Can the bold ideas needed to advance health equity be found beyond our borders? A global learner reflects on the value of looking abroad for solutions and the 12-question quiz that can help us all get started.
One out of four people living in the United States today are either immigrants or children of immigrants. That’s approximately 85 million people, all of whom have connections to other countries and cultures. I’m one of those people. While I was born in Michigan and call New Jersey home today, I’ve spent considerable time visiting, living and working in Mumbai—the city my parents migrated from and where my public health career kicked off.
My connection to my country of origin—through ties to family and friends, time spent living and visiting there, language and culture—has profoundly shaped me and made me the person I am today. Perhaps most importantly, though, it has fostered a deep appreciation for the many different ways people experience, live day-to-day and move through the world—and the great possibilities for learning this brings. Years ago, as a new mother in the United States, I benefited enormously from Indian postpartum food traditions, lovingly prepared for me by my mother and mother-in-law. Now, with school-age children, I wonder which Indian teaching methods could be helpful, trading notes with my cousins and their kids.
These types of exchanges have enriched my life, and I often hear the same sentiment from friends and colleagues with immigrant backgrounds from various other countries. Moreover, they remind us that the way things are done in the U.S. isn’t the only way to do things. Countries around the globe, from Brazil to Malawi, are finding creative ways to overcome similar health challenges to the ones we’re facing in the U.S. By looking beyond our borders, we can uncover new inspiration for advancing health and health equity across our communities.
An Intriguing Proposition
Knowing we have so much to learn from other countries, I was excited when a group of colleagues and I were asked to beta test RWJF’s now fully launched Blue Marble Quiz. We were told the quiz had been designed to help more people discover the value of global learning.
As someone who sits on the Foundation’s Global Ideas for U.S. Solutions team and shares in this mission, it was a promising proposition. But I did wonder how it could be done in just 12 questions. It seemed too good to be true, knowing how challenging it can be to spark this type of interest. In fact, just last year, 73 percent of U.S. foundations surveyed by Candid said their grantmaking was rarely or not at all inspired by solutions from around the globe. Could a quiz help change that?
The first question flashed on the screen: How are you connected to various cultures and countries? Quickly checking off several of the answer choices, I was delighted by the questions that followed, all of which invited quiz-takers to reflect on how global learning shapes how we think and what we do. I felt like many of my own life experiences were showing up in the questions. At the same time, the quiz also recognizes that living in another country—or even visiting one—is not a requirement for global learning: having friends from different cultures, listening to music of other countries, watching global news, trying new cuisines—all of which can happen right in our own backyard—can shape our thinking, too.
I was having a lot of fun reflecting on each question. Was the rest of the beta testing team having a meaningful experience with it too? I couldn’t tell. All I could hear was the quick, off-beat sound of mouse clicking. I took that as a good sign and continued on my exploration.
The Blue Marble
Once I answered the last question, the quiz tallied up my score to reveal my result: Blue Marble All the Way.
This category and the quiz’s name are inspired by the Blue Marble image of the Earth taken by the Apollo 17 crew in 1972. It was the first photo to capture the world in its entirety and forever changed the way we see it. The astronauts described a profound shift in their perspectives as borders and divisions vanished and one fully connected entity came into view.
Similarly, when we take a step back from our own country—either literally or figuratively—we start to see our home, our work, our challenges and potential solutions with new eyes.
I enjoyed reading about the other categories I could have fallen into as well—from Buy Local to I’ll Cross That Bridge. Each one celebrates the different places our ideas can come from, recognizing that all perspectives hold immense value on the journey toward health equity.
While not a scientific survey, the questions in the quiz are informed by resources and research that speak to the benefits of looking abroad for inspiration, ideas, and solutions. The quiz makes all of these materials available at the end—they range from articles to podcasts to a spinning globe of radio stations you can tune into. I enjoyed this TED talk by Angela Oguntala, who encourages us to consider visions of the future by looking abroad, with examples from Kenya, Bangladesh, and the Caribbean. I also learned that, according to an MIT study, having close interpersonal relationships with people from different cultures can actually spur creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.
“Creativity is about connecting dots,” I read in an MIT Sloan interview with the lead author of the study, Jackson Lu. “When someone enters a close relationship with a person from a different culture, they collect more dots to connect to the ones they already have.”
How could these connections benefit us in workplace settings? How might they prove useful as we seek solutions to social challenges? I thought back to my ties to India and wondered how my own interpersonal relationships there might continue to fuel outside-the-box thinking, personally and professionally.
A Journey for All
Suddenly, I noticed the sound of mouse clicking had petered out and my colleagues were starting to look up from their laptops. A robust discussion ensued. Some pointed out how the quiz helps people see they have more exposure to global ideas than they realize, others reflected on the resources that stuck out to them—demonstrating that this simple tool could spark provocative conversations about how we learn from the rest of the world and the value those insights hold for advancing health equity.
Since the quiz was launched, we’ve heard from people whose curiosity has been similarly sparked, like the co-chair of a sorority committee who used the tool to lead a teen youth group discussion about how to be a global citizen and peers who have been inspired to add more international news stories to their daily reading.
Global learning can often be seen as exclusive and distant, but the quiz opens up pathways for it to be inclusive and accessible for all.
What if the key to advancing birth equity could be found within Rwanda or the bold approaches needed to address the climate crisis were taking root in New Zealand? Twelve simple questions might kick-start a learning journey that could surface the solutions you’ve been looking for.
Take the quiz and explore the intriguing resources to see where in the world your ideas come from.
About the Author
Shuma Panse, senior program officer, joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in February 2016, bringing extensive experience in business engagement on health, public-private partnerships, and global health.