Adrienne Allison, Senior Technical Advisor, World Vision Print {sharethis label=}
Struggles of Post-War Bangladesh Inspires Career in Global Health
Careers in global health can take many forms and paths, and are often inspired by personal experiences leading to the desire to help others. Here, Adrienne Allison, Senior Technical Advisor Family Planning/Reproductive Health for World Vision shares the experiences that shaped her career in global health program design and management.
When Adrienne Allison saw the plight of women in Bangladesh during the famine in the 1970s, she became determined to help. “Their lives were especially painful during the famine,” said Allison about the women. “They could not feed their existing children, even as they bore more children. Few, if any, wanted to be pregnant under those grim conditions, but they were unable to control their reproductive lives. Everywhere I went, I saw starving, pregnant women. I couldn’t speak Bengali but I could see how desperate they were and I knew I had to do something to address their miserable situation.”
Allison was living in Bangladesh with her husband, who was a World Bank official overseeing part of the reconstruction process after the Bangladeshi war with India. She was raised in a Christian household, but found the struggles of the Bangladeshi people challenged her faith. “I thought, how could there be so much that was bad in the world?” she said. Instead of being discouraged, Allison turned these doubts into inspiration to help the women. “God guided my search to lead a purposeful life that helps to improve the lives of women and children. Living and interacting with these women made me realize they needed family planning.”
When she returned to the U.S., Allison was determined to help women like those she had seen in Bangladesh. She pursed a Master’s degree in Demography from Georgetown University, funded through a scholarship, which led to a consulting position at USAID managing the agency’s small grants portfolio that focused on family planning and reproductive health.
After five years with USAID, Allison studied Public Administration at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government with a minor in Public Health. That is where she learned to design and manage health programs. “After studying program development, I designed a grants program at USAID to help countries develop and implement population policies,” said Allison. “I later managed child survival grants, and at USAID’s Africa Bureau I designed the first grants program for U.S. private voluntary organizations (now known as non-governmental organizations) to add HIV/AIDS to their maternal and child health programs in Africa. It was the first of its kind to help the organizations integrate HIV in maternal and child health.”
When asked what advice she has for young people who want to work in global health, Allison recommends an internship or assignment with the Peace Corps. “If students can get an internship or position that sends them overseas, it’s a big step toward a career in global health,” she said. “An internship or post lasting two years will help you learn a lot and to know if you can survive all the challenges. Students who grew up in a developing country should try to work for an international organization within their country.” She also advises that students attend conferences and volunteer in order to network and build relationships.
According to Allison, an essential characteristic for someone considering a career in global health is compassion. “You need to have compassion already. You have to be proactive,” she said. “First you feel the compassion and then ask, ‘How can I help?’ And then fully engage in the work.”
This article was adapted from an interview with Adrienne Allison conducted by CCIH Board of Directors Student Member At-Large Pamela Mukaire, Dr. PH.
Last Updated ( Monday, 29 September 2014 17:28 )