Vageesh Jain is a medical student, currently intercalating a Master of Public Health at King’s College London, and was a finalist at Policy Idol 2015. Vageesh’s pitch ‘From Smallpox to Ebola: the rise and fall of the World Health Organization’ won him the title of Policy Idol. In this blog post, Vageesh tells us why he entered the competition and what it was like to take part. You can read the details of Vageesh’s pitch and watch his winning three minute pitch.
One of the most memorable pieces of news coverage from last year was the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that to date has affected an estimated 28,000 people and led to over 11,000 deaths. An issue that is still in the news today following a report from an independent panel of health experts on the global response to Ebola.
As a medical student I had a deep interest in the public health issues around disease control and thought I had a few good ideas about how future outbreaks could be dealt with. Rather than keep these ideas to myself, I decided to enter Policy Idol. The tagline, ‘Could you change the world in three minutes?’ really inspired me to come up with an evidence-based policy idea that I believe could help reduce the burden of a future disease outbreak.
My pitch was about the World Health Organization’s (WHO) response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. I was concerned that the WHO was unable to contain the outbreak quickly enough, allowing it to spread. My research into the topic suggested that this was due to various reasons, including the current structure of WHO financing, corruption in the African Regional Office and a lack of communication between regional Offices, headquarters in Geneva, and individual member nations. I proposed that a change in structure was necessary to allow the WHO to respond more quickly to emergency situations in the future.
After making it through the heats I was really excited to be in the final. I didn’t feel nervous until I saw the first pitch. Watching from the audience made it seem pretty daunting, especially the questions from the panel after the pitch, but I felt confident that the training I had been given by the Policy Institute at King’s had prepared me really well when the time came for me to stand up on the stage.
Eventually it was my turn, and after the first few seconds the nerves started to ease, and I really began to enjoy the experience. It’s very rare that you get such an amazing opportunity to speak in front of a large audience, including prominent academics and politicians, about an issue you know and care about.
Taking part in Policy Idol was a great experience and taught me a lot of new skills, particularly around public speaking and policy analysis. The biggest challenge was shaping a policy idea from scratch, but Policy Idol gave me the opportunity to develop my research and analysis skills, and to think about an issue critically – invaluable attributes that will benefit anyone in their life and career.
I came away from the competition with a much better understanding, and appreciation, for the importance of evidence informed policy. From watching the other pitches at the final it was clear that health, social, education and foreign policy dictate so many aspects of day-to-day life for people in our society.
As you only have three minutes to present your idea, my approach was to present the problem and an outline of the solution, with a few details but not too much. You don’t want to lose the audience but want to have a clear and defined, evidence based, message. And remember that you can hold things back for the questions after your pitch.
My advice to people thinking of taking part this year is to do it – there really is nothing to lose and it is a fantastic experience. Seize the opportunity, sign up, have fun, and most importantly, enjoy the experience!