Addressing Poverty Through Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship
By Rebecca Rosemé Obounou, Assistant Director, Leonard A. Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship.
I am first generation Haitian-American, born right here in the city of Cambridge. Reverse of how most Haitian-Americans experience Haiti, my parents returned to the country with our family (urban city kids) during my adolescence. We settled in Northern Haiti in a town called La Coupe Limbe and were surrounded by extremely poor neighbors who are among the most generous and kind people I’ve ever met. My mother, who is a nurse, started a community clinic in our home where she served hundreds of local surrounding community members. I didn’t realize it then, but already the seeds of my passion for the transformative power of entrepreneurship and healthcare were being sowed. My mother captured the hearts of our neighbors through her social business and marked me for life.
I left Haiti convinced that business was the best way to address poverty. After completing my undergraduate degree at Bentley College, I was strongly dissuaded by family and friends to focus on business as a young woman in Haiti. I wanted to change this perception and was inspired to launch CHES, a nonprofit that supports long-term economic development by training, funding, and mentoring entrepreneurs in rural Haiti. To date, we have trained over 100 entrepreneurs, fifty percent of them women. Then, in the fall of 2013, I joined Babson’s evening MBA program to continue developing my business skills. Here my passion for poverty reduction, healthcare, and entrepreneurship all came together.
I first learned about the Schlesinger Fund for Global Healthcare Entrepreneurship when I participated in the Uganda hack-a-thon this summer where, along with fellow Babson students and faculty, we developed entrepreneurial ways to address systemic healthcare challenges for the benefit of all. Soon after, I was given the privilege to join the Fund to advance our mission of applying Babson’s Entrepreneurial Thought & Action® (ET&A) methodology to the world’s greatest healthcare challenges. In true ET&A fashion, I jumped into my new role using who I was, what I knew, and the resources I had at hand to create our first major event: Haiti, Entrepreneurship, and Global Health: An Evening to Act.
Shortly after I joined the Fund, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti and people were looking for meaningful ways to help. Many repeated the mistakes of the last disastrous earthquake there, which I knew came not from a lack of caring, but from a lack of understanding of the on-the-ground issues. To help address this, last night in partnership with the National Association for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals, USAID, and the Diaspora Challenge Initiative, we brought together students, faculty, staff, alumni and other college and university partners to address head-on the healthcare challenges that face Haiti. One of the key take-aways from last night’s event is that our entrepreneurial approaches and activities must be done in partnership with the Haitian community, not for the Haitian community. This is a model for the way we hope to work with communities all over the globe.
My goal as Assistant Director is to ensure that the Fund continues to create opportunities for meaningful and transformative learning around the challenges in healthcare delivery in resource constrained regions using the power of ET&A. The field of global healthcare entrepreneurship that we are pioneering here at Babson is truly an empowering and enabling one. I’m thrilled to be able to contribute to its advancement.