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We are the Cool Cats of Health Systems Research! Join the Club and #BeAnEV!

By Shakira Choonara
on March 11, 2016

If you’re a young health (systems) researcher, I’m sure you will identify with me when I talk about the challenges many of us face in the broader academic environment (including in the vastly cooler world of health systems research in which you from to time get to enjoy Lucy Gilson’s YMCA dance moves during serious meetings, or can talk  Karen Daniels into meeting over a cup of coffee in Vancouver (which I will hold her to given the weakening South African rand). Now these difficulties may perhaps not sound evident on my side having been named ‘European Union Future Leader for Health’, but still, it’s hard for us young researchers to walk into a room with experienced researchers and voice our thoughts (unless if you’re pretty much asked to or given the platform to do so), let alone write a top notch academic article – and let’s not get into the murky world of journal rejection which feels ten times worse than One Direction’s break-up – but I do miss you, Zayn Malik! (By the way, if you don’t know One Direction, you probably don’t meet the EV (age) criteria) (just kidding, of course!).


Boosting one’s ability and confidence to become a bold researcher and advocate for health equity – either on stage in a room full of big shots, or in (peer reviewed & more casual) writing – is one of the key aims of the Emerging Voices programme. It is probably also needed now more than ever in the Global South! Earlier this week EV2010 Taufique Joarder (from Bangladesh) shared a similar view on the (first) EV venture in Montreux (on IHP):

Every day, before the sessions, we used to have a debriefing session with the EV organizing team. I remember Wim Van Damme (founder of the EV programme and esteemed Professor) telling us, we were free to ask any intriguing or even provocative question, even to the point of causing embarrassment to the presenter in the conference”.  As Joarder recalls, EVs duly obliged!

Going back to my own EV experience, the distance learning stage (which usually takes about 2-3 months) prepared us for the 10-day face-to-face training in Cape Town which essentially taught us how to present in an innovative way – in fact the more innovative the better! It was the first time I was encouraged and appreciated for doing so (and taking risks in this respect) and this is precisely the reason why I continue to push for the EV cause! Embracing one’s creativity and zest for life, together with a supportive environment is exactly what’s needed to shape the future and build capacity in the field of health systems research! The training programme culminated in a ‘pre-conference’ of EVs, a few days before the symposium itself.

DSCN3061  DSCN3119

And oh yes, the programme also afforded me the opportunity to attend the Third Global Health Symposium in Cape Town, an opportunity which might never have materialized without being generously funded through the EV programme. I probably don’t give away a secret if I say that a health systems researcher should try to go to these biannual symposia at all cost. It’s a bit like going to Mecca for us (but then every two years, at least if you manage to break the bank).

The connections and opportunities extend well beyond the EV programme which is exactly why I’m writing this blog, or working with other EVs on numerous ventures! I think fellow EV Erlyn Macarayan (EV2014) pretty much sums it up in a recent video in which she describes us as an EV family.  I agree, Erlyn! The constant support, encouragement and critical insights from IPH Bangalore (the current EV secretariat), the ITM team and other EV alumni go a long way in supporting EVs to be change-makers in domestic settings and at the global level!

By the way, do join us for an upcoming twitter chat on Monday 14th March if you have any questions on the application process. Do not miss out and visit We certainly hope to see you in Vancouver #HSR2016!

If I didn’t manage to convince you yet to try your luck, I’m pretty sure EV (2010) alumnus Asmat Malik (and member of the current EV governance team) will:

Being an EV will give you access to the fountain of youth: it allows you to stay young at heart even with ‘emerging’ grey hair! I reckon it’s better than botox. ”   (mind you, looks as if even the likes of Julio Frenk and David Sanders can still apply for the programme! (just kidding, guys – the EV age limit is 40…)

In short, if you want to be part of the cool cats (or fearless pitbulls, for the boys) of HSR, become an EV!



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