CISAC Honors graduate awarded a Rhodes Scholarship

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AnandHabib
Habib, left, at CISAC's Class of 2011 Honors Program graduation ceremony, with teaching assistant Michael Sulmeyer.
Photo credit: 
Rod Searcey

Congratulations to Anand Habib, selected this weekend for a Rhodes Scholarship. Habib, 22, of Houston, Texas, is a 2011 graduate of Stanford, where he earned a bachelor's degree in biology, with honors in international security studies. He plans to pursue a master's degree in public policy and in medical anthropology at Oxford.

Habib is currently working on community health programs at St. Joseph's Clinic in Thomassique, Haiti, under a one-year global health fellowship awarded by Medical Missionaries. The nonprofit organization is a volunteer group of more than 200 doctors, nurses, dentists, and others who work to improve the health of the poorest of the poor in the United States and throughout the world.

In 2011, he won a Deans' Award for Academic Accomplishment which honors extraordinary undergraduate students for "exceptional, tangible" intellectual achievements. One of the professors who nominated him for the award described him as a "superb critical thinker" whose work is characterized by "creative genius" and "mature insights," adding that he "exemplifies exactly the kind of deeply informed, pragmatic and caring leadership that the world needs and Stanford enables."

As a Stanford student, Habib worked on behalf of politically and medically disenfranchised people in India, Mexico and Guatemala. On campus, he turned the Stanford tradition of the annual Dance Marathon into a vehicle dedicated to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic by engaging not only Stanford students but also local communities and corporations, raising more than $100,000. His exceptional work was recognized by his participation in the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in April, 2011.

From Haiti, Habib discussed his current position, his plans in Oxford, and how his CISAC thesis relates to his work. 

What are you currently working on? 

I am currently working on a global health fellowship with an NGO that operates a clinic in Haiti's Central Plateau. As part of the fellowship I am helping to manage a number of community and public health projects including fortified salt (to counter iodine deficiency and filariasis), a point-of-use potable water system, a malnutrition intervention program, and a small system of community health committees and community health workers. For the past two months, I've taken on a number of administrative functions along with my co-fellow, who is also a recent college graduate. I started the fellowship shortly after graduation at the end of June 2011 and I am slated to be in Haiti until the end of June 2012.

What will you do at Oxford?

I proposed two one-year Masters programs: a masters in public policy from Oxford's new Blavatnik School of Government, and an M.Sc. in medical anthropology. As of now, I'm thinking of sticking with my proposed programs -- probably pursuing the medical anthropology degree first as it is a bit more theoretical. I think it would be better to have the more "academic" experience first before gaining the practical tools that an MPP will hopefully afford me. After a short send-off in Washington, D.C., at the end of September 2012, I will fly with the other American Rhodes Scholars-elect to Oxford the first week of October with term beginning shortly thereafter.

How does your work in the CISAC Honors program relate to what you are currently doing, your plans for Oxford, or what you'll be doing afterward? 

My honors thesis has allowed me to contextualize my experiences in Haiti in some fairly amazing ways. Two very persistent issues in Haiti are that of poor governance -- e.g. lack of strong regulatory structures, lack of government effectiveness, etc. -- and ineffective aid modalities, or the ways in which aid is delivered. My thesis was situated exactly at this nexus: how to deliver aid more effectively in order to improve governance. Ninety-nine percent of relief aid after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti was funneled to non-state organizations and only 12 percent of recovery aid went toward supporting government activities. In Haiti, I've witnessed how detrimental a patchwork system of NGO activity can be with little coordination between NGOs and little harmonization of NGO activities with government objectives. It becomes very frustrating at times, because, if my thesis is any indication, things need not be this way if both NGOs and states were engaged in collaborative partnerships -- along the lines of what Dr. Paul Farmer, deputy U.N. special envoy to Haiti, calls "accompaniment."

My initial interest in the topic of global health financing was spurred by work out of Oxford's Global Economic Governance Project. The director of the project, Dr. Ngaire Woods, was actually named the Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government through which the MPP is offered. I'd love to continue exploring the issues broached in my thesis at Oxford -- especially issues of aid effectiveness and sustainable systems of delivering development aid for health. In the future, I hope to become a physician-policymaker, helping to not only deliver care to individuals in difficult conditions around the world, but also in fostering more robust global health governance.

- Interview by Michael Freedman