SwitchPoint 2015: innovation, ingenuity, and global development

Collage of Switchpoint photos and illustrations.Last month hundreds of participants from around the world met in the artsy community of Saxapahaw, North Carolina, for the fourth annual SwitchPoint conference, produced by IntraHealth International.

Claudia Harner-Jay.

Author Claudia Harner-Jay is a senior commercialization officer at PATH. Photo: PATH.

This two-day gathering brings together great ideas, tools, and people who are making a real difference in the world in areas such as humanitarian innovation, global health, and technology.

I was honored to attend and speak about innovation curation, ingenuity, and global development, inviting the audience to ponder what innovation means in the context of global health (giving examples from PATH’s 40-year history), where innovation comes from, and how lasting global progress requires cross-sector collaboration to achieve impact at scale. With Kennedy Odede, a social entrepreneur and founder of Shining Hope for Communities (located in the slums of Nairobi), I also ran one of the 22 microlabs—small interactive workshops with 30 people—on how stakeholder considerations influence the development and advancement of innovations.

SwitchPoint is known for challenging participants to stretch their boundaries, comfort zones, and contacts. Featured speakers this year covered a broad and interesting spectrum of talks: collecting data using drones—or unmanned aerial vehicles; battling Ebola; 3-D organ printing and crowdsourcings; and bioethics. There were 50 fascinating talks stretched across two packed days.

Poster for Switchpoint conference.

Three moments at the conference particularly stood out for me:

1) A dinner conversation with Lisa Russell, an Emmy-winning filmmaker who produces film and advocacy campaigns for various UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations, and Neil Brandvold, a freelance photojournalist primarily working in conflict zones—most recently on the frontlines of the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Lisa spoke about narrative justice in filmmaking and her passion for reframing stories to show the positive change that people in their own communities can instigate. When we asked Neil, “Why do you do what you do?” he spoke avidly about the importance of being a digital witness to crisis and telling stories through photos for the rest of the world.

2) Alex Kotch, a composer, producer, DJ, and instrumentalist known as Direwolf, was spinning the tunes and setting the stage for cross-sector conversation about future collaborations. Each speaker had his/her own personal musical interlude, specifically chosen to match the topic and presenter. I loved the energy that the music brought and the distinctive vibe it added to an already unique and inspiring conference.

3) I attended a microlab with artists and dancers from Culture Mill, where we participated in several guided actions, using our bodies and our senses as primary vehicles to comprehend intuition, decision-making, and cooperation. These exercises pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me how much we can accomplish by communicating through movement instead of words.

The two-day event was closed by Pierce Freelon, cofounder of the Beat Making Lab, a program that has partnered with PBS to build music studios in international community centers. Freelon did a live rap on the two-day event, drawing from the words that participants held up on index cards describing their experience.

Speaker onstage addressing an audience.

PATH’s Claudia Harner-Jay speaks at SwitchPoint 2015. Photo: IntraHealth/SwitchPoint.

SwitchPoint is one of those experiences that stays with you for a while. I often find myself thinking back to something I heard from one of the talks, or listening to one of the songs that the DJ played, or recalling a snippet from one of the many interesting conversations that occurred. I took home with me a jolt of creativity that I’m working to infuse in my day-to-day work and life.

Guest contributor Claudia Harner-Jay is a senior commercialization officer at PATH.

More information

Managing menstruation in low-resource settings: are cups the key?

School girls gather in a group.

Managing a period is challenging in low-resource settings where girls may have a 10-hour (or more) school day. Photo: PATH/Wendy Stone.

Hope Randall, communications associate at PATH, recently interviewed Nancy Muller, senior program officer for our Devices and Tools Program, to learn more about PATH’s work in menstrual hygiene and solutions that can make an impact in low-resource settings. Following are excerpts from their interview.

How did you first become involved with the issue of menstrual hygiene?

In 2006, I was en route to Seattle from Uganda. I was traveling with our very own Sara Tifft, director of the Sayana Press Pilot Introduction and Research project at PATH, who asked me what I thought low-income girls in Africa did when they had their periods. I felt like the bottom of the plane had dropped out! I had never thought about it. I became a bit obsessed with understanding how girls and women manage their periods, especially if they live in rural areas. My first passion was medical waste management, which was great preparation for my work in menstrual hygiene management.

