Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Archive for March 2009

Milwaukee: hub of water technology in global health?

It’s been more than two years since we reported on Seattle as the new Geneva, that is, as the new epicenter of global health activity. An article in this morning Journal-Sentinel (Water-engineering firms see potential, challenge in developing countries) – which includes an exclusive interview with the Acumen Fund’s chief executive Jacqueline Novogratz – suggests that Milwaukee is angling to do the same for water technology:

It’s an issue that almost certainly will preoccupy business leaders in metro Milwaukee in their strategy to brand the region as an international hub of water technology. The metro area is home to scores of water-engineering companies. Gov. Jim Doyle and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee this month announced plans to invest millions of dollars for UWM to become a center of freshwater research.

An 2008 article from the same newspaper (Area’s tide could turn on water technology) provides more evidence:

[F]our of the world’s 11 largest water-technology companies have a significant presence in southeastern Wisconsin, according to an analysis of data from a new Goldman Sachs report.

Wall Street has tracked automakers, railroads and retailers almost since there were stocks and bonds. But water remains a novelty. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. didn’t begin to research water treatment as a stand-alone industrial sector until late 2005.

While several large MNCs have shown an active interest in clean water in developing countries (e.g., Procter and Gamble, Vestergaard Frandsen, Dow) open questions remain as to what role large MNCs will play in providing access to safe water for the one billion people who don’t have it.

(Thanks to Dr. Jessica Granderson for sending the link)

Innovation as a Learning Process

Cross-posted from Design Research for Global Health.

The California Management Review recently announced the winners of the 2009 Accenture Award: Sara Beckman of Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and Michael Barry, founder of design consultancy Point Forward and Adjunct Professor at Stanford, for their article, Innovation as a Learning Process: Embedding Design Thinking (Fall 2007, Vol. 50, No. 1).

From the award website (which is still on the 2008 winner as I write this): “The Accenture Award is given each year to the author (or authors) of the article published in the preceding volume of the California Management Review that has made the most important contribution to improving the practice of management.”

The paper makes a compelling argument that innovation can be achieved by management and provides a model for cross-functional, cross-disciplinary teams to engage in this process. The relevance to global health as I’ve discussed before (really what this entire blog is about) is that the process can help us improve health systems through innovation.

The challenge in coming years will be how to get organizations and institutions working in global health – foundations, Ministries of Health, NGOs, development programs, health research centers, etc. – treating innovation as a way of working, not simply an input or an output.

The abstract/lead-in isn’t openly available online so I’m copying it here:

Companies throughout the world are seeking competitive advantage by leading through innovation, some — such as Apple, Toyota, Google, and Starbucks — with great success. Many countries – such as Singapore, China, Korea, and India — are investing in education systems that emphasize leading through innovation, some by investing specifically in design schools or programs, and others by embedding innovative thinking throughout the curriculum. Business, engineering, and design schools around the U.S. are expanding their efforts to teach students how to innovate, often through multi-disciplinary classes that give students a full experience of the innovation process. However, what does leading through innovation really mean? What does it mean to be a leader, and what does it mean to engage in innovation?

There is a vast literature on leadership covering a wide range of topics: the characteristics of a good leader, how leadership is best displayed in an organization, leadership and vision, authority, leadership styles, and so on. There is also a growing body of literature on innovation and its various facets, much of it focused by application of the innovation process. Hundreds of publications describe the process of innovation for products — both hardware and software — and a growing number of publications focus on innovation in services. Further, there are dozens of books on innovation in building and workplace design.

Here we examine a generic innovation process, grounded in models of how people learn, that can be applied across these sectors. It can be applied to the design and development of both hardware and software products, to the design of business models and services, to the design of organizations and how they work, and to the design of the buildings and spaces in which work takes place, or within which companies interact with their customers. The model has evolved through two streams of thought: design and learning.

