Serish Thakker will graduate with degrees in public policy and international relations
By Eric Ruble
Serish Thakker knows how decisions made at the highest levels impact everyday people. She witnessed it firsthand while working at the Africa Healthcare Federation (AHF) in Nairobi, Kenya during the pandemic.
“Living through the pandemic in Kenya was starkly different from living through the pandemic in the U.S.,” said Thakker, who was born and raised in the Kenyan capital.
Thakker says all of the medical components – from equipment to vaccines to advocacy – were rolled out far more slowly than they were in the U.S. She blamed that on a lack of resources and funding.
“This was noticeable across different health care institutions across the African continent,” said Thakker, who is graduating from USC Price with a bachelor of science in public policy.
However, Thakker says some African nations mandated masks early – something USC Price research has proven effective – and took other innovative approaches. For example, since the Kenyan economy couldn’t handle a total lockdown, the government instead imposed curfews to limit the movement of people.
“Additionally, a lot of countries and organizations were able to create partnerships and pool resources to boost communication and work to gain access to vaccines and PPE,” Thakker said.
While working at AHF, Thakker was tasked with sharing accurate, concise information about COVID-19 around Africa. She says it was a massive undertaking, especially because of the huge variety of languages spoken in different regions.
“This required a great amount of flexibility and adaptability to tailor themes for the webinars and social media posts very rapidly, depending on the most pressing concerns,” she said. “I learned so much about the value of streamlined information.”
She says this became easier as her work progressed.
“As more health care institutions and communication teams laid the groundwork and got into the swing of things, the communication channels were much more efficient,” she said.
Thakker says knowing how to structure messaging in a digestible format is something she will use for the rest of her career. She said she also learned valuable lessons through Price classes. In fact, she says the best part of her academic experience is the course material’s application to the real world.
“There has been a lot of access to practical learning through all my Price classes, which has allowed me to get great insights into what the field of policy, planning and analysis looks like,” she said.
Thakker pointed to two courses with Professor Grace Bahng as being particularly useful.
“She was very engaging and tailored every single class to what the students are interested in, so I felt like I was able to get a more personalized learning experience from her classes,” Thakker said.
Thakker will be leaving USC with two degrees – she is also studying international relations in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“It’s only when I got to USC that I realized there’s an intersection of international relations and public policy, and that I could derive skills from both and tailor them to my interests,” she said.
So, what’s next for Thakker? After graduation, she will be working at Chemonics International, a development firm dedicated to improving people’s quality of life in a number of areas, including trade, education and global health.
While Thakker says she sees herself returning to Kenya one day, for now, she wants to stay stateside.
“I’ve always been interested in international development and bringing sustainable programs to humans in Africa, specifically,” she said. “[I’m] fascinated by the effect international interventions have on global health and education programs.”
Indeed, Thakker’s undergraduate education is just the first step of many as she begins building a career that will surely span continents.