chapin students — she doesn’t see it as an omen of her future, exactly, but as the beginning of a desire to travel. “I remember thinking, ‘I definitely want to come back to Africa,’” Katie said.

Go back she has. As program director of Global Health Corps, a nonprofit that trains young professionals for one-year fellowships in the health care industry in the United States and Africa, she spends up to four months a year in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. While abroad, she visits with the fellows on-site to see how their work is progressing.

The work is not just medicinal. The fellows work in human resources, tech support, hospital architecture — aspects of the health care industry that many people don’t see. “You don’t have to be a doctor or a nurse to help out,” Katie said. “We have one fellow who [previously] did supply-chain analysis for The Gap in San Francisco, tracking clothes. Now he is doing supply-chain analysis of AIDS drugs in Tanzania.”

Global Health Corps’s ultimate goal is equity in global health care, so that the world’s poorest citizens can access the same medical services as the rich. Katie and her colleagues believe that by bringing young professionals with diverse skills to the health care industry, they can help to achieve that equity.

A key element of their approach is selecting fellows who hail from Africa as well as from the United States. “The next generation of leaders can’t just be American,” Katie said. Each American fellow is paired with an African fellow from the country in which both are working, a match that can yield invaluable cultural insight.

Having fellows immersed in local culture, and having them teach local residents to take ongoing responsibility for their health care, is central to Global Health Corps’s work. Katie traces these two principles to an experience she had while running another health care nonprofit, FACE AIDS.

While a student at Stanford in 2005, Katie and her friend Jonny Dorsey spent a summer in Zambia with another friend, Lauren Young, working at a refugee camp where many people were infected with the HIV virus. The trio asked the refugees what it was they needed most. “‘We need jobs,’ they told us. ‘We need money,’” Katie said.

Their words led Katie, Jonny and Lauren to start FACE AIDS, an organization that helped HIV-positive Africans to earn income by making and selling beaded AIDS-awareness pins and, with the profits, establish other businesses to generate long-term income. FACE AIDS also set up an educational program and an HIV support group in the refugee camps.

In the years following FACE AIDS’s founding, Katie moved back and forth between studying at Stanford and managing FACE AIDS’s health programs in Africa. She eventually rejoined forces with Jonny Dorsey, and with a small group of other young activists, they developed the idea for the Global Health Corps, which they believed could have a lasting effect on the course of the AIDS pandemic.

“I was very skeptical at first,” said Katie, who wondered if yet another volunteer program could succeed. She soon realized that Global Health Corps was different—it would train leaders at home and abroad, and bring new skills to global health care. In January 2009, Global Health Corps received its first grant.

Global Health Corps trained 22 fellows its first year, 38 in its second, and next year the number will grow to 70. Katie and her co-directors envision 500 fellows annually in five years’ time. If that sounds ambitious, it is. “It’s a lot of pressure,” Katie said. “But it’s exciting.”

Chapin students should visit the FACE AIDS website, http://faceaids.org, to learn more about global health. Alumnae who are interested in applying for a Global Health Corps fellowship should visit http://ghcorps.org.

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