Jun. 2, 2016 8:18 am

Partners in Health’s local fundraising and advocacy arm was resurrected by volunteers

The global health nonprofit is propelled by all-volunteer grassroots groups across the world. The Philly chapter was all but dead until a handful of volunteers rallied in 2012.

Partners In Health Engage volunteers.

(Courtesy photo)

Methodical and data-driven strategy is necessary for mission-focused organizations to create lasting social impact, but that work is often reliant on the support of a volunteer network.

Partners In Health, for example, is a Boston-based nonprofit working to increase access to quality healthcare in impoverished communities across the world. But providing medical services to 800,000 people in Rwanda, operating hospitals in Haiti and helping to rebuild Sierra Leone’s public health system after it buckled under last year’s ebola epidemic isn’t exactly cheap.

That’s why the nonprofit relies on its network of localized volunteer-run affiliates, dispatched in chapters across 100 cities under the moniker Partners In Health Engage — including in Philadelphia, where the local chapter of PIH Engage was all but defunct until 2012.

“When I first started, a good meeting would have four people in it,” said local team coordinator Christina Jordan. Now, the group maintains a growing mailing list of just under 200 interested volunteers. “We didn’t have quite a group there for a year or so, but we ended up rebuilding.” 

Jordan, who volunteers to lead the group when she’s not working her full-time job as Master of Social Service at nonprofit Resources for Human Development, said the local Engage chapters work on three broad goals that help support PIH:

  • Advocacy. Volunteers meet with elected officials to push for foreign aid-friendly policy and to raise awareness around the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Fundraising. The Philly chapter of Engage hosts a handful of house concert fundraisers a year to raise money for PIH’s global initiatives.
  • Community building. Engage volunteers are tasked with building organizational partnerships and furthering internal education on issues surrounding global health.

When Engage volunteers use the word “health,” they aren’t necessarily talking about vaccines or annual check-ups. Rather, volunteers adopt a systems-wide understanding of the term that encompasses the residual social effects of poverty like employment and outrageous school fees.

From our Partners

“Health to us is a very holistic term. It’s not just going to the doctor,” Jordan said. “If you have HIV but you don’t have food to eat, you’re not going to get healthy.”

Volunteers don’t have to go abroad to find people with HIV suffering from food insecurity. They can find people who need assistance with access to healthcare right here in Philadelphia, where 26.3 percent of the population is living in poverty. Why aren’t these volunteers mobilizing around local issues?

“I don’t like the dichotemy of local versus global. I personally believe that especially in today’s world, we’re all so connected,” Jordan said. “Our decisions, our policies, our actions impact people across the world, and we need a greater appreciation for that.”


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