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By Matthew Cohen, ’18

On September 29, Stanford in Government hosted Dr. Kinari Webb, founder of Health in Harmony, a non-profit organization in Indonesia devoted to improving environmental health by improving community health. As a student, Webb visited the extraordinarily biodiverse Gunung Palung National Park in Borneo. Illegal logging threatens the park’s future, so Webb realized that if she wanted to preserve the rainforest she should talk to the native communities and find ways to avoid deforestation.

During Webb’s first year, she pursued a strategy of “radical listening” in which she spent more than 400 hours talking with local community members. Webb learned that they live on a daily wage of $1.47 and need extra money to pay for health care. As a result, many turn to illegal deforestation to supplement their income. Based on this information, she started raising funds to build local health clinics and recruit more native doctors to serve these communities to cut health care costs. Her organization also taught native communities how to farm without resorting to “slash and burn” practices.

Several dozen students attended the event. Many participants asked questions about the barriers Webb initially faced before achieving her remarkable results. One asked whether Webb had faced any roadblocks from the Indonesian government. Webb said that corruption and bribery are widespread in the communities where she worked. Since Webb refuses to participate in corrupt transactions, it is sometimes difficult to get work accomplished, but she remains optimistic. “They will eventually do what’s right,” Webb said.

Stanford in Government looks forward to hosting more lunches throughout the year. Like all our speakers, Dr. Webb is committed to public service; her work exemplifies the importance of health policy and demonstrates the many ways government can touch individuals’ lives.

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