This video, which seems to be unaffiliated to the authors, summarizes the article [correction – I just found out that Shealy did work with the authors on this video – Tues-24-Mar-2009 12:18PM PDT]:

[Innovation as a Learning Process from Roger H. Shealy on Vimeo]

Here are slides from Beckman and Barry’s presentation at the Inside Innovation 2007 Conference and the Google scholar view of who is citing this work.

[(Dis)claimer: Sara Beckman served on my dissertation committee and Michael Barry provided guidance on my applied research in Mongolia]

Why bad presentations happen to good causes

Cross-posted from Design Research for Global Health.

Giving talks is not one of my strong suits, but it seems to be a part of the job requirement.  Earlier this month, I had the opportunity (even though I’m no good, I do consider it an opportunity), to give a couple talks, one to the Interdisciplinary MPH Program at Berkeley and one to a group of undergraduate design students, also at Berkeley.  Despite the difference in focus, age, and experience of the two groups, the topic was roughly the same: How do we effectively use design thinking as an approach in public health?

The first session was so-so, and I suspect that the few people who were excited about it were probably excited in spite of the talk.  It started well, but about halfway through, something began to feel very wrong and that feeling didn’t go away until some time later that evening.  Afterwards, I received direct feedback from the instructor and from the students in the form of an evaluation.  I recommend this if it is ever presented as an option.  Like any “accident”, this one was a “confluence of factors”: lack of clarity and specificity, allowing the discussion to get sidetracked, poor posture, and a tone that conveyed a lack of excitement for the topic.

It’s one thing to get feedback like this, another to act on it.

top10causesofdeath-blogThe second session went much better, gauging by the student feedback, the comments from the instructor, and my own observations.  This in spite of a larger group (60 vs. 20) that would be harder to motivate (undergraduates with midterms vs. professionals working on applied problems in public health).  I chalk it all up to preparation and planning.  Certainly there are people that are capable of doing a great job without preparation – I just don’t think I’m one of those people.

Most of that preparation by the way was not on slides.  I did use slides, but only had five for an hour session and that still proved to be too many.  Most of the time that I spent on slides, I spent developing a single custom visual to convey precisely the information that was relevant to the students during this session (see image).  The rest of the preparation was spent understanding the audience needs by speaking to those running the class; developing a detailed plan for the hour, focusing on how to make the session a highly interactive learning experience; designing quality handouts to support the interactive exercise; and doing my necessary homework.  For this last one, I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a surgeon friend, since the session was built around a case study discussing surgical complications and design.

Three resources I found really useful:

  1. Why Bad Presentations Happen to Good Causes, Andy Goodman, 2006. This commissioned report was developed to help NGOs with their presentations, but I think there is value here for anyone whose work involves presentations. It is evidence-based and provides practical guidance on session design, delivery, slides (PowerPoint), and logistics.  Most importantly, it is available as a free download. I was fortunate enough to pick up a used copy of the print edition for US$9 at my local bookstore, which was worth the investment for me because of the design of the physical book.  It’s out-of-print now and it looks like the online used copies are quite expensive – at least 3x what I paid – so I recommend the PDF.
  2. Envisioning Information, Edward Tufte, 1990. I read this when I was writing my dissertation. Folks in design all know about Tufte, but I still recommend a periodic refresher.  This is the sort of book that will stay on my shelf.  Also potentially useful is The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. For those working in global health, don’t forget how important the display of information can be: (a) Bill Gates and the NYTimes, (b) Hans Rosling at TED.
  3. Software for creating quality graphics.  The drawing tools built into typical office applications, though they have improved in recent years, are still limited in their capability and flexibility, especially if you’re looking at #2 above.  In the past 10 days, three people in my socio-professional network have solicited advice on such standalone tools, OmniGraffle (for Mac) and Visio (Windows): a graphic designer in New York, an energy research scientist in California, and a healthcare researcher in DC.  Both are great options.  I use OmniGraffle these days, though I used to use Visio a few years back.  If cost is an issue, there are open-source alternatives available, though I’m not at all familiar with them (e.g., the Pencil plug-in for Firefox).

