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CPH alumnus uses international experience to address local challenges

For as much as Aasit Nanavati learned as a student in the College of Public Health at Temple University, his experiences abroad were just as important as his formal education to the work he does in Philadelphia today.

It worked out that way according to a plan the alumni, who received his bachelor’s in Public Health in 2009 and master’s in Public Health in 2012, says he laid out for himself as an undergraduate student: “I knew I wanted to graduate, work abroad for five years and then use that experience to work in Philadelphia.”

The timing didn’t work out perfectly, but came pretty close. As an undergraduate student, Nanavati travelled briefly to Costa Rica and Guatemala. After receiving his master’s degree, he worked for three years at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Then, starting in 2012, Nanavati spent three years in India and Uganda. His work on gender equity programs in India began in the wake of a high-profile rape case: Earlier that year, a woman was assaulted by six men on a bus and subsequently went to Singapore for treatment, where she died. The incident was a catalyst for widespread social change.  

“I can’t over-emphasize the movement: Protests, celebrities coming out, cities shutting down,”  said Nanavati. “It was the first time gender equity was being talked about in households, when before that it was the ultimate taboo topic. It was an interesting time to be in India.”

He began working in Mumbai, a city in India where as many as one million people live in a given square mile. Nanavati surveyed citizens on their viewpoints and experiences regarding gender-based perceptions. He used those findings first to help create a gender equity education model for Mumbai’s government, and then implement a police training program for the supporting female victims of violence.

From there, Nanavati travelled to Uganda, where he developed assessment tools for the government to monitor and improve the country’s healthcare services. After a second stay in India, when he worked on a national tuberculosis awareness campaign, he returned to the United States.

Now working in North Philadelphia, Nanavati co-founded the nonprofit group WeGardn. Launched in March 2017, it provides food education and locally-grown food to people in food deserts in Philadelphia. True to his plan, he’s combining his Temple education with what he learned abroad.

“Data is the driver for any decision in public health. It’s connecting the dots, painting the picture in a way that’s useful,” Nanavati explained. It’s a concept he came to understand while writing his undergraduate thesis: “The process of finding a problem, thinking about the problem, creating the solution and then writing it up is the foundation for the work I do now.”

Now, as he addresses challenges at home, Nanavati also considers what he learned while applying that lesson in other countries.

“Whatever you come up with, you have to realize you’re outsiders in someone else’s house. You need to communicate that this is a partnership model. Taking into consideration the experience and knowledge they have is important,” he said. “In order for it to be sustainable, it has to be something that they buy into, that they’re interested in participating in.”

Posted:  October 12, 2017