“Student Organisations Network is an excellent tool for global health transformation”

As the summer begins, we celebrate the end of what has been a year of change for the Student Organisations Network (SON). We have been busy coming back to in-person gatherings after the pandemic put all our activities online, we have been both expanding and consolidating our member base and shifted our focus towards looking at global health in the context of sustainability.

When we think back at the past 12 months, we see a network which is purposefully moving forward in transforming the way in which we think of and approach global health challenges.

Our members are key to everything we do – there is no network without all the members. The energy with which many of them have pushed forward after the pandemics has created an invaluable sense of dynamism within the network. The productivity of our members this year has been remarkable, and, with several new additions to the network, we look forward to what the future will bring.

For us as SIGHT student coordinators this year has been a rollercoaster of challenges and steep learning curves, with some achievements we are proud of along the way. We now, more than ever, believe in the relevance of SIGHT and, more specifically, Student Organisations Network, SON, in today’s global health ecosystem. This annual report will describe the achievements of SON, detail some of our activities and give a perspective for the future of the network.

Our targets and achievements

Expansion. We began the year with the ambition to expand the network. The idea was that more members would generate more activity, further opportunities, and better results. With the concept of planetary health gaining traction, we resolved to make global health into an issue tightly interlinked with sustainability. As such, we worked together with and assimilated the sustainability organisations of four Swedish universities into the network. Thanks to the drive and hard work of the students running these groups, this has been a great addition to the network. Meanwhile, with the Decolonizing Global Health movement going strongly at Karolinska Institutet, we wanted to look beyond Sweden for promising organisations to work together with because it is our belief that global health transformation cannot be orchestrated by groups in only one country as such, we reached out to organisations in Cameroon and Honduras. However, at this point it became clear that we were overstretched and not able to deliver value in return to all our members. Furthermore, we did not have the tools or capacity to encourage cross-continent relations. As such, we laid this project to rest to focus on the groups already at hand.

Consolidation. The Student Organisations Network depends on its members to achieve its goals. However, for our members to give their time and effort – on a voluntary basis – SON has to provide some incentive. Therefore, we decided that we must give something in return on the individual level. We believe that students take up extracurricular engagements to learn professional skills and make connections. As such, we chose to arrange networking events and careers workshops.

In May this year, SON had its first social event arranged only for networking among members at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences here in Stockholm, providing an opportunity for our members to meet in person and solidify their relationships. Furthermore, we put together two small-group seminars with inspiring professionals in the global health field to give advice and guidance for entry into the job market. Based on the positive feedback received, these events were successful and, importantly, help give SON a purpose beyond the organisational level.

Collaboration. We see one of our principal tasks as student coordinators to enable fruitful collaboration between our member organisations. Therefore we put great effort into mediating the building of connections between our members. We purposefully set up meetings with organisations who we felt shared similar visions and aspirations, and in this way were able to kickstart collaborations which truly enrich the global health and sustainability arena in Sweden at the student level.

For example, we brought Students for Sustainability at KTH together with IFMSA Sweden in the organisation of Global Health Night, allowing these seemingly very different groups to generate collective impact. In another case, we joined forces with Students for Sustainable Development at KI and SLS-KUF to bring a seminar series on the place of human health in sustainable development to fruition. The involved groups are in continued contact and plan to work more together in the future. To us, creating these kinds of long-lasting synergies are what SON is all about.

Education. Traditionally, a central task for the coordinators of SON has been to ensure education and critical thinking through the arrangement of seminars. This year, we continued this work by inviting experts to talk before students and give insights into their specific field. Different set-ups were explored, including smaller sessions with a single speaker and panel discussions, but in all cases these seminars were popular and well-received.

We had sessions covering disaster medicine, impacts of air pollution on health, the impact of foreign aid on health systems and more. Importantly, we often reached audiences well broad of the target, being students in Sweden, with participants from all continents and with myriad professional backgrounds. This shows that SON’s efforts do not only bear fruition locally, but also globally.

A running theme

Fifty years after the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss have never been more poignant. It is no surprise, therefore, that the recurring theme carried by SON this year has been that of planetary health.

