Transforming public health through social innovation

Harvard Chan School Cheng Fellows

Top row, from left: Gu, Lorch, Houghton, Chua. Bottom row, from left: Hay, Jean Pierre, Wynne, Nigam.

3 min read

Of the 16 students across Harvard who received the 2022 New World Social Innovation Fellowship, given by the Social Innovation Change Initiative at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership, eight are from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The fellowship provides students committed to addressing pressing social problems in new and creative ways — known as Cheng Fellows — with mentoring, seed funding, and other opportunities.

Harvard Chan School Cheng Fellows

Sook Ning Chua, M.P.H. ’23, is the founder of Relate Malaysia, a non-profit that delivers accessible and affordable mental health services throughout the country. “It is important to me that anyone who needs help should get it, and that mental health is seen as a fundamental human right for all,” she said.

Mengti Gu, M.P.H. ’23, started the project FarmTime to connect individuals with autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disabilities with farms in China, which provide a slow-paced and stimulating environment. “Our work focuses on building a win-win and sustainable partnership between local farms and rehab[ilitation] facilities,” she said.

Samantha Hay, M.P.H. ’23, plans to start a non-profit to provide social services to patients in hospital emergency rooms who are housing-insecure or homeless. “I was struck by the system’s inability to create safe discharge plans for patients, especially COVID-19-positive housing-insecure and homeless patients,” she said.

Adele Houghton, Dr.PH. ’23, developed the software tool ArchEPI. “Currently, designers are bombarded with information about how buildings influence human health in the abstract, but no technical guidance on how to translate that information into strategies,” she said. In response, ArchEPI brings together open-source data about neighborhood environments, demographics, and health.

Tayana Jean Pierre, M.P.H. ’23, founded Sante Tifi, a non-profit that works in the rural areas of Haiti to deliver reproductive health education, combat gender-based violence, and support women entrepreneurs. “Our goal is to break cultural barriers and fundamentally shift Haitian culture to establish a gender equitable society,” she said.

Tobias Lorch, M.P.H. ’23, aims to improve how the expiration dates of medical products are managed, since prematurely discarding them leads to reduced treatment options, financial losses, and public health risks of hazardous medical waste. “I believe that the world is in a situation in which we can no longer afford to waste resources,” he said.

Amber Nigam, SM ’23, co-founded the tech start-up with Jie Sun, SM ’22. The company’s software tool uses artificial intelligence to track, predict, and intervene in the health of patients with diabetes. “Our goal is to impact as many people as possible,” Nigam said.

Keona Wynne, Ph.D. ’23, founded CommUnity Cares to improve preventive and primary care, as well as reduce the incidence of chronic diseases, in Black American communities. “I wanted to create a company that embraces positive health as vital toward closing Black-White health disparities,” she said.

Jessica Lau