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EP17 NGO Work with Alex Bragg
Deborah Onakomaiya: Hey guys and welcome to another episode of I am GPH. I'm your host Deborah Onakomaiya. On the show today, we have an alumni of GPH, Alex Bragg. She graduated in the spring of 2017. On the show today, she's going to talk about her current work at HealthRight International as a program officer where she works closely with the program director of women and children's health. She works to develop grant proposals, support programs focused on the health of LGBTI communities, women and children, at risk adolescents and migrants. Previously, Alex worked as a research assistant at Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, at NYU Langone in the Department of Population Health. There, her research focused on obesity and health disparities. Alex holds a bachelor's in community health as well as a master's in public health from NYU. Let's go to our conversation with her. Thank you so much Alex for coming on our show today. It's awesome to have you.
Alex Bragg: Thank you for having me.
Deborah Onakomaiya: All right, so let's dive right in. You are an alumni of NYU and currently you work at HealthRight, which is affiliated with the NYU College of Global Public Health. Could you just tell us a little bit about, you know, HealthRight and the work it does?
Alex Bragg: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So HealthRight is a health and human rights international NGO. We work in five countries here in the United States, in Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam and Ukraine. Our mission is to empower marginalized communities to live healthier lives. We work on a range of projects that's from HIV prevention and treatment to family planning, in Kenya. Vietnam, we're working with orphans and vulnerable children, strengthening the healthcare system. So it's a wide variety of projects and we're looking to branch into mental health and incorporate that into our existing programs, as well as expand in sub-Saharan Africa.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Oh, that's quite a mouthful, I would say.
Alex Bragg: Yes.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah. So more specifically, can you describe your work at HealthRight? You know, how did you get involved with this organization and the work that you do there, why is it important right now?
Alex Bragg: Sure. So I actually started at HealthRight before I started the MPH program in 2015. I started part-time as the intern coordinator so I was just working with the interns, delegating tasks to them directly from the directors and then overseeing those projects. And then as the time went on, I started working more closely with the directors and the executive director, Peter Navario, on proposals and program evaluations and my experience just build from there. So as I started developing these new skills, I was able to talk with the directors and the staff there and say, you know, I'd like to learn more about this particular area, or I'd like to develop this skill. I would, let's say if it had to do with budget, it's how do we create a budget? How do we know what is feasible over two years in terms of activities, staffing? It was great. They were able to give me that experience. So that's kind of how I progress. So started as an intern coordinator and then now I am the program officer there. And so currently, I oversee quite a variety of projects. So that's working on administrative tasks, you know, just simple things within the office, getting events and campaigns ready to proposal development. So that's working on the grants with the director of women and children's health, the director of the human rights clinic, as well as the executive director on all those projects that I had mentioned before. And then also working on business development. So that takes up the majority of my time. And that is identifying funding opportunities for HealthRight And kind of going through the eligibility requirements, if it aligns with our mission, what it would take to apply for these grants and go from there. And this is a really great task because then this ties into the internship program that I also coordinate. So with this, I'm able to delegate tasks to the interns so they can work on the literature reviews that help support the proposal development.
Deborah Onakomaiya: I mean, that sounds like a very dynamic role. Sounds like you wear a lot of hats.
Alex Bragg: Yes, I do.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And I mean, that's important. I mean, you graduated last semester, therefore, looking back at NYU, what would you say was the most valuable class or experience that you got out of your time at NYU?
Alex Bragg: So I actually really enjoyed the capstone. It was a ton of work and I think that many times I thought my hair was going to fall out. I was just very stressed, but it was a good stressed. It was exciting because I was once more learning these new skills and I was getting this hands on experience that I otherwise would never have had. Going to Ukraine, actually being able to conduct face to face interviews and interviews over Skype and just going through the entire project from start to finish. So capstone, I really enjoyed that experience because I was able to work with the partners and Ukraine and then also with our faculty here at NYU, and it didn't just involve my mentors. We were able to branch out to other faculty members to gain their insight and they were very helpful on our project. Peter Navario actually helped us with the cost analysis. Dory Spira, she helped with our scoping review, so we really pulled from all faculty members to build this project. So that was really great and it was also really a great way to network because during that time we were branching out and just trying to get so much help on it we ended up finding out, you know, who's working in what little niche of the school and it was just really a great opportunity. I think, besides the capstone, I would just say my other favorite aspect of the program was once more the networking, and that was through the classes that I took. I really enjoyed the WFP course with Chris Dickey, a systematic approach to food access. So that was a very enjoyable class, as well as the HIV course that I took with Perry Halkitis in London. So those hands on experience, I really thought that was the best aspect to the CGPH program, which I see now that it is the GPH program.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yes. We're changing. We're like butterflies. We're metamorphosing. Again, this is going back to your experience, you know, what advice would you have for students who might be interested in pursuing an MPH, especially at NYU? You know, what type of mindset should they be coming in, especially into this program?
Alex Bragg: I would say give everything 110% talk to everybody you can. That's faculty, that's your peers, that's people outside of NYU, on projects that you may be working on and just really gain as much experience during this time as you can and really put forth as much effort you can into these classes because what you put in is what you're going to get out of this program. I think that's the most useful thing somebody can do, like don't come in and just complete the classes to get a passing grade. Do it to learn and to apply your skills. Ask questions, get involved, be a part of research with faculty, if possible.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And I mean, going back to what you just highlighted about skills, what skills did you get from NYU that you're applying to your current position?
