An Interview with Emily Sheldon, Director of Health Innovation at Impact Hub Accra


Emily Sheldon served on the Advisory and Programming Board for the TFC during the 2015-2016 academic year. Additionally, she participted in Project Pyramid, Hult@Vanderbilt and the VIGH Global Health Case Competition. With such a passion for innovation and impact we wanted to catch up with her and get insight into her latest work.

What are your interests?

Working at the intersection of global health and social enterprise to solve health challenges throughout sub-Saharan Africa utilizing innovative market-based approaches.

What are you currently doing and how did you get the position? 

I currently serve as the Director of Health Innovation for Impact Hub Accra, a social enterprise entrepreneurship and innovation hub located in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. In this role, I spearhead the Hub’s vision of creating a vibrant, pan-African health innovation ecosystem and oversee all health-related programming, including hackathons, pitch competitions, and social enterprise acceleration. I work with the other members of our executive team and our health innovation staff (including a Health Innovation Coordinator and Digital Amplifier) to plan and implement strategy, while simultaneously establishing relationships between entrepreneurs, government, industry, academia, public health professionals, investors, and the medical field. While our current programming focuses on social enterprise acceleration, we’re on the search for funding to launch one of Africa’s largest initiatives to solve health issues through entrepreneurship, We Care 4 Africa, and create a health innovation center which will include space for prototyping, business and health trainings, and events to build the innovation ecosystem.

I discovered Impact Hub Accra during a Project Pyramid trip to Ghana, facilitated by the Owen Graduate School of Management, just two months prior to the completion of my master’s program. While in Accra, my team (comprised of students from three other graduate programs at Vanderbilt) utilized Impact Hub’s co-working space and learned about the launch of their upcoming health program. The combined focus on global health and social enterprise could not have been a more perfect fit – I moved to West Africa just two weeks after graduation.

Looking back, what was impactful about your time with the TFC? 

The TFC was essential in helping me understand a different way to do international development. The students, staff, and affiliated faculty challenged my ideals regarding global poverty alleviation, just as I challenged theirs. As I grew into my love of social enterprise, the TFC allowed me to work through theories and interrogate potential solutions. In many ways, the TFC was a place where individuals came with questions and the community helped discover the answers.

What’s your favorite way to stay up to date on innovation in the global health sector?   

Working at Impact Hub Accra automatically keeps me up-to-date on global innovation in a variety of fields – from digital innovation to workforce development to media trainings. Each week partners are hosting new events at the Hub which bring together excited and engaged entrepreneurs, ready to create innovative solutions to local problems. Devex also has a great weekly newsletter that keeps me up-to-date on global health trends and trendsetters.  

In two or three sentences could you explain why innovation matters in your career?

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest burden of disease in the world and the lowest number of health providers – but, they also have the highest rates of entrepreneurship. To successfully solve health challenges, we will have to take innovative approaches in prevention, care, and treatment. That’s why Impact Hub Accra is “laying the foundation for a locally-driven, African health revolution.”