A few months after graduation, Christine Blauvelt ’12 packed up her things alongside classmate Arielle Sandor and moved to Nakuru, Kenya. The two built Duma Works, a mobile platform that connects employers and potential employees throughout the country. Since its founding in 2012, the platform has garnered more than 60,000 users. Now in her second year of medical school, Christine took a moment to reflect on this and other defining moments in her Global Health history for this Spotlight.
Christine’s entrepreneurial inspiration could logically begin in fall 2010, when she was named an Adel Mahmoud Scholar Award Winner. Her plans to study HIV/AIDS in Egypt and Jordan were derailed when the Arab Spring broke out in the spring of 2011. With these regions closed off, Christine chose to study HIV/AIDS support groups in Nakuru, Kenya instead. She loved the experience (so much that she returned to the country for good one year later). An unexpected highlight of her travel experience ended up being the feedback she received upon returning to Princeton; with GHP “you go out and experience things… and then come back to Princeton and discuss these things in the classroom. You can see and learn about the mistakes you made.” Discussions with professors, classmates, and friends helped her to fully appreciate how valuable (and sometimes difficult) it is to meet people where they are. The feedback also reinforced what she calls a central theme of the GHP program: understanding the broader context is crucial for understanding an individual experience.
Duma Works is the product of an interest in technology and an appreciation of the structural components of health. Christine was struck by the connection between employment and health during her time in Kenya; for her patients, “health is very vulnerable… [and] it comes back to their ability to pay for health and access health early on in disease.” This relationship stuck with her after returning to Princeton.
Back at Princeton, Christine enrolled in John Danner’s “Special Topics in Entrepreneurship-- Ventures to Address Global Challenges”; the class sparked an interest in technology-based solutions to development problems. This mode of thinking drew Christine back to the systems she had seen in Kenya. She wanted to engineer a change in the broader employment-health relationship. From the confluence of summer internships, classwork, and classmate discussions, Duma Works was born. Christine and Arielle brainstormed the platform in October; they applied to entrepreneurship competitions around Princeton throughout the year; and they spent three months laying the groundwork at eLab (a launch pad for startups, run by Princeton) before officially moving to Kenya in August/September. She worked on Duma Works in Kenya for two years.
Today, Christine is in her second year at the Pearlman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. She has used her experiences with Duma Works to fuel her interest in health back in the US, saying that “in order to make an impact on healthcare systems, I needed to be a doctor. I needed to understand what it was like to actually diagnose and treat diseases and work within the system in order to understand and identify the problems that exist in that system.” As an entrepreneur and a medical student, Christine has been driven by system-level questions and the bravery to pursue her passions. Her advice for GHP students? Go outside your comfort zone.
Christine graduated with a degree in anthropology in 2012. She is currently in her second year of medical school at the Pearlman Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.