Meet Winnie: SOIL’s Research, Innovation and Advocacy Director
Winnie touring and working at SOIL’s composting facility in Haiti
We’re thrilled to introduce SOIL’s new Research, Innovation and Advocacy Director, Winnie Felix-Jean! Winnie comes to us with a background in microbiology and global public health advocacy and with many years of experience with both clinical research and project management. Winnie has worked as a clinical researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer center where she was responsible for the planning and oversight of the myeloma and hematology services and also led clinical oncology trials. She has consulted for the UN World Food Programme and UNICEF and was a senior manager at IBM Watson Health where she led strategy and operations for health equity, oncology and imaging programs within their Center for AI, Research and Evaluation.
Winnie is excited to be putting her experience and interest in expanding public health to work for SOIL in Haiti. Both of her parents were born in northern Haiti and while they now reside in the U.S., Winne’s grandmother still lives in Haiti. She tells us, “Some people with Haitian parents haven’t had much exposure to Haiti or to its culture, but I was fortunate enough to maintain a strong connection to it. I have been traveling to Haiti since I was a child.”
Winnie was initially drawn to her role at SOIL because of its location in northern Haiti and because SOIL’s sanitation service has “real impact versus impact on paper” for its clients in Cap-Haitien. Before joining the SOIL team, Winnie had the opportunity to take some time to step back and evaluate her past roles, juxtapose them with her passion and through this was able to decide that she really wanted to find a leadership position in the public health space, particularly advancing health equity.
“From a public health perspective, SOIL provides a real, vital service, with immediate impact on its customers at a fair cost while continuing to lead and conduct important research – this opportunity was a great fit!” she says. Leveraging research and applying it with respect to SOIL’s strategic objectives is one area that Winnie plans to focus on. “SOIL has done an excellent job at research innovation,” she says. “I want to further refine things so that we are more targeted, further linking climate and agriculture and sanitation and health.”
Winnie says that another focus of hers will be to use the advocacy component of her role to further SOIL’s mission and provide opportunities for more Haitians to be advocates for themselves. “We want to partner whenever possible with government agencies (both at the local & national level and with organizations like the CBSA (Container Based Sanitation Alliance)) as well as work with local stakeholders as to what would benefit them and where those interests align.”
Winnie says that SOIL’s impact is multifaceted. “First, every human being has the right to improved sanitation and yet a significant portion of the planet doesn’t have it. Right now SOIL is providing a cost effective, functioning, reliable sanitation option even within the backdrop of the current insecurity in Haiti.”
Providing people with a little bit of normalcy in a really tough time is so important, too, Winnie says. “In addition to a toilet, SOIL also provides dignity. SOIL provides mental well being. The quality of customer service that SOIL provides its customers with is just incredible. There’s a particular, specific respect there for a population that is oftentimes not very well respected.”
Winnie is looking forward to working closely with the Cap-Haitien community, too. “Because SOIL listens to their customers and their needs and innovates where possible to improve the service there is, in turn, a real respect for the organization and this respect can be an entryway into other community based initiatives.” she says.
When asked about where she hopes to see Haiti in 10 years, Winnie answers, “Imagine if we had 100% of the Cap-Haitien region fitted with sanitation service! Imagine the impact on health and overall well being. Imagine the disease and illness passed through water that would be avoided. Imagine the compost that would be generated and the potential for wide-spread use of natural organic fertilizer to help increase food production. What a huge public health win that would be!”
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