Planetary health is a concept which brings together environmental health and human health, thereby considering the two tightly intertwined. Indeed, human health is dependent on the health of our environment, and with the dwindling of the latter health crises are likely to multiply. By covering this theme at Global Health Night as well as in the Thursdays at KI seminar series, we helped bring the concept to the forefront of student thought and discussions. By expanding the network to include sustainability-oriented organisations, we cemented this interlinkage and geared students to work with this approach both today and in their future professional lives. This is global health transformation in practice.

Events to remember

  • Global Health Night. This event is the biggest and most important event put on by SON of the year. We collaborated with Students for Sustainability at KTH and IFMSA to put on, together with a team of 24 dedicated volunteers, an event with the theme “Technology: a force for good in planetary health?”. Experienced experts were invited to introduce planetary health and the human-technology relationship, and a dynamic panel discussion was held to consider whether technology could be a force for good in ensuring planetary health in the long-term. The was hosted at KTH and sponsored by the university’s sustainability office, and presented in a hybrid format. In all, 300 individuals attended.
  • Armchair Sessions. The Armchair Sessions were a series of laid-back conversations with global health experts and a small audience. The aim of these sessions is for the students to have a more honest conversation with the guest speakers about their careers and insights that will not typically be touched upon in larger events. In the first edition, Ilona Kickbusch talked about the importance of balance and openness in a career in global health, and how she made her way despite not having a health-related background. During the second session, Maria Elena Bottazzi spoke about the ups and downs faced throughout her career in global tropical medicine and how fundamental it is to trust in your instinct to thrive.
  • Thursdays at KI seminar series. We arranged a series of seminars in collaboration with Students for Sustainable Development at KI to explore the interlinkage between human health and the sustainable development goals and the UN 2030 Agenda. In the spirit of the Fridays for Future movement and in anticipation to the ‘Stockholm +50’ conference, we began with a session looking at the impact of air pollution on health with Maira Neira from the WHO. We then had a session questioning the place of foreign aid in creating resilient health systems in a debate format, with a former employee of the World Bank, a humanitarian consultant and an academic. Finally, a session on the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the sustainable development goals was planned but unfortunately had to be cancelled due to illness.
  • Disaster medicine seminar. A panel discussion was organised to address the implications on health and healthcare delivery in extreme events. The guest panellists explored the role and dynamics of governments, communities and humanitarian aid organisations when collaborating for disaster relief. This was a direct reaction to the invasion of Ukraine, but also relevant in the wider spectrum of conflicts and disasters ongoing in the world.

SIGHT/Norrsken Talk 1. We collaborated with the SIGHT secretariat in the organisation of the first Talk out of three planned to be held at Norrsken Foundation House. This event took place on May 31st where experts on energy, health, policies and student representatives made their cases on where global health and energy production and consumption meet. The case presentation was followed by a fika break and a rich round table discussion. The attendees highlighted that while global health and energy have multidimensional links, the approach required is multisectoral. Future plans include a talk on climate anxiety in young populations.

Perspectives for the future

The Student Organisations Network is powerful. It can bring together fifteen organisations representing thousands of students, and with this resource base steer discussions, impact thinking and have a strong, collective voice.

As outgoing student coordinators, we believe that SON is an excellent tool for global health transformation and that it can achieve great things. The network should continue doing what it does best – bringing people together. It should provide opportunities for networking and create platforms for interdisciplinary and intersectoral collaboration. It should provide chances for education and development and create a dynamic student environment in global health and sustainability. However, it should also its member base to send messages to have a broader impact – both national and international. This is achievable by working to gain a public image, through the publication of statements and opinionated articles. This is a decisive step in ensuring concrete outcomes from our work in the network.

In all, it has been a very giving year for us as student coordinators. We have had the pleasure of working alongside exceedingly bright and driven people, learning heaps, and getting involved with multiple projects and student groups.

Now, we look forward to what the coming year will bring for the network!

Elena Aguilera and Tobias Lindström Battle, SIGHT Student Coordinators 2021–2022

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