“We must start taking the call to active citizenry seriously as young people,” says Dr Cyan Brown, who graduated from the University of Pretoria with a medical degree in 2017. “We need to invest in our leadership skills, in our ability to engage in dialogue with those who have different worldviews, and in our abilities to speak truth to power and to create a more equal society going forward,” says the 27-year-old doctor who is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Public Health at King’s College in London.
Her work in public health is evidence that she is heeding her own call to actively contribute to building a stronger South Africa. “My master’s is focusing on public health, a skill I hope to integrate with my medical career in South Africa to help create positive healthcare change not just in hospitals but in communities too.”
Dr Brown is an Atlantic Fellow for Tekano Health Equity, a global fellowship that is part of the Atlantic Institute at Rhodes House at Oxford University. “I spent the past year doing the fellowship, which focuses on how to make the South African healthcare sector more equitable and socially just.” Through the fellowship, Dr Brown has been making a documentary to illustrate mental health issues faced by healthcare professionals in South Africa.
“We need to become the leaders our society is desperate to see if, as young people, we are to build a stronger country,” says Dr Cyan Brown.
She is also co-founder of start-up BioRayz, which uses sustainable, environmentally friendly technology to tackle infection control in low-resource settings. “BioRayz is developing 3D printable technology that uses ultraviolet LED lights to sanitise masks and other hospital equipment as part of the fight against COVID-19.” Ultraviolet light destroys bacteria and viruses, meaning it’s also effective in destroying superbugs found in hospital environments that are causing antibiotic resistance, an emerging global health threat. “My team includes engineers and designers from India, Germany and Lebanon,” Dr Brown says.
Her achievements range from being selected as one of McKinsey & Company’s Next Generation Women Leaders in 2020 – an award that acknowledges young women who are leaders in their industries – to being on the 2019 Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans list and receiving the Duke of Edinburgh President’s Award (gold) for service and leadership in 2018.
“We need to become the leaders our society is desperate to see if, as young people, we are to build a stronger country,” she says. “People underestimate the impact that individuals can have. We need to change our view on that; we need to become the ones we have been waiting for and start creating the ripples of change we want to see, and trust that the effect will create knock-on change.”
Dr Brown says that millennials are often portrayed as “anti-social, lazy and addicted to instant gratification”, but that a new narrative needs to be created that is more reflective of “what our generation truly holds dear.”
“We’ve challenged many norms that have historically privileged a few but excluded the majority. We aren’t afraid to advocate for our beliefs and justice, and being of a different generation means we value different things to other generations, which is not a problem,” she says.
“As youth, we have so much to offer: we bring new, bold ideas, fresh perspectives and different ways of doing things. The world of work stands to benefit from seeing young people for their full potential in the here and now.”