With COVID-19 in effect for over two years, health professionals have been put to extraordinary tests. But, even with an increased need for frontline workers, many still believe that there’s a dire need for more people of color in health care. People aspiring to work in medical professions are often faced with the challenges of being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after they graduate.
This is what led to the creation of Shared Harvest Fund. A social enterprise founded by Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin and her fellow colleagues, Dr. Briana Young, and Dr. Joanne Moreau, this organization is the only one of its kind that offers a student loan debt relief incentive program during the pandemic.
The Shared Harvest Fund creates equitable opportunities to access higher education by leveraging empathy-driven technology to connect borrowers with the chance to be servant leaders in their own neighborhoods while reducing their burdens of student loans. Their unique form of loan forgiveness offers borrowers the privilege to improve their mental health by not having to stress about loan debt or take resources from communities in need.
The organization started four years ago as a volunteer management platform that was like “Tindr meets the peace Corps,” matching people with nonprofit organizations, and built a rewards program that allowed people to work in exchange for paying off their student loans.
Shared Harvest Fund stands on four pillars: financial equity, health equity, digital equity, and education. These platforms are interrelated, especially in regard to struggles with finding health professionals of color.
“There is a network,” said Dr. Nana, “but it’s hard to find! This is because the pipeline of getting BIPOC providers through school and graduated is very narrow. With most of our young professional being first-generation college students as well as first-generation doctors, PAs (physician assistants), and nurses, people fail to mention this six-figure student debt that they carry with them that also limits where they practice and who they provide service to.”
Dr. Nana specifically went on to mention how Shared Harvest is taking an honest look at the debt Black women face due to student loans.
“Black women face the largest percentage of student loan debt than any other group, but yet we have the highest volunteer record. Our service hours per equivalence to our work hours are much higher than other groups.”
She also states that “with healthcare needing to go through an entire transformation to make it equitable, we already know who is going to be at the frontline. We can’t ask Black women to be at the frontline without taking care of their backline, which is student loans.”
Dr. Nana went on to explain that with Shared Harvest Fund’s active program of decreasing student loans in real time, while actively making strides towards one’s medical profession, will make more people become interested and engaged in making healthcare better.
Since the start of the pandemic, Shared Harvest Fund is more focused on health technology, and working to enhance resources for communities of color. They have even gone as far as creating a telehealth app, myCOVIDmd.
“With the pandemic, most people get health insurance or access to providers through telehealth services. However, it usually takes about six weeks to see the medical professional you need, or even get your medical insurance. Our telehealth app is a free public health platform that links users with a network of providers from general physicians to OGYNs to PAs,” Dr. NanaEfua Afoh-Manin, also known as Dr. Nana, told the Los Angeles Sentinel.
This app provides the service of simply answering people’s medical questions. Dr. Nana and her colleagues temporarily provided people with “healthcare homes” where they would assist in providing prescriptions, find out where clients could get tested for specific medical conditions, and even talked to providers to ensure conversations about loved ones in hospitals were clear and understood.
“We became that bridge, and naturally realized that providers of color care about people getting lost in the shuffle and falling out of the cracks. We were building a need that goes beyond the pandemic, so our app is about providing access to services for those who need them,” explained Dr. Nana.
Shared Harvest Fund has also worked to give back to their communities by hosting pop-up COVID testing block parties around Los Angeles neighborhoods.
“We hire DJs and have music, and people come together for connection while gaining information and news. We noticed in COVID, that Black people will often talk to their neighbors or friends about their healthcare before they call a doctor. These block parties were intentional in bringing out the block, and getting people educated with correct information about COVID so when they talk about it and spread news around, it’s correct.”
These events were created to debunk myths, and let people know that there’s an organization dedicated to building networks of trust with communities in need. They’ve had around eighty pop-up events, testing over 30,000 people and administering 8,000 vaccines.
With Shared Harvest Fund being an organization created by Black women, these entrepreneurs have run into challenges alongside their prosperous journey.
“Black Girl Gold is amazing, but It’s not easy to get,” said Dr. Nana as she discussed having issues building the right team. “People don’t always understand the work it takes to create impact. You have to be selective in the people you build with.”
However, even with this, Dr. Nana is proud of her organization as well as the work that her and her partners have put into their mission. “We designed this organization to fill in a gap and stand strong within our community. I think we do it well.”
As 2022 continues, Shared Harvest has a campaign to raise $20M in student debt cancellation for frontline health providers by the end of the year. Dr. Nana and her colleagues are also working to improve the mental health and financial security for BIPOC professionals and educate people more about health equity legislation.
“We want a seat at the table of the committee. We won’t stop ‘til we get there.”
For more information about Shared Harvest Fund, or any of their pop-up parties, visit: https://www.sharedharvestfund.org.