Alex Bragg: So many. I would say probably the program evaluation and analysis. That was the most useful because during that class we learned how to develop a program model and that was very helpful on learning how to actually build a program. What are the inputs needed, what are the activities that are going to be necessary for your project, whether that's a hundred clients you're working with or 2000 clients or five districts or something like that, and what are the outcomes, short term, long term, and the overall impact you want to make on that region. That was very useful and work that I'm doing now because it helped me develop a framework of starting with an idea and how to build that idea into something that is real and sustainable.
Deborah Onakomaiya: You're part of, you know, the nonprofit world in terms of, you know, your work at HealthRight. So the average public health students, you know, they want to affect change. You know, when asked about their career goals, a large majority of them are like, "Oh, I want to start my own NGO." You know? If you could tell students one thing about the nonprofit world or the NGO world, what would it be?
Alex Bragg: I would say if for those of you who want to work in an NGO and/or maybe you want to start your own NGO, always go in with the mindset of working with the community first. You want to make sure that the ideas are coming from grassroots and that the community has a say in the projects that you're building and that you want to form partnerships and relationships that are strong and that will last so that when this program continues, that eventually your NGO, whether that's here in the United States or in another country, you can eventually leave and that program will continue to work without you there. You want to build, once more, create something that's sustainable. You don't want to be an NGO that goes in and pull staff from maybe another existing local NGO. You don't want to be an NGO that goes in and creates a program that's great for three years, but then once you leave it's no longer existing and that health issue may return. You want to create something that is real and sustainable.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And talking about sustainability, HealthRight works in several areas that have, you know, several parts of the world where they've been for decades. You know, how have they been able to sustain, like how have they been able to remain relevant in those areas?
Alex Bragg: I would say that question is probably best suited for Theresa, the director of women's children's health, or Peter, but I can give my best shot to answer that. And I would say once more that that is the relationship building. So when we went in, we have partners on the ground that we've been working with since we launched programs. We develop relationships with the Ministry of Health. We work with the community members, with stakeholders and various projects and we make sure that we continue to develop and build these relationships so that we can work on the existing programs that we have and also on new projects. We just want to make sure that we continue to treat everybody with respect and make sure that they have a say in the projects that we are implementing.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah, that's very important. And I mean, shifting gears a little bit, you touched on internships at HealthRight. For our listeners who might be interested in, you know, getting involved with HealthRight, what do you look for in interns?
Alex Bragg: I would say the big thing for me is I want to see somebody with drive. I think that is so important. Somebody who's eager to learn and really just wants to learn more about HealthRight's projects. It doesn't necessarily matter about your skills coming in. We have undergraduates who have never written a literature view or maybe never worked on a budget or anything like that. And that doesn't matter. You don't have to have a certain skill set coming into the internship because we understand this is an internship and you need to develop these skills. So that's what we are here for is to help you create and build on skills that you, you know, maybe interested in.
Deborah Onakomaiya: A follow up question to that is that is this like a research based internship or what are, apart from literature reviews and whatnot, like what are interns doing?
Alex Bragg: Similar to me, they wear many hats within our organization. They're helping with the administrative side when it comes to running these campaigns. They'll create the materials for them. They help promote our social media presence, so they'll develop blogs for the website and this is based off reports that are coming from the field. You will also help with actual reports that we are producing for donors, going through copy editing, looking for gaps of information, and then they'll also help with the proposal development. So those literature reviews that they are conducting, those will inform the proposals looking for whether it's family planning in Kenya to gender based violence in Ukraine. They're looking for health indicators, what are existing programs that are already going on in this area? Where can HealthRight kind of fit into this field and what is a new project that can be innovative and also useful, but we're not replicating something that's already existing.
Deborah Onakomaiya: This sounds like actual hands on skills that they can transfer to whatever NGO position they get.
Alex Bragg: Yes. And that is a great aspect about HealthRight, is that since we are a small NGO, the interns do have the ability to try out many different tasks so they're not just stuck in one particular area.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah. That's important. What are your public health interests? You know, what are you personally interested in?
Alex Bragg: So I'm interested in a ton of things which is why it's really, really great working at HealthRight because we do work on so many different projects. I would say personally I have a really great interest in mental health and also in reproductive health and sexual health. So those were my areas that I would like to learn more about. And if we were in terms of population, I would say adolescents and women and children.
Deborah Onakomaiya: And five years from now, if you were back on our show, would you still be at HealthRight? Would you be running your own NGO? Will you be at the UN?
Alex Bragg: Oh. Who knows. Oh, gosh. Five years from now. I haven't even thought a year from now what I'll be doing. Five years from now, I don't, you know, I can definitely say I don't want to start my own NGO. I truly, I don't know. I don't know, Deborah. You ask hard questions.
Deborah Onakomaiya: I ask too many questions.
Alex Bragg: No. Hard questions.
Deborah Onakomaiya: How about this? Will you still be working in this, like in the NGO space or ...
Alex Bragg: Oh, yes. I would definitely foresee myself working in this area. Definitely. I love being able to have an impact on communities so I can definitely see myself doing this for a long time.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for being on our show today, Alex.
Alex Bragg: You're welcome.