African Studies Contributes to GSB Health Care Study

From left to right: Jess Auerbach, Laura Hubbard, Mark Gardiner, Assistant Director for the Global Supply Chain Management Forum Davis Albohm, Vanessa Watters...

Center for African Studies (CAS) Associate Director Laura Hubbard and several CAS student affiliates traveled to Zambia last summer with a team of Stanford researchers studying the role of transportation in health care worker productivity.  The cross-campus team, led by the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), focused its study on Riders for Health, a U.K.-based social enterprise that manages fleets of vehicles in Zambia and other African countries as a means to support health care networks in rural communities.

“This research effort brought together qualitative researchers from CAS with the quantitative research team and intellectual leadership of the Global Supply Chain Management Forum,” said Hubbard when asked to reflect on the trip and research.

With deep area expertise provided by CAS students, staff and faculty, the project highlights the role that SGS programs and centers play in many global initiatives at Stanford, while broadening interdisciplinary approaches to area studies research.

“The team consisted of a CAS alumnus, researchers at the GSB, me, and three CAS anthropology graduate students,” said Hubbard.  “We mentored one another through constant feedback and exchange—an incredible example of the possibilities of collaboration.”

The qualitative researchers on the CAS team each focused on different aspects of the health services delivery supply chain and were responsible for writing their own field notes, and reading each other’s, every day.

Commenting on the variety of work the CAS team did, Hubbard noted, “At one point I was doing participant observation in a rural health center that was experiencing a drug inventory issue, while Jess Auerbach (doctoral candidate in Anthropology) was participating in ride-a-longs with the district vehicles that were to service that clinic. At the same time, Mark Gardiner (doctoral candidate in Anthropology) was at the district offices with procurement officials and others responsible for distribution logistics and resource allocation. Simultaneously, Vanessa Watters (MA ’12, African Studies) was shadowing health care workers, observing daily how they handled lack of medicines and other supplies.”

The team’s ability to communicate across these sites and subject positions gave the larger research team a fuller picture than a single researcher might have been able to deliver in the same period of time.

“I believe our most important contribution to the project was to share with the GSB-based researchers the creative and always social practices and networks built by the incredible and dedicated Zambian health care professionals to ensure health care at even the furthest outreach posts of the country,” said Hubbard.

For more details on the study visit, and the Stanford Business Magazine article, “A Team of Researchers Explores Health Care Delivery in Africa” (Autumn 2013).