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Global health through the diaspora lens

What does health mean to you? The question might sound simple, but only until you try to answer it. Is health simply a matter of a disease-free mind and body, or are there social, cultural, spiritual or environmental dimensions to be considered? How does our cultural, social and community background influence our understanding of ‘health’? These are just a few of the questions we will ponder when the “Engaging Diasporas in Development” project convenes its second public dialogue: Improving Global Health.

After completing a successful dialogue on poverty reduction and economic growth in January of this year, we at the Engaging Diasporas in Development project are steering the conversation in the direction of global health. Our goal is to address not only how diasporas living in the Vancouver area affect health in the countries and regions of the world with which they identify, but also how those same individuals draw upon their international connections and their appreciation of diverse paradigms to influence health and health care in Canada.

We will begin the dialogue with a framing discussion by asking the “what does health mean to you?” Here, we hope to access alternative conceptions of health that draw on various cultural, spiritual and intellectual traditions.  We will then ask: “what are the unique qualities that diaspora bring to improving global health?” Our conversations thus far have led us to recognize a plurality of insights and abilities that inhere in members of the diaspora.  Our hope is to focus specifically on how these insights and abilities can be brought to bear on issues of global health.

Following an open and inclusive discussion intended to “define” global health, the conversation will shift toward exploring specific examples of diaspora health initiatives. To this end, we have assembled a distinguished panel including professor of paediatric orthopedics Dr. Shafique Pirani, HIV/AIDS campaigner Steven Pi, neuroscience nurse and NGO founder Marj Ratel, international neurological healthcare organizer Derek Agyapong-Poku and climate activist Dr. Mohammed Zaman. The panel will describe the initiatives and their impacts, their unique contributions as diasporas and the potential for more active and effective diaspora involvement. This will be followed by an open discussion drawing in reactions, perspectives and experiences from dialogue participants.

The Engaging Diasporas in Development project has identified “translocality” as a key component of the diaspora experience. “Translocality” refers to simultaneously being and acting in multiple localities across and within national boundaries. The “Improving Global Health” dialogue will address translocality by asking how diasporas transcend boundaries to serve as a bridge between the ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South.’ Distinguished speakers will address this question with reference to their own experiences working in the area of health in various settings. They will also address the impacts trans-local interactions have on transforming health practices, systems and understanding here in Canada. This will be followed by an open discussion exploring existing diaspora efforts to address global health issues and the as yet unrealized potential for further engagement.

Engaging Diasporas in Development project Co-directors Joanna Ashworth (left) and Shaheen Nanji photo: Greg Ehlers

The “Improving Global Health” dialogue is the second in a series of 5 dialogues organized by the Engaging Diasporas in Development Project. Those interested in joining in the discussion can register for the dialogue here. For more information on the Engaging Diasporas in Development project, please visit the project website here.

We look forward to seeing you at the dialogue and hearing your stories.

In health,

Joanna Ashworth and Shaheen Nanji


SFU’s Engaging Diasporas in Development project

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