Written by Jaspal

March 26, 2009 at 10:42 am

One Rural Town’s Battle with Obesity

I heard this fascinating case study on indigenously driven innovation and how this rural community has come together to tackle obesity. Don’t read the story, listen to it. We need more stories like this from the local community level (see our previous post on the global obesity index).

Written by Aman

March 24, 2009 at 4:53 am

Global Hunger Hearing and Rwanda’s MCH Week

I got a couple of requests to post two informative efforts. Note the Senate hearing tomorrow and the tie made to global food security. Second various agencies are linking up to administer 4 million anti-worm medication, that’s an impressive amount:

As a reminder, tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Alleviating Global Hunger: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Leadership” at 9:30 a.m. in room 419 of the Dirksen Senate Building (AGENDA). The committee has invited Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture, and Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Program to testify at the hearing, offering their insight as co-chairs of a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ report entitled “Renewing American Leadership in the Fight Against Global Hunger and Poverty:  The Chicago Initiative on Global Agricultural Development.”

Congress has recently recognized the importance of this global food security (2009 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill). This legislation mandated that $75 million in Development Assistance funding be spent “to enhance global food security, including for local or regional purchase and distribution of food, in addition to other funds otherwise made available for such purposes and notwithstanding any other provision of law.”


The Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ Control Program Teams with Rwandan Government and International Organizations to Deworm More Than 4 Million Children Nationwide, Covering Nearly Half of the Country’s Population

NTD Prevalence Rates Up to 95% Among Rwandan School-Children

Over the course of the week-long initiative, representatives will administer albendazole to a targeted population of 4 million children under five, school-aged children, and post-partum women, to treat for soil-transmitted helminthes (STHs). Additionally, in the high prevalence areas, praziquantel will be administered to an estimated 100,000 people for schistosomiasis infection. The goal of the campaign is to treat all pre and school-aged children nationwide – covering approximately one-half of Rwanda ’s population.  Vitamin A, immunizations, family planning services and health education messages will also be delivered throughout the country during the course of the campaign.

Why: Research has shown that eliminating the burden of NTDs could lift millions out of poverty worldwide by ensuring children stay in school to learn and prosper and improving maternal and child health. NTDs infect over 400 million school-aged children throughout the developing world. Treating their infections is the single most cost-effective way to boost school attendance. Controlling intestinal worms alone will help to avoid 16 million cases of mental retardation and 200 million years of lost primary schooling

When: Tuesday, March 24th – Friday March 27th

Written by Aman

March 23, 2009 at 9:04 pm

The Girl Who Silenced the UN

This video has been floating around recently, I thought it was worth sharing. This took place 16 years ago, I wonder where this girl is now? Hat tip Humanity in Focus.

Written by Aman

March 22, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Posted in Food for thought

CATER NYU Workshop on Technologies for Humanity (April 10)

I’ll be in New York attending the health portion of the following workshop. Please pass the word and if you are around and want to meet up send us an email (thdblog AT gmail).

“The CATER research group cordially invites you to attend the 2009 workshop on “Technologies for Development” which showcases our ongoing research efforts in the space of appropriate technologies that aid development in under-developed areas around the world.

Cost-Effective Appropriate Technologies for Emerging Regions (CATER) is a new multidisciplinary research initiative at NYU that focuses on developing appropriate, low-cost Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for addressing pressing problems in developing regions. CATER is a joint initiative comprising faculty from Computer Science, the School of Medicine, the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, NYU’s Economics Department, and NYU-Polytechnic.

This workshop will feature a combination of invited talks from accomplished researchers and short talks by student researchers within
CATER on their ongoing research efforts. The talks will cover four important areas:”

·         Technologies for improving access to communications in rural areas
·         Technologies for enhancing rural healthcare
·         Technologies for enhancing financial and commerce services
·         Technologies for enhancing rural education


Written by Aman

March 18, 2009 at 8:16 pm