Maya Cohen was introduced to GlobeMed while at Barnard College, where she also met local director Pamela Angwech.
Heading a national organization at the age of 25 may seem like a Herculean undertaking, but Maya Cohen is not one to shy away from a challenge. To wit: As a sophomore at Barnard College, the New Rochelle, New York, native was frustrated with what she calls the lackluster “sign-waving” of charitable groups on campus, resulting in a lot of noise but not much lasting impact. A chance meeting with a member of GlobeMed, a network that pairs universities with activist groups in impoverished areas throughout the world, revealed that alternate—and more effective paths—do exist. Cohen started a chapter of GlobeMed at Columbia University, moved to Evanston following graduation to work in the group’s national office, and, barely a year out of college, was made the organization’s executive director.
This month, Cohen visited Boston to speak at the annual Millennium Campus Conference, then at the American Public Health Association annual meeting. Talking with her, there’s little doubt that GlobeMed is in capable hands. Founded by a group of Northwestern University students in 2007, the organization began as what Cohen refers to as a “ragtag bunch of students” but has since grown to encompass 55 chapters and over 2,000 students nationwide. “In the GlobeMed model, a group of students gets connected with a grassroots activist who’s already leading a great organization on the ground,” Cohen explains. “That allows students to connect directly and learn what the community needs.”
A student participates in a project in Kenya.
Current programs range from a tuberculosis awareness foundation in Lima, Peru, to a women’s empowerment group in Gulu, Uganda. GlobeMed differentiates itself from other charitable networks by fostering long-term relationships between the schools and the activists on the ground in each country. “Chapter partners work together for many years, as long as the partnership is fruitful on both sides,” Cohen says. “Every year they design a project that supports the community.” A small group of students then travels to their partner organization to help bring the project (whether it be building latrines or training community help workers) to life.
Cohen has also been tasked with creating the group’s first advisory council and has already recruited figures like Partners in Healthcofounder and chief strategist Dr. Paul Farmer and celebrated women’s rights activist Marjorie Craig Benton. The next step for GlobeMed is, fittingly, taking the organization global. “We’re going to be working on putting our curriculum online,” Cohen notes, “hopefully making it accessible to students around the world who want to use it and bringing the dialogues that are happening at GlobeMed chapters to other young people.” She’ll soon oversee the launch of GlobeMed’s first strategic plan to develop 5,000 student global health leaders on 60 campuses by 2016. After all, galvanizing young people is what GlobeMed is all about. “I’m the oldest person in the organization at 25,” says Cohen. “We’re learning every step of the way.”