Being a World Young Leader in Dementia: a journey from Nigeria to France

By 23rd July 2020Blog

Over the last 7 years, I have held a post-doctoral position at the King’s Global Health Institute (UK). I co-ordinated research with the 10/66 Dementia Research Group and contributed to review and synthesize evidence on the global burden of dementia for various organizations such as Alzheimer’s Disease International, World Health Organisation and the Alzheimer’s Society UK.  This past year, I became an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the University of California, San Francisco, which has given me the opportunity to return my focus to my original research on dementia and ageing in sub-Saharan Africa. For the last four years, I have been a member of the World Young Leaders in Dementia.  My career path and my role in WYLD are without a doubt connected.

 My WYLD journey started in Ibadan, Nigeria…

As a post-doctoral researcher and collaborator of Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), I was invited to attend ADI’s African regional conference in September 2016 to present my research on the epidemiological evidence on dementia prevalence in the region. When I left London, I had no idea what a life and career changing opportunity my first-ever Nigerian trip would be.
Over this short but highly stimulating conference, I met Rebekah Churchyard, a young Canadian social worker and psychologist who introduced me to the international network she was part of: the World Young Leaders in Dementia (WYLD). I was quickly seduced by WYLD’s mission to create a better world for those living with dementia, their families and their communities. As a global health researcher, this aspiration was very appealing. So one evening, I joined Rebekah and other young spirits working in dementia from Nigeria, Zambia, and Kenya, and learned more about WYLD. We shared experiences, discussed how we could engage more with the international community, and how young professionals from the African continent could connect better with same-minded professionals from other regions. Using a Slack-specific channel,  information and announcements could be shared between WYLD members from different networks andregions. It sounded , it like a mini-peer-support system! Following this meeting, I had many discussions about WYLD with Rebekah, and I signed up to be a member as soon as I got back home.

September 2016, Ibadan (Nigeria) – My first introduction to WYLD.

September 2016, Ibadan (Nigeria) – My first introduction to WYLD.

With the support of the WYLD Steering Group members also based in the UK, I started to reflect on how I could get more involved in the network and in the following years, I had the opportunities to share my research and my experience with the network twicethrough blogs published on this website. The first one was directly inspired by my talk at the ADI African regional conference, summarizing the epidemiological evidence available on dementia in sub-Saharan Africa and the other one documented my impressions of my first meeting at the World Health Organization for the launch of the Global Dementia Observatory (https://wyldementia.org/wyld-at-the-launch-of-the-world-health-organizations-global-dementia-observatory/).

More importantly, I had opportunities to connect ‘in real life’ with more WYLD members during conferences like the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference and to discover more about the network’s projects and origins. The group of people I got to know and the work they were completing within the network really inspired me. I would have never thought about launching a Twitter campaign in support of the progress of the WHO Global Action Plan on Dementia or mentoring fellow members who I can now call my friends.

Stepping up

It wasn’t without hesitation however that I replied to the WYLD’s call for new steering group members early 2018. I was far from considering myself a leader, but I took the plunge and sent my application very close to the deadline, convinced that I could give more. I was enthusiastic to help extend the network’s reach towards low- and middle- income countries with the connections I had developed through my different collaborations and academic positions. I felt privileged to join the group and was very enthusiastic to connect on a more regular basis with them. This role has been enriching on so many levels, professionally as much as personally. It led me to meet young and innovative people with brilliant ideas and projects around dementia as well as key players in the policy and academic world, when I was lucky to represent WYLD at one of the World Dementia Council, long term supporter of the network. I also enjoyed sharing information and opportunities with the WYLD members through our newsletter, and engaging more with our African membership.

Life-changing experience

As I am writing my WYLD journey, it is clear that WYLD has played a decisive role in my career.  It allowed me to create strong links with people from diverse backgrounds, expertise and countries. I even had the pleasure to mentor one of of them! More recently, at a time I really needed it, WYLD led me to the Global Brain Health Institute where I am a fellow this year. Right now, I am transitioning to a senior researcher position at the French Research Institute for Sustainable Development in my home-country. WYLD continues to attract a lot of interest from young professionals all over the world whose involvement provides new insights, knowledge and experiences to the network.  Four years since I was first introduced to WYLD in Nigeria, I am still amazed by the energy and dedication WYLD to fostering a global network of young professionals with one common goal: improving the lives of people with dementia no matter who they are or where they come from.

Maëlenn Guerchet is a senior researcher at the French Institute of Research for Sustainable Development (IRD*) and an Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health at the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI**). Her research focuses on the burden of dementia in low- and middle-income countries, especially sub-Saharan Africa.

Maëlenn has been a member of WYLD since 2016 and joined the Steering Group in early 2018.

* https://en.ird.fr/

** https://www.gbhi.org/

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