Just Read: My Connection Profile with Professor Sonya Grier, RWJF Leadership Network

Thanks to Meredith Wise and the team at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (@RWJF) Leadership Network, for putting together this story about a connection between myself and Professor Sonya Grier, from American University.

Of course I already blogged about that connection here: Dog Parks & Coffee Shops + Leadership Networks.

Because you have to be a member of the Leadership Network to read the piece, I’m reposting it here (with permission).

The thing we’re trying to show is that social media is not about mass communication, which I think is a mistake that new entrants make when engaging. The most important network connections are the single points outside of your normal network. They are the ones that help solve problems. Abstracting out a bit, this is why diversity is a good thing – it allows the human species to survive…

I illustrated the science behind that here if you’re interested: Less connected social networks solve complex problems better : Go ahead, have a dream – Here’s the data to go along with the story 🙂

Solving Complex Problems 29657
Solving Complex Problems 29657 (View on Flickr.com)

Professor Sonya Grier, American University at Center for Total Health 09586
Professor Sonya Grier, American University at Center for Total Health 09586 (View on Flickr.com)

Meredith Wise
November 10, 2015

You never know where a discussion thread on the RWJF Leadership Network will lead. Recently, a conversation about diversity, inclusion and health brought two Network members together. The topic is an area of interest for both Sonya Grier, professor of marketing at American University (AU), and Ted Eytan, medical director of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health.

The pair were excited about each other’s work, and since they both work in Washington, D.C., they agreed to visit each other to learn more about how their work intersects.

“I was impressed that a health system had thought about integrating the social determinants of health,” said Sonya about Ted’s work at Kaiser Permanente.

Ted was equally intrigued by Sonya’s efforts. “Sonya is doing research around the changing diversity in our communities, and I’m interested in that from a Culture of Health perspective,” he said. “I found it interesting that a professor of marketing was doing this research and wanted to know more.”

Sonya’s research is focused on multiple aspects of marketing—for example, the impacts of food marketing on obesity and how social marketing can be used to design interventions. Specifically, she looks at target marketing—how marketing choices communicate messages and promote products to certain groups of people.

Ted was able to attend a screening of Sonya’s documentary “DogParks & CoffeeShops: Diversity Seeking in Changing Neighborhoods,” a film about three communities in Washington, D.C. that are undergoing urban revitalization. The piece also focuses on the role of gentrification in supporting (or not supporting) diverse communities.

While making DogParks & CoffeeShops, Sonya and her team interviewed residents in the three neighborhoods to understand what can be done to promote inclusivity in rapidly changing areas. (If you’re interested, check out the trailer.)

“In the documentary, we look at how you can keep diversity in neighborhoods. There are people who want to live in diversity, but there are also tensions that arise when you bring people together,” Sonya said. “We try to identify these tensions and what marketers and policy makers can do to create inclusivity.”

Ted said, “Sonya’s documentary was really eye opening. We’re content to live in diverse neighborhoods that aren’t really diverse—we only connect with those like us.” After watching the film, Ted posted some additional reflections to his LinkedIn page, which you can read here.

Later, Sonya reciprocated by visiting Ted at Kaiser Permanente, where he works to create total health around the world. In his office, there is a space dedicated to visualizing this goal. (Check out the “What Does Total Health Look Like” community inside the Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health.)

“This is where Sonya’s work fits in,” said Ted. “You can’t have total health without diversity. We are always searching for the experts and information that fill in the picture so that others can work toward it together.”

Sonya said she also left Kaiser Permanente with a new point of view: “As a non-public health person, when I started looking into health I saw this real differentiation between health and health services and systems, with health being more in line with population health,” she said. “To see both of those come together at Ted’s place of work was enlightening.” (Check out Sonya’s full reflections about her visit, which inspired us to write this Connections Profile.)

“Ted is embedded in a health system with a community perspective, and it helped me think through what my next steps in research might be,” she said. Their conversation further sparked thoughts about new areas of research for Sonya, such as gentrification and health.

As for Ted, he’s glad that Sonya was able to gain some new insights from his world. “It was great to see her realize that health care could be a real partner for her,” he said.

Thanks to their connection, Kaiser Permanente and AU have started to discuss ways they might work together in different areas, including diversity. Recently, AU has been thinking about ways in which they can best serve their increasingly diverse student body. Many schools are seeing diversity as a trend, and are working to adjust services to better serve their students.

Through Ted, Sonya has made some connections between Kaiser and different departments on AU’s campus. She acknowledged that if it weren’t for meeting him through the Network, she probably wouldn’t have thought to include health systems in her referrals for these projects—to her it wasn’t initially a direct correlation.

“It’s important to be open to things that might seem tangential to you,” Sonya said. “I wouldn’t have thought about a doctor in a health system because it didn’t play into my idea of public health. Being open to that discussion let me learn about it and develop a potentially important partner, and increased my own knowledge.”

Ted also offers some advice for those looking to make a connection on the Network: “Take a chance and ask if someone wants to talk – assume that any new connection is potentially worthwhile,” he said. “Sometimes you’re busy, but it doesn’t hurt to take 20 minutes to chat – you never know what you’re going to learn.”

Have you made a connection on the RWJF Leadership Network? We’d love to talk to you! Send us an email at leadershipnetwork@rwjf.org.

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