Braveen Ragunanthan, Terry Sanford Leadership Award Winner, 2012

If you saw the Duke Chapel lit up in blue on World Diabetes Day or thousands of Cameron Crazies wearing red ribbons at the Duke-Michigan State game on World Aids Day last winter, you saw the work of Braveen Ragunanthan PPS ’12. These are only two of the projects that earned Ragunanthan the 2012 Terry Sanford Leadership Award.

“Braveen’s servant leadership inspires us,” five Sanford faculty members wrote in their nomination letter. “He leaves this place and our collective body of faculty, students and staff much better for his having been here.

“Terry Sanford’s call to ‘outrageous ambitions,’ is often invoked but we hear less about the corollary… of ‘working diligently to achieve them.’ We can all testify to this young man’s living up to both dimensions of Sanford’s legacy. He is bold in what he reaches to do and very careful and hardworking in getting it done, piece by piece, with a large team of like-minded friends he has largely worked to energize.”

A Robertson Scholar, Ragunanthan arrived on campus interested in international affairs, and soon discovered a passion for global health. As a freshman, he landed the position of research assistant in the Program on Global Health and Technology Access, working with program director Dr. Anthony So.

“Anthony So has been a real mentor to me, pushing me to grow in ways I never expected,” Ragunanthan said. In the position, he worked with Robert Malkin, director of Pratt’s Engineering World Health Program to help create guidelines for donated medical equipment for the World Health Organization and designed elements of a “coopetition” on realigning economic incentives to combat antibiotic resistance.  He also helped So develop the graduate-level class “Designing Innovation in Global Health.”

For three years, Ragunanthan chaired the Global Health Week planning committee, bringing global health leaders to campus such as dean of Harvard School of Public Health Dr. Julio Frenk, AIDS activist Dr. Peter Mugyenyi of Uganda, and journalist Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He was instrumental in the merging of the Duke Global Health Forum with the Duke Partnership for Service (DPS), an umbrella group for service organizations on campus, and served as vice president for global health for the group.

He founded the Duke chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign.  His efforts were not confined to campus, as he took trips to U.S. Sen.Kay Hagan’s office in Raleigh and to various Congress members Washington to lobby for maintaining funding for PEPFAR, the president’s AIDS relief initiative,and against the Research Works Act.  He also was involved in the creation of the Coalition for a Conflict-Free Duke, which works to reduce the use of minerals that fund warlords in the Congo.

In talking about any of his projects, Ragunanthan is quick to give credit to others, including Sanjana Marpadga ‘13 for the idea of lighting up the chapel and Stefani Jones ‘14 and Sanjay Kishore ‘13 for founding Conflict-Free Duke.  “I really believe that every true leader has a lot of support to accomplish great things,” he says.

In 2010, Ragunanthan gained hands-on experience in the challenges in global health, when he spent the summer in rural South Africa.  He worked as an assistant in the Eshowe pharmacy and shadowed physicians in the infectious disease ward. He was impressed with the resilience of the staff, who found ways to cope with black-outs and shortages of medicine. In Ethiopia, he worked on a de-worming campaign, and spent a memorable day assisting on an ambulance, transporting patients to the emergency rooms in Mekele.

“I got such an adrenaline rush here out on the rough streets of Mekele. We got to see so many places around the city too that we never would have seen before without driving around at top speeds in the ambulance,” he wrote on his blog.

“The field work in Africa really confirmed for me what I want to do,” he said, which is to practice medicine in underserved communities. He credits Sherman Jamess class in health disparities with that focus.  He will attend medical school at the Medical College of Virginia in the fall and hopes to work with underserved populations in Richmond. “I want to stay involved with policy during my practice, and address the social determinants of health within the community,” he said.

“Sanford has really been a family to me,” he said, both faculty and staff.  He studied international law and health with Visiting Professor Catherine Admay and this spring became godfather to her daughter, Millie. He credits Tony Brown with teaching him that public policy really is “solving social problems.”

Ragunanthan’s affection for the Sanford School is matched by his loyalty to Duke as a whole, which began when he came to campus from Canton, Ohio as part of Duke’s Talent Identification Program. He decided to show his loyalty by wearing a Duke shirt every day he was on campus. He now has a collection of 73 Duke shirts, including one given to him by Roger Dubay the late Sanford Deli manager who befriended him during his first month as a student.