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Employee Spotlight: GHHI Social Innovation Specialist Trent Van Alfen


GHHI will soon publish a set of reports that evaluate the feasibility of using Pay for Success (PFS) financing for healthy home interventions to address asthma in five sites around the country.

One of the site leads for projects, GHHI Social Innovation Specialist Trent Van Alfen, spoke to us about what makes PFS projects so exciting and what brought him to GHHI in the first place. Plus, he reveals that this job is way better than his first one – especially since he’s paid with real money instead of gumballs!

Trent came to GHHI in June 2015 in pursuit of his passion – applying market-based principles to solve persistent social problems.

“It’s funny because when I got here, I knew a lot about social impact financing, and almost nothing about asthma and healthcare,” said Trent. “But the more I learned about healthy housing services and especially the positive impact on kids’ school attendance, that’s what I was most attracted to in the job.”

Trent’s interest in social impact work was first sparked as a summer volunteer in Uganda in 2008. He signed up with HELP International to implement community development projects such as building classrooms, libraries, and adobe stoves in a small town called Lugazi.

“After that I became more and more interested in using market-based levers to address problems of poverty. I loved the idea of Pay for Success projects,” said Trent. “A mentor introduced me to GHHI and the rest is history!”

“My favorite part of the job is working in a new developing field – it feels like working at a startup. We’re helping to create something that nobody has ever done before [in asthma prevention]. We’re creating new ideas for streamlining this work, things that require thinking outside the box.”

Trent told us about one tool the Social Innovation Team is creating right now – a PFS feasibility scoring rubric that standardizes the evaluation of potential PFS projects. The team is working to create tools and templates for the broader PFS field, to help make feasibility studies more effective.

Such tools are a world away from where Trent got his start — as a quality control inspector for bubble gum machines! Working for his father, ten year old Trent would sit in front of the carnival-like machines, inserting quarters and watching the gumballs go down tubes and different mechanical levers. Any time a gumball fell off the track, Trent recorded the error.

Today, Trent’s greatest aspiration for GHHI is to be instrumental in ultimately changing healthcare policy, so that Medicaid and managed care organizations pay directly for home-based asthma interventions. “It would have a huge impact on society—by not only improving people’s health, but also contributing to educational, social, and economic outcomes across generations,” says Trent.

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