Name: Sonia Kumar-Seguin
Organization: Body Brave
SPARK Year: 2019
You may have seen exposé ads in elementary and high school about “body image.” For many young women living in North America, eating disorders can be a constant companion ranging from bulimia (characterized by binge eating and purging) to anorexia (characterized by abnormally low body weight, fear of gaining weight, and distortion of body image), both of which can leave you hospitalized.
According to Body Brave, “As weight, food, and body image issues increase, we are facing a national crisis.” Recovery is the goal, but the process to get there has proven challenging for many years.
Sonia Kumar-Seguin knew this from her own lived experience. Frustrated with the lack of services for women living with eating disorders in Canada, she had an idea to bridge the gap and offer a lasting, transformative change in services. The SPARK Knowledge Translation Program played a large role in her journey to put her idea into practice. This is her story.
Sonia co-founded Body Brave with her mother Dr. Karen Trollope. It was a response to Sonia’s difficulties navigating the health-care system in search of support during an 8-year battle living with an eating disorder. “Karen and Sonia quickly discovered the immense barriers that exist for those navigating the health-care system in search of help. Everything from stigma, long waitlists, lack of health-care provider support and training as well as a lack of eating disorder awareness or funding. The families of those who suffer are also often left in the dark, without coping tools or concrete information.”
With a focus on lived experience, capacity building and training, community care, innovation and unique scaling, Body Brave is set apart from other eating disorder services because it puts the person with lived experience (the client) first. Little did Sonia know that she would be accepted into the SPARK 2019 Cohort a few years later.
Like several other SPARKies, Sonia found out about SPARK through word of mouth. “One of my colleagues was a SPARK mentor. I had told her about my project idea, and she encouraged me to apply.”
While Body Brave was already running prior to her admission into SPARK, Sonia had an idea to create a training module for physicians in order to better equip them to help people living with eating disorders. While the implementation of her project idea through SPARK was easier than she had anticipated it to be, the evaluation process was the most difficult. “There were a lot of moving pieces. Things didn’t go as planned.” Even so, in the end, her innovation became a resounding success. 60 to 70 people attended a conference that Body Brave hosted. Out of that number, there were 20-25 physicians in attendance.
Here Comes the SPARK
For Sonia, SPARK played a huge role in the implementation and evaluation process of her knowledge translation project.
She had some important tips to share from her journey.
“It’s extremely useful for you to have a framework. To begin with, many projects are big in focus. If you are looking to get funding or get your project validated, frameworks are a necessary part of the process. SPARK really helped me to narrow my focus. I learned how to make things realistic from my SPARK mentor.
SPARK gives you the time to sift through your plan. For any innovative individual or organization who is interested in applying, structure is important. Accountability is important. I can’t stress it enough. SPARK can really provide a great framework to help you achieve your plan. It’s not an inspiring message, but it’s practical.”
Who says it can’t be both?
Body Brave Today
Since SPARK, there have been so many changes and developments to Body Brave. “We’ve scaled up a lot through the framework learned during SPARK.” During the 3 years of operation thus far, Body Brave has grown to:
- Include many more team members (this number changes frequently with funding)
- 5-15 clinical student placements at any given time
- 2 physicians working with Body Brave
- Along with many volunteers
“Especially now during the COVID-19 crisis, we are applying for grants. We have had a lot of people reaching out to us. A lot has happened, and SPARK played a big role in that.”
She even used some of the training acquired during the SPARK Knowledge Translation program to informally train others to frame big projects.
Her advice to those unsure if they should apply to SPARK?
“You should definitely apply. Even if your idea isn’t fully formed. My idea wasn’t fully formed when I applied. Apply in its current form. Go for it.”
Sonia’s success in her Knowledge Translation project inspires us to believe that being equipped with the right framework has the power to make any project idea result in lasting change.