May 3, 2016
For Anant Kumar, PhD, the last eight months at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health have been an entirely new experience. Kumar, who is an associate professor of rural management at the Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi, Jharkhand, India, was awarded a Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Fellowship to lecture and conduct research at the Gillings School during the 2015 to 2016 academic year.
His previous research, captured in a 2014 book titled Visionary Leadership in Health: Delivering Superior Value, found that imparting leadership and management skills to public health professionals can enhance health systems performance. He found, however, that such leadership training yields better results if it is offered throughout an organization instead of to specific individuals only.
Since arriving at the Gillings School in the fall of 2015, Kumar has worked with multiple departments and units to expand on that finding and explore the use of technology – including mobile phones, the internet and smart media – to promote public health at the community level.
Kumar’s primary appointment is with the Public Health Leadership Program, where he works closely with Rohit Ramaswamy, PhD, who is a clinical associate professor of public health leadership and maternal and child health, as well as director of UNC’s Center for Global Learning. Kumar and Rohit have worked closely to elaborate a new concept that uses digital technology to promote community public health and grassroots leadership.
Kumar explains the theory in a nutshell: “In India, people have the expectation that the state should provide public health services. What we want to do, to reduce the burden of diseases, is unite the community at the village level. We believe that once community members gain leadership skills and work together to identify their community’s unique challenges, they can become an active part of future public health solutions.”
By 2018, Kumar expects that 70 to 80 percent of the population in India will have access to cell phones, the internet and social media. To take advantage of that burgeoning technology, he, Ramaswamy and partners at IntraHealth International plan to implement a program combining mobile technology and health promotion in communities in the state of Jharkhand, India.
“With the Public Health Leadership Program, our goal is of course to build leadership ability,” Ramaswamy explains. “What Anant has brought to the equation is a clear understanding of how to build leadership not just among public health professionals, but all the way down to the community level. His idea to empower people through technology is very compelling.”
At the moment, though, Kumar is still engaged in another adventure: completing his first semester as a professor in a digital classroom. In the spring semester, he taught the course Politics and Policy in Public Health with Lori Carter-Edwards, PhD, a research associate professor in the UNC Gillings Department of Health Behavior.
Together, Kumar and Carter-Edwards revised the entire course syllabus. They expanded its former focus on policy-making in the United States to include how the process works in low- and middle-income countries.
“It was a pleasure to work with Dr. Kumar to modify the syllabus for this course,” says Carter-Edwards. “One of my objectives was to add a global component. Dr. Kumar was instrumental in identifying key literature that allowed students to compare policy processes across countries, and critically think through the mechanisms necessary to develop or modify health policies in these vastly different settings.”
Upon returning to India in May 2016, Kumar will implement the community health program he designed while at the Gillings School. He also plans to continue teaching the online course, as he recently was appointed a UNC Gillings adjunct associate professor for the next three years. This is the goal of the Fulbright Program, he explains – to promote the international exchange of scholars who later return to their home countries with new ideas and abilities and continue the partnership between their host and home institutions.
His presence at the Gillings School will be missed. Anna Schenck, PhD, Professor of the Practice and director of the Public Health Leadership Institute, shared her thoughts on the guest scholar.
“Dr. Kumar has enthusiastically embraced every opportunity that has presented itself,” Schenck said. “He has engaged with faculty, students and staff; he provided guest lectures and seminars; he collaborated on multiple manuscripts and served as a trusted colleague and mentor for many. We are all better for Anant having spent his Fulbright year with us!”