MMSc-GHD Alumni profile: Aneel Brar, MA, MMSc '16

Aneel Brar graduated from the MMSc-GHD program in May of 2016. His thesis is titled Structural Violence, Agency and Justice: The Maternal Health Experience of Vulnerable Women in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, India.

We asked Aneel to tell us more about his background and the MMSc-GHD program.

Aneel Brar
Aneel (right) conducts research in India, with a research assistant.

Describe your experience prior to joining the MMSc-GHD program
I had five years of experience working in international development and global health prior to the entering the MMSc-GHD program. I am not a clinician, but instead have an educational background in biology and political science.  It was during my graduate work in political science at McGill University that I first conducted fieldwork in rural northern India, a region that would become the focus of my global health delivery work. While at McGill, I conducted an evaluation of a government-NGO collaborative education program in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

I have since worked in resource-poor settings in West Africa, South Asia and the Canadian Arctic. My professional career began in 2010 when I

Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre - photo by Aneel Brar

evaluated an organizational capacity building project in Senegal and Burkina Faso for Canada’s International Development Research Centre. In 2011, I helped conduct an epidemiological survey in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories for the University of Alberta’s Canadian North Helicobacter pylori Working Group. The objective was to ascertain the cause of abnormally high levels of H. Pylori infection in the Inuit community.

I became the Chief Operating Officer of the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre (MJK) (pictured to the right, with a previous name) in July 2011, after which I lived and worked at our village-based maternal health clinic in Sri Ganganagar, a district in Rajasthan, India. With MJK I had found my calling—working with an amazing local team and our parent organization, at the Prominent Homes Charitable Organization in Calgary, Canada, to deliver quality reproductive health services to vulnerable, low-income women. It was in this role that I first came to Harvard to participate in the Global Health Delivery Intensive (GHDI) in 2013, during which I was introduced to the world-class faculty behind the MMSc-GHD program.

Why were you interested in applying to the MMSc-GHD program?
Harvard has a cutting-edge environment for global health and implementation research. In the MMSc-GHD program I saw an opportunity to contribute to global health knowledge, learn from experienced global health innovators and scholars (including my classmates), and build a network of like-minded colleagues committed to social justice, all while contributing directly to my organization’s work. It’s rare to have an academically rigorous program that also provides the space, institutional support, and strong mentorship necessary for students to contribute directly to social change.

The MMSc-GHD program provided an unparalleled opportunity to acquire management and research skills that I could utilize to improve health outcomes in India, and to set a foundation for a career in global health more broadly. I can say with confidence that all of my classmates’ work during the program will contribute to change in their respective communities.

Aneel Brar conducts research with assistants in IndiaWhere do you see yourself in 10-15 years?
I have dedicated my career and scholarship to the cause of social justice and health equity. I plan to continue working towards achieving health equity in India, in the developing world more broadly, and in my home country of Canada.

I anticipate being fully engaged in the work of MJK for years to come or as long as it remains a beneficial component of the health delivery system in Rajasthan. I foresee my future role with the organization as one of support through resource mobilization (human, financial and technical); establishing partnerships with local and international organizations and experts; and in setting its strategic direction in concert with our board, partners and the local community.

Eventually, I aim to use my experience in research and implementation to alleviate health disparities within Canada. Certain marginalized communities, such as First Nations, refugees, and the urban poor experience health outcomes comparable to those of developing countries. I hope to contribute to the process of “reverse innovation”—adapting successful approaches to health equity in the developing world for the Canadian context.

Beyond this, I plan to work in some capacity towards assuring that global health equity and international development agendas are effective and efficient. This involves influencing policies of bilateral, multilateral, non-governmental and philanthropic organizations through research and advocacy. My interest in social justice and health equity has afforded me an unconventional, challenging and fulfilling career path to date. The MMSc-GHD program has given me the tools to continue on this path and achieve greater levels of leadership and innovation.

How has the MMSc-GHD program helped bring you closer to your career goals?
The MMSc-GHD program provided an unparalleled opportunity for comprehensive training global health leadership and practice. The curriculum was excellent in providing me with a complete array of tools to deliver health care and contribute to global health knowledge. The combination of qualitative, quantitative, and ethnographic methods training was simply outstanding. I also gained management training though courses and Harvard Business School-style case based learning, which have contributed enormously to my ability to implement and think innovatively. Crucially, as an MMSc student, we gained foundational knowledge in social theory, including critical medical anthropology and social medicine, that I’ve found invaluable not only in how I perceive and address problems in global health but also how I view our global human community, our interconnectedness, and the challenges we collectively face.

All of this has contributed to making me into a better and more effective global health scholar and practitioner and has set the foundation for a meaningful and impactful career. Perhaps the most important training I received, however, was the exposure to the transformational leadership and innovation that pervades in the global health community at Harvard.

Aneel's research team jumps for joy - photo by Aneel Brar

Aneel's research team jumps for joy. Photo by Aneel Brar.

Young women in India - photo by Aneel Brar

Young women in Rajathan India. Photo by Aneel Brar.

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