Mention unmanned drones, and most people think of a technology with a fairly dark job to do. But for years, Jack C. Chow has argued for drones as simply a very efficient delivery system—one with enormous possibilities for doing good.
In recent foreign policy papers, Chow has written that “drones for humanitarian missions could save many lives. Imagine drone convoys flying overseas to deliver health aid. Amid all the current controversy over drones’ military uses, we need to recognize that these machines are simply flying platforms. Nobody debates that the 787 or a conventional airplane can deliver goods and services from point A to point B. I predict that someday unmanned drones for civilian use will be as commonplace as UPS flying a plane to deliver things.”
Envisioning a beneficent intersection between medicine, public service, and business comes naturally for Chow. He has been a part of each of those realms since completing his five degrees, including his bachelor’s from Penn. A medical doctor with an MBA from the University of Chicago and a master’s in public administration from Harvard, Chow was the first U.S. diplomat of ambassador rank appointed to a public health mission. As special representative of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Global HIV/AIDS, Chow led diplomatic efforts immediately after 9/11 to begin the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, addressing global infectious diseases and bioterrorism threats.
To his way of thinking, world health, income disparity and political instability are interrelated. “I think the greatest goal is to reduce abject poverty. If one can see the villages and communities that are hard hit by poverty, you can see that poverty is fertile ground for discontent, political instability, and even for terrorism to take root.”
Chow’s focus on health public policy emanates from early aspirations to be a doctor. “In the 1970s and ’80s, the roles of doctors were still rooted in establishment types of role models—the clinician, the researcher—and at the time, with all the world in crisis, the ability of a doctor to be a contributor to humanitarian ideas and speak to new ways of alleviating suffering entranced me,” said Chow. At the same time, coursework at Penn as a political science major “crystallized the value of good governance and the struggle of government to do good for its people.”
He interned in the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he could see “how policy from D.C. percolated into places like Philly with its struggles and challenges.” From there, he enrolled in the U.C. Berkeley-UCSFJoint Medical Program that prepared “doctors to undertake hybrid missions, along with a more social innovator role.”
At Berkeley, he became interested in healthcare budgeting in government, and soon landed a job as a budget analyst for Silvio O. Conte, whose 16 terms in the House of Representatives earned him a reputation as a stalwart advocate for health and scientific research funding. “He was a very demanding task-master, but I learned so much about the front lines of working in Washington and how you navigate a good idea to the end goal.”
By the time Chow began working as a health appropriations aide for U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, the full scale of the AIDS crisis had become apparent, both in America and elsewhere. “The disease had become a leading threat to social stability, and more and more of my budget work involved finding ways to confront global HIV/AIDS. In the last year of the Clinton administration, I helped start the State Department’s new Global AIDS office at the time when activists were demanding action on the international scene. When Clinton finished up, and Powell became the next Secretary of State, I was tapped to be the special U.S. envoy committed to confronting global AIDS, a major plank of Powell’s conduct of U.S. foreign policy. Secretary Powell felt that health and other similar social initiatives were force multipliers—if you do humanitarian work and do the right thing and downplay any diplomatic gain, you win many friends by the generation of goodwill. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Chow, now distinguished service professor at Carnegie Mellon University, looks back on the Bush administration’s embracement of global health in foreign policy as “enlightened. And President Obama has built upon that and advanced it in new ways.”
Never has the linking of Chow’s disparate realms seemed as urgent as it does now.
“Poverty is a crushing force to the social fabric—not only elsewhere, but also here in America. In a world where there is tremendous wealth generation, I think education and health are certainly two major ways in which we can get a great deal of advance for a modest investment, and that is where I think the Wharton community can have a high impact, with students and others who might create programs for job creation and the dissemination of health. What I think would be good for public health and wealth generation is to have teeming middle classes who can spend on health and nutrition. There is so much public gain to be won.”
University of Pennsylvania - Arts and Sciences - 1982
- Bachelor of Arts
- Major(s): Political Science