A group of brightly colored menstrual cups arranged in a circle.

Menstrual cups, which are worn inside the vagina during menstruation to catch fluid, come in a wide variety of styles, capacities, and firmness levels. Photo. Wikimedia/MeLuna.

We are currently conducting a review and landscape of menstrual cups to identify design and user challenges; develop design concepts to address barriers around cost, use, and cleaning; and contribute to the dialogue on improved menstrual hygiene (MH) products by publishing our work.

Why menstrual cups, as opposed to pads or tampons or reusable cloths? Continue reading »

Strengthening communities: a clean water partnership makes lives better

Since 2012, PATH has been partnering with Starbucks Foundation to improve access to clean drinking water and improve sanitation and hygiene in two Tanzanian coffee-growing communities. Poverty and sickness were rampant in these communities says Anna Mbise, a PATH consultant in Tanzania, partially due to lack of access to safe water and improved sanitation.

Mtemi Miya, an agronomist with Starbucks agrees, noting that it was important to help the farming communities produce quality coffee through sustainable practices, “but to also lead a better life.”

Both Anna and Mtemi are part of an innovative program that uses a participatory approach to bring health within reach to everyone on a community level. Continue reading »

Thinking big for babies and mothers with PATH’s Cyril Engmann

A woman carries a sleeping baby in a backpack.

“As a frontline health worker, I don’t take care of a critically ill baby and not talk with his/her mother and father about contraception, nutrition, diarrhea, vaccinations, early childhood development. It’s a very comprehensive package.” —Dr. Cyril Engmann. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

Dr. Cyril Engmann, world-renowned expert in newborn health, is PATH’s director of Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health and Nutrition (MNCHN). Deborah Kidd, senior communications officer for the Vaccine Development Program at PATH, shares excerpts from her interview with Cyril about his team’s work, his vision for integration, and reflections on his newest role. 

Q: Tell me why a focus on mothers is pivotal for global health and development.

A: We all appreciate the incredible role that mothers play. Without them, the data suggest mortality rates increase significantly in their children. Mothers are children’s best advocates, and being able to empower, educate, and equip mothers (and fathers) to be able to advocate confidently for their children is very powerful.

Q: How does PATH’s MNCHN Program integrate a focus on those first critical newborn weeks with further healthy development?

A: I saw this in action when I traveled to South Africa and Mozambique to visit our Windows of Opportunity project, a comprehensive focus on a child’s first 1,000 days. This is a critical time period that shapes long-term physical, cognitive, and emotional health. Continue reading »

Friday Think: where philanthropist billionaires put their money

Infant smiles up at camera from her mother's lap.

In a recent survey, health remains the top cause supported among philanthropists in the US, Europe, Middle East, and Asia. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

In the world of philanthropy, an increasing percentage of uber-wealthy donors—many of whom have noticed progress in the number of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals—are seeking out worthy causes that deliver global health impact. And that’s heartening news for nonprofits in health and social equity.

Journalist Matt Petronzio covers the news in a recent Mashable article.

According to the 2015 BNP Paribas Individual Philanthropy Index, which surveyed 400 philanthropists with at least $5 million in investable assets in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia, health issues remain the most-supported cause across all four regions.

Bar chart showing percentage of philanthropists supporting five causes, including health, by region.

BNP Paribus Individual Philanthropy Index chart. Infographic: Statista.

Petronzio also noted some interesting trends among billionaires in the report.

The Index also found an activist streak growing among billionaires. Around 52% of respondents saw “impact/mission investing” as the most promising trend in philanthropy. Impact investing means pouring money in socially responsible companies to prioritize social and environmental returns, even if it meant lower financial returns—a radical change from previous decades in which financial returns were the main consideration.

Profile photos of David Wu.

David Wu is PATH’s chief development officer. Photo: PATH.

The survey results are good news for David Wu, chief development officer at PATH, who’s quick to point out that many of PATH’s supporters, regardless of their level of income, give because they’re concerned about health equity around the world.

“To our donors, philanthropy is increasingly focused on impact and on long-term, sustainable solutions. They understand that health is inextricably connected to poverty and social equity—and they’re engaged on a global level.”

