With the designation of WHO CC on Social Marketing, USF College of Public Health joins a select group of centers around the world. Appointed by the WHO director-general, collaborating centers support global programs in health and advance research by assisting, coordinating and promoting activities of leading organizations.
The affiliation is rooted in the college’s years of work with the Pan American Health Organization, a part of WHO, said Distinguished Health Professor Dr. Carol Bryant, who will direct the center with Dr. Linda Whiteford, professor of anthropology. Ms. Mahmooda Khaliq Pasha, a COPH doctoral student, will serve as associate director.
“The Social Marketing Group here at the college has been working with the Pan American Health Organization since 2006, largely providing training to PAHO’s country partners,” Bryant said. “They’ve been asking for some time if we were interested in increasing our commitment to work with them and expanding what we’re doing throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The center also is an outgrowth of years of innovative collaborations between the USF Department of Anthropology and the College of Public Health. In addition to an anthropology/public health dual master’s degree program established almost 20 years ago, faculty in these academic units collaborate on a unique graduate certificate program that equips students to apply social marketing approaches to bring about social change. The new WHO CC will build on this innovative foundation.
Whiteford, a medical anthropologist, has worked with the College of Public Health for many years on a variety of collaborative projects.
“My role, in part, is helping understand the cultural basis of people’s thoughts and beliefs while we try to understand the historical and political roots that are barriers to change, so that when social marketing programs are designed, they are designed to be culturally appropriate and historically sensitive,” Whiteford said.
A third group involved in the center is from the College of Engineering, where Dr. James Mihelcic will design and build new devices to serve the needs of indigenous populations in the region. A civil and environmental engineer, Mihelcic is a designated State of Florida 21st-Century World-Class Scholar. He is on sabbatical and was unavailable for comment.
“I don’t know anybody in social sciences working with engineers quite this way,” Bryant said. “I don’t know anybody in marketing working with engineers. What is so wonderful is that, in social marketing and in public health, we know how to try to get an existing product or program or service to be modified or to market it differently to make it more easily adopted. But this is the first time I’ve had an opportunity to go right to the blank page and say, ‘Engineer, here’s what’s needed. Invent it.’ And those guys can do it. It is just so exciting.”
“This is really giving us an opportunity to combine different analytic paradigms across colleges, so we have the College of Public Health, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and probably will wind up with the College of Business involved with us,” Whiteford said. “It’s both innovative and, at the moment, unique, so we’re very excited about it. We see this as an opportunity not only to do collaborative and cross-disciplinary, cross-culture, cross-college work, but we see it as an opportunity to bring our students into potential careers and to engage our faculty in new and distinct ways.”
“The establishment of this center speaks to the power of social marketing and the impact that it can really have in reference to health,” Pasha said.
The new center at USF will address the increased rate of non-communicable diseases globally by capitalizing on the strengths of social marketing coupled with other social science and social change strategies. In addition to training and technical assistance, the center will facilitate knowledge exchange and build the capacity of leading health organizations’ ability to apply social marketing to resolve social and biomedical problems.
The center’s establishment is subject to annual reports and five-year renewals. WHO expectations are high, Pasha said, and Bryant elaborated with her five-year goal.
“We would love to see that we have trained small cohorts of people in countries in the Caribbean and Latin America that can start teaching others, and we can introduce this into the ministries of health so that they start understanding the power of designing public health interventions, services and programs with the consumer in mind,” she said. “We know from our work here that those services will be far more effective, far more sustainable, and we want to equip teams in those countries that can carry on that mission by training and technical assistance.”
Nodding her agreement, Whiteford added, “I think at the same time, we have dreams for our students here. We want them to be trained not only in anthropology, public health, social marketing and engineering, but – and the president of the university continues to say this – we want them trained for the 21st century. We want them to be the leading edge in careers that are just now being thought of, to create and take advantage of jobs we can’t imagine.”
Story by David Brothers, USF College of Public Health. Photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Communications