Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Archive for the ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ Category

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]


“Innovating for the Health of All” open for registration (Havana, November 2009)

Forum 2009
Innovating for the health of all
Innovando para la salud de todos
Havana, Cuba, 16-20 November 2009

Registration here

The letter:

Dear colleague,

Forum 2009: Innovating for the Health of All is this year’s milestone event in research and innovation for health. Organized by the Global Forum for Health Research, it will take place from 16-20 November in Havana, Cuba, at the invitation of the Ministry of Public Health.

What exactly is “innovation”?* How can decision-makers and practitioners work together to foster innovation for health and health equity? What can we learn from innovation policies and initiatives around the world? These questions will be answered in Forum 2009‘s interwoven discussions of social innovation and technological innovation.

This event will bring together some 800 leaders and experts from around the world to share ideas and forge new partnerships. It will include a unique mix of stakeholders from health and science ministries, research agencies and institutions, development agencies, foundations, nongovernmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and media.

As you expand your networks, you will also be able to learn from discussions on social entrepreneurship for health, public-private product development for neglected diseases, eHealth, knowledge-translation platforms, national health innovation systems, donor-country harmonization and coherence, and innovative financing strategies.

With the theme “innovation,” we are challenged to be innovative in the programme itself including new session formats that are more interactive, new ways to network and share information, and new opportunities for inclusion.

So please join us. Registration is now open on We very much look forward to seeing you in Cuba.

Yours sincerely,
Professor Stephen Matlin
Executive Director
Global Forum for Health Research

BusinessWeek on Social Enterpreneurship

We have covered this before and it is worth mentioning again, there has been a definite movement among the mainstream media to cover social issues including those specific to global health. See our previous post on “Trends: Development/Global Health in the Business Press” and another one here. And don’t forget what might have been a groundbreaking commercial by ExxonMobil on malaria during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. The more the better so that we can hopefully get these messages embedded into the larger social consciousness (especially those who work in the private sector, don’t forget the original social contract between the first corporate organization and the community has been broken, maybe with increased coverage corporations will find their way again). Excerpt below:

Making Social Entrepreneurship Matter, BusinessWeek August 6, 2008
“Social entrepreneurship (BusinessWeek, 12/14/07) has become a hot topic in recent years, attracting people filled with the loftiest of intentions who want to do good by doing good. But it’s the tricky feat of running a sustainable operation that is the more elusive goal. So when I learned that Lubetzky had created a viable business model (in operation since 1994) that brings Arabs and Israelis together while plowing profits into peacemaking efforts, I rang up PeaceWorks’ New York office and was invited down for a visit.”

There are also some good posts on a what seems to be a relatively new GlobeSpotting blog at BusinessWeek, with dispatches from current travel in Africa: Globespotting and Social Entrepreneurship.

Also see these other blogs for good content:
1. Social ROI and specifically this Corporations Exploiting The Concept Of Socially Responsible Business?

2. Jim Fruchterman debates social