David adds that PATH’s recently announced Reach Campaign will carry the organization’s impact even farther by making progress against the issues at the root of health inequity. Continue reading »

Water treatment made easy: new device needs just water, salt, and electricity

Worldwide more than 700 million people lack access to good-quality sources of drinking water. This health inequity has deadly consequences: safe water is critical for preventing diarrheal disease, one of the leading killers of children in developing countries.

For people in many parts of the world, a typical day includes collecting water in containers and carrying it home for cooking, washing, and drinking. Fetching water may take over an hour, and too often the water contains pathogens that cause disease.

Woman gathers water at a lakeside, stands next to a large number of jerrycans.

More than 700 million people worldwide don’t have access to good-quality sources of drinking water. Photo: PATH/Tom Furtwangler.

Responding to this challenge, MSR (Mountain Safety Research Global Health) and PATH have spent several years developing a small, easy-to-use chlorine maker appropriate for resource-limited settings. It’s called the MSR SE200™ Community Chlorine Maker. Continue reading »

Friday Think: 10 “scrappy” award-winning inventions

Biplane parked in a field.It takes guts to champion an innovative idea or invention. Often, an idea begins as a hunch to solve a problem, a hastily drawn sketch. Then years of development may pass before a new reality is created, making life better. But to get to that point, the potential value of an innovation must be recognized and nurtured.

Each year the editors of Popular Science identify 10 outstanding inventions, all of which are designed to solve real problems. This year was no exception, and there were several that caught our attention as they relate to global health solutions. Following is an excerpt from the Popular Science feature: Continue reading »

PATH launches hometown awareness campaign to increase reach

A PATH billboard with the Seattle Space Needle in the background.

You might come across one of these PATH billboards if you’re in Seattle this summer. They’re one of the ways we’re showing how innovations create health equity around the world, from idea to impact. Photo: Tracy Romoser.

As a leader in global health innovation, PATH has a nearly 40-year track record of getting lifesaving solutions to the people who need them most. Seattle has become a hub for global health, and we’ve been at the forefront. And the recently announced Reach Campaign will carry our impact even farther.

But what does it really take to change millions of lives? This is something we get asked all the time, even in Seattle. So we’re asking our hometown and you to find out by taking a journey with us—the journey of innovation.

We can change lives for the better through global health innovation

PATH focuses on bringing health equity to women and children in some of the poorest regions of the world by advancing health innovation from idea to impact. We call this process the journey of innovation.The Journey of Innovation: learn more.

Through our work in vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations, we’ve successfully moved high-impact innovations through the journey hundreds of times, improving the lives of people in more than 70 countries. It’s not easy, but we’re expert navigators. And we mobilize partners every step of the way: governments, communities, philanthropists, organizations, and other allies. Continue reading »

Reach higher: our bold push for better health worldwide

Today we announced the Reach Campaign, a major fundraising initiative to increase our impact around the world. And we invite you to join us.

Profile photos of David Wu.

Guest contributor is David Wu, chief development officer at PATH. Photo: PATH.

We’re raising $100 million to accelerate progress toward a world where health is in reach for everyone, no matter where they live. The Reach Campaign is a first for PATH—a bold campaign to engage our local and global community to help us dramatically increase the impact of our work.

The campaign focuses on four areas where there’s a great need and an equally great opportunity for change: malaria, women’s and reproductive health, maternal and newborn health, and child health. Funds raised through our Reach Campaign will spur dramatic health gains by investing in the next generation of innovations so we can bring better health and opportunity to women, children, and communities everywhere.

Following are some highlights from our launch event, the Breakfast for Global Health in Seattle.

Continue reading »

Networking is a science for PATH’s Jessica Shearer

Jessica Shearer.

Jessica Shearer, senior technical officer, Monitoring and Evaluation team. Photo: Jessica Shearer.

Meet Jessica Shearer, senior technical officer on the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) team where she’s focusing on how PATH can better use data for decision-making.

Q: Much of your work focuses on what you call “network science.” How can understanding networks help PATH improve the lives of women and children?

A: A network is a set of nodes and the relationships between them. Nodes can be people, organizations, animals, computers. . .anything, really. The relationships between them can be almost anything as well: social, exchange, professional, sexual, and more. Social networks exist all around us as part of our social world, but more often they are created to serve a specific function (for example, PATH is a partner of the Joint Learning Network, which focuses on countries implementing universal health coverage). Continue reading »