Kellogg, Northwestern students help shore up African economy with health initiative

While the economic boom in Africa has the potential to raise the standard of living in many areas, the disparity between rich and poor remains a concern across the continent.

“There are issues hindering Africa’s economic growth that must be addressed honestly in order for Africa to realize its full potential,” said Juliet Sorensen, a clinical associate professor of strategy at Kellogg, as well as a clinical associate professor at Northwestern Law.

Sorensen is co-founder of the Northwestern Access to Health Project, a health and human-rights initiative that sends students and faculty to developing areas to assess their public health needs and develop appropriate and sustainable solutions. In previous years, the project has taken Northwestern students, including some from Kellogg, to Ethiopia and Mali.

There are economic incentives to improving the building blocks of public health, Sorensen said. Huge numbers of Africans won’t be able to contribute to the economy without access to clean water, proper sanitation, basic medicine and vaccinations.

One key issue facing the continent is corruption, said Sorensen. “Money is siphoned off that would otherwise go to public education, transportation, public works projects, infrastructure and, for that matter, public health.”

Although Africa is seeing a rising middle class and declining poverty rates, the continent’s consumer class is still dominated by low-income families who live in urban slums or rural areas.

The rise in wealth could leave the poor further behind, Sorensen said.

“If a growing middle class has money to pay for private school but the public schools don’t improve, or the public schools continue to charge for uniforms or books that people cannot afford, that’s not going to lift other people up,” she said.