Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights, Uncategorized
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The Maverick Collective: Bringing Cancer Screening to Uttar Pradesh

At Women Deliver 2016, Girls’ Globe attended the launch of The Maverick Collective, an initiative by Population Services International (PSI) and the brainchild of HRH Crown Princess Mette-Marit of Norway, Melinda Gates and Kate Roberts. Borne of frustration about a lack of follow-through on ideas for change, the collective aims to bring philanthropy to a new generation of donors, those who are actively engaged with their projects on the ground.

Girls’ Globe was able to talk to some of the inaugural members of the Maverick Collective, which has projects spanning across the globe. The following is an interview with Kathryn Vizas, who tackled the issue of cervical cancer in one of the poorest and most populous regions of India. 

GG: How did you hear about The Maverick Collective?

KathrynVizasKV: It was 3 and a half years ago, I was at  a women’s conference in New York which I sort of decided to attend on a whim because some of the topics seemed interesting. My husband and I had recently relocated at that point, so I hadn’t gone back to work, and I was taking a gap year, or so I thought. So as I said, on a whim, I thought it would be fun to go to this conference. And Kate and Her Royal Highness were there talking about this ‘Maverick’ concept.

It was an idea then. It had some funding from the Gates Foundation but they had no members. An email went around the conference attendees saying if you’re interested in a novel philanthropic initiative, we’ll be meeting with people one on one, and you can sign up, so I did. And after I talked with them, I left the meeting room sort of scratching my head thinking – what can I bring to a global health organization?

I thought the work was fascinating but I sort of didn’t get the concept so I spent the next 6 months in conversation with Population Services International trying to understand the idea, and I was invited to go to Myanmar on a learning journey. So we were in the slums, schlepping around, dying in the heat together. And that was where I got an insight into how PSI works on the ground, it was quite impressive.

GG: Can you tell me what your project is about?

KV: My project is a cervical cancer screening project. I chose that because my father was an oncologist. He had always been a strongly against smoking, so I grew up having a father who was not only a physician but an advocate. So cancer is something that I felt strongly about joining the fight in, and I particularly resonated with the cervical cancer project.

“It seemed like a justice issue, really – that in the developed world we have screening that’s readily available and we’re educated about it and the women in these other countries don’t. And because of that, they’re dying, and they die in a really painful, awful way at an age where their children and their families still need them.”


Typically, a woman is still exposed when she’s a teenager to the HPV virus for the first time, and then it takes 20 years or so because it’s very slow-growing, but once it reaches a certain point, there isn’t a good treatment, so they’re dying in their 40s. It just seemed so unfair and so wrong that we had a solution but had not, as a global community, been able to scale it to reach the millions of women who need to be screened.

Our project is in a state called Uttar Pradesh, which is one the poorer states in India, and also the most populous. It’s over 200 million – and just for comparison, the US population is a little over 300 million. We work in the private sector, but because the government of Utter Pradesh is very interested in fighting non-communicable diseases, particularly for women’s health, they have partnered with us. We have trained their people and helped them launch a program to do cervical cancer screening. 

kathy-gallery-7

GG: Did you imagine your project would be successful when you started? 

KV: When we started, to be honest, I was a little clueless. I didn’t know what we were up against, I didn’t know how difficult it was. I felt more like, “the solution’s so obvious, this will work.” But actually, training the physicians on how to screen was pretty easy for us to do with our expertise, but the communication piece – convincing women and their families why they needed to be screened when they’re perfectly healthy and don’t have any symptoms – was really hard.

GG: What’s next for your project?

KV: The thing I’m most excited about right now is I’ve built into the project design hiring an outside firm that specializes in scaling projects. And they’re going to analyze our project, which was just a pilot, and put together guidelines on how to scale this, so I want to take that to big donors and big foundations.

GG: If you could give any advice to someone wanting to get involved with TMC, what would you say?

KV: Not to be shy about lack of experience in global health, because all of us bring experience – particularly those of us who have had careers – that can help with project management, can help to be a voice that is slightly outside the process and thinking about things a little differently, and not to be shy about having a hand in helping design the project.

I know some of the newer Maverick members think, ‘well, these guys do this every day for a living, it’s sort of presumptuous for me to be like ‘well what about x and what about y?’” but each of us has a lot to offer to the project design.

“It really helps to feel engaged in it, because if you’re engaged, you’re a better advocate.”

And I think that’s something we can really do well, we can advocate for these initiatives, because we’ve actually been involved.

Girls’ Globe is present at the Women Deliver Conference, bringing you live content straight from the heart of the action. If you can’t be there in person, you can be a part of Women Deliver through the Virtual Conference, by hosting an event in your hometown, and by engaging online using #WDLive and #WD2016.

All photos courtesy of PSI / The Maverick Collective.

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