A gift in time saves millions

PATH supporter Jon Younger.

Family planning “is a fundamental human right,” says Jon Younger, a Seattle physician and PATH supporter. Photo: PATH.

“My story,” says Dr. Jon Younger, “is of a long-term commitment to support PATH, then a decision to support PATH for a project that I felt very passionate about, and, finally, what happened when that project hit a roadblock.”

Jon’s commitment to PATH grew out of his career as a primary care doctor in Seattle. Now chief medical officer of Swedish Medical Group, Jon was voted one of the city’s top doctors by both Seattle Magazine and Seattle Metropolitan Magazine.

It’s a vocation he’s loved for its combination of science, art, and human relations. “One of the pieces of the magic of medicine is that you get to enter into people’s lives and develop wonderful relationships,” he says. “I have taken care of some of the same patients for decades. I’ve seen their struggles and their accomplishments. I’m often with them during their greatest moments and their hardest.”

Jon was acutely aware of the struggles faced by people in countries where doctors are few and far between. So he and his wife, Kim, looked for a way to make a difference—as donors. They were drawn to PATH’s use of “relatively simple technologies to have huge impacts on populations,” explains Jon. “PATH appeared to be the entire package—research, development, delivery, negotiating around regulatory issues, working with nongovernmental organizations, governments, and research organizations.”

Simple—and life-changing

Then, a few years after becoming a PATH donor, Jon got a call from his uncle, Ray Frankel. Ray was creating a family foundation, and he asked Jon to be his advisor for medical issues, particularly around the Frankel Foundation’s support of family planning projects.

For the Frankel Foundation, family planning “is a fundamental human right and a foundation of eliminating poverty, improving education, and improving life experience,” says Jon. “We are interested in giving women the ability and the right to plan for themselves when to have children and how to space them and how big a family to have.”

Jon recommended that the foundation support what he calls “a simple, smart, significant idea”—an injectable contraceptive in the PATH-developed Uniject™ device. Effective, long-lasting, and private, injectable contraceptives are popular in Africa, but they can be hard to get in places that require highly skilled health workers to administer shots. The simple-to-use Uniject™ injection system—essentially a short needle attached to a small bubble of plastic—could make it easier for village health workers to deliver the contraceptive to women where they live.

A high-risk gift proves catalytic

The Frankel Foundation was among the early supporters of the product, which is now known by the brand name Sayana® Press. Then, in late 2011, Jon learned that the production of the first trial batch of Sayana® Press was halted because of a funding gap. For Jon, that made the project even more interesting.

“Once PATH brings a pilot project to fruition, there is great access to support from large funders,” he explains. “But at the beginning, or when a project is in trouble—that’s when we felt that we could really have a huge impact. Being able to leverage our donation to make a difference is very important to us.”

The foundation decided to increase its funding to the project. “For us, very significantly,” says Jon. “This is a relatively small family foundation. We knew this was a high-risk, but also a very high-gain endeavor. And it worked out very well.”

The Frankel Foundation’s gift was transformative. PATH was able to commit the cornerstone funding for the trial run. With Sayana® Press in production, PATH and major funders announced a new initiative: within four years, we will bring up to 12 million doses to women in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

For Jon, being able contribute to the health and well-being of women and families around the world adds an important layer to his calling as a doctor. “It’s really a gift to be able to direct money to things that I care about,” he says. “As donors, we do the easy part—but to help make a project like this successful is really fantastic.”