Eight student-led teams win inaugural Social Impact Innovation Grants

The School of Public Health is delighted to announce the eight teams led by UC Berkeley students who’ve been selected as the inaugural cohort for the Social Impact Innovation Grant Program. Each team will receive up to $15,000 to work with community partners to address important public health opportunities, collaborating to turn ideas into actions.

Supported by a generous gift from Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao—the program supports undergraduate and graduate students at UC Berkeley to develop and implement community-based projects to improve health equity. The program encourages collaborative project teams that include participation from students across academic disciplines, including public health, business, engineering, data science, and beyond.

“Students come to Berkeley to learn how to be changemakers and arc benders. This program is an exciting platform for them to put their ideas into action and learn how to partner effectively with communities to create health and thriving in the world,” said Claudia Williams, chief social impact officer at UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Grantee Rutendo Ajayi, an MPH student in the School of Public Health’s Online MPH program, is partnering with third year DrPh student Renee Clarke on Black Lactation Matters, a project that will train Black doulas to become certified Lactation Education Counselors with the goal of increasing breastfeeding and lowering maternal risk factors that contribute to Black maternal mortality and morbidity.

“As a Black mother, a full-spectrum doula, and a community health worker, I have seen and experienced the need in my community for access to direct, culturally appropriate quality care and Black lactation professionals. Representation matters,” said Ajayi.

Optometry resident Betty Li’s project will host community eye clinics. Her project team includes Dr. Premilla Banwait, assistant clinical professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry and Vision Science at UC Berkeley, and Navjot Pannu, a third year optometry student.

“Our team envisioned “SPECS: Sight for pupils through early childhood screening” as a means to increase access to eye care for low-income preschool and school aged children in the Alameda and West Contra Costa Counties and to increase parental education on the impact of healthy vision on early childhood development,” Li said.

John Mboya, a medical laboratory scientist in Kenya, is a student in the Online MPH program. His project will serve visually and hearing impaired people in Kenya by installing braille tags labels in HIV testing and care rooms. He’s partnering with Belinda Charles Odhiambo, a second year student in the Online MPH program.

“The perennial HIV pandemic has ravaged the health care landscape of Kenya, especially in Homa county where adolescent girls are sometimes forced to engage in risky sexual behavior in exchange for fish from the fishermen,” said Mboya. “The number of blind and deaf persons accessing HIV services in the health facilities have been zero or negligible.”

The Social Impact Innovation Grant Program is part of a broader school-wide effort to educate and inspire the next generation of public health innovators, changemakers, and arc benders. UC Berkeley Public Health faculty are actively engaged in community-based participatory research, MPH students must complete a hands-on practicum, and our Changemaker micro courses—such as Community Engagement in Public Health and Health Care and Leadership for Public Health Changemakers—encourage students to be active contributors to the community.

“Students are quite literally the future of public health,” said Public Health undergrad Raksha Rajeshmohan, whose project focuses on increasing access and use of library services for job searching and social service access. “I am so grateful to be attending a school which allows students to explore their passions and take risks with their ideas. Public health is deeply rooted in understanding how your work will impact the lives of others—both directly and indirectly. With Berkeley helping us explore this question at such an early stage in our careers, I feel as though Berkeley public health students will be uniquely equipped to create programs, policies, and research studies that are ethically responsible and change lives for the better.”

The eight funded projects include:

Cultivating Indigenous Data and Knowledge to Strengthen Public Health Policy and Advocacy within Tribal Governance

This project will work with tribal leaders in the Nambe Pueblo in New Mexico to build policy and advocacy capacity for health improvement. The team will:

  1. Develop a health report that identifies health priorities and relevant policy issues based on a 2020 Community Health Assessment
  2. Develop and pilot a training tool kit for tribal government officials to support health advocacy and policy change to improve health in Nambe Pueblo

Team lead: Deionna Vigil, MPH student at UC Berkeley School of Public Health

Black Lactation Matters

This project will train Black doulas serving Medi-Cal clients in Solano County to become certified Lactation Education Counselors (LEC) with the goal of increasing breastfeeding and lowering maternal risk factors that contribute to Black maternal mortality and morbidity.

Team lead: Rutendo Ajayi, MPH student in UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Online MPH Program

Improving Access to HIV/AIDS Services for Visually and Hearing impaired Persons With and Without HIV in Homa Bay County, Kenya

This project will design and install braille tags labels in HIV testing and care rooms to support visually and hearing-impaired persons in Homa Bay County, Kenya. The project team will work with persons living with disabilities through their representatives, the local community health workers and community health volunteers.

Team lead: John Mboya, MPH student in UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Online MPH Program

Sofreh Salamati: A Culturally Sensitive Health Intervention by and for Afghan Refugee Women

This project will pilot Sofreh Salamati (literally meaning “sacred gathering for health”) for Afghan refugee women in the Bay Area. The project is designed to facilitate health and healthcare access among Afghan refugee women using their intrinsic strengths, including their cultural and religious traditions. The team will work with the Afghan Clinic to organize Sofrehs at various locations across the Bay Area, including mosques, for culturally sensitive conversations about health topics and how to navigate the health system.

Team lead: Aminah Jamal, undergraduate student at Berkeley Letters & Science

Libraries Beyond Books

This project will partner with established UC Berkeley clubs to develop programs to increase low income families’ awareness and use of resources available at the Berkeley and Oakland public libraries and support libraries to meet increased demands for information on hands-on tasks like job searches, resume writing, tax filing, and applying for CalFresh.

Team lead: Raksha Rajeshmohan, undergraduate student at Berkeley School of Public Health

SPECS: Sight for pupils through early childhood screening

This project will host community eye clinics that can provide a no-cost comprehensive eye and vision assessment along with necessary eyewear to support low-income preschool and school aged children in Alameda and West Contra Costa counties.

Team lead: Betty Li, Optometry Resident at Berkeley Herbert Wertheim School of Optometry & Vision Science

Supporting Childhood Literacy for BIPOC Children Through Culturally Diverse Books

This project will promote early childhood literacy through funding the expansion, diversity and distribution of books to support historically under-resourced families in the Bay Area, working with Reach Out and Read.

Team lead: Kameswari “Kamu” Potharaju, MS/MD student at the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program

Building Mental Health Policy Advocacy Capacity for Youth Advocates in the Global South

This project will create a comprehensive mental health advocacy training toolkit that includes:

  1. a virtual course, available for free to young people for asynchronous participation and learning
  2. an experiential learning program to support young people (18–30 years old) who are new to policy advocacy in the Global South

Team lead: Jaclyn Schess, Ph.D. student at Berkeley School of Public Health