Wanted: Global Ideas for a Healthier U.S.

Mar 1, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by

Throughout its history, the U.S. has enthusiastically adopted some of the best ideas and innovations from other countries. It’s time to do the same for health.

Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions social graphic

For the first time, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has issued a solicitation asking for global ideas to help build a Culture of Health in the U.S. Karabi Acharya, who directs the Foundation’s new efforts to learn from overseas, tells us more about this opportunity, RWJF’s vision, and her own connection to the work.

Nicole: Give us the basics: RWJF is not turning its attention overseas, right?

Karabi: Right! We are still focused, more than ever, on helping everyone in the U.S. live healthier lives. This is an open call for ideas from abroad that can bring us closer to that goal. We’ve always learned from other countries—this is just an acknowledgement that it’s time we do that for health.

Nicole: Why is health everything and vice versa?

Karabi: Part of the reason the Culture of Health vision is so powerful is that it recognizes that every aspect of our lives affects our health. When you look overseas, you see not just different systems but different values—in many Latin American countries, for example, Open Streets events draw millions not because people are trying to get their 10,000 steps; their values and norms place a high premium on gathering with their neighbors and socializing. We can learn a lot from those differences.

Nicole: What is RWJF looking for?

Karabi: We are honestly looking for any ideas from outside the U.S. that can help us move toward a Culture of Health. That means programs, models, research, evaluation—everything. What’s important is that the proposals promote health equity and align with our Culture of Health Action Framework.

Nicole: What does cross-sector collaboration really look like?

Karabi: Health is not just about health care—it’s also about where and how you work, live, play and learn. I believe that, and RWJF believes that. So we want to see transportation officials working with public health officials, yes—but also business owners, architects and teachers.

Even on a personal level, you never know what’s going to connect back in your life. Take Bart Weetjens, a Dutch product developer who was obsessed with his pet rats as a boy. Now, he’s trained rats to detect tuberculosis and sniff out landmines. Most of us lead such a compartmentalized life, but there’s tremendous value in connecting those things.

Nicole: Speaking of connections, what about yours?

Karabi: My mom is American, and my dad is Indian—it almost feels like my birthright to connect cultures. When I was 10 we moved from Southern Illinois to Calcutta for two years. It was a time of upheaval there: India was in an official state of emergency, with Bangladeshi refugees streaming in and people living on the streets. Coming face to face with poverty, I wanted to do something about that.

Nicole: What was your path to RWJF?

Karabi: I followed the standard public health route for a while, from working in the Calcutta slums to focusing on homegrown leadership and systems change at Ashoka. This job really brings all of the pieces together. How great is it that, after being part of the system that exports American ideas, I can reverse that to help the U.S. learn from abroad?

Learn more about Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions.

about the author

Nicole Bronzan staff image.

Nicole Bronzan joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2015 as a communications officer, bringing journalistic roots and an advocate’s passion to the Foundation’s work to ensure that everyone has the opportunity for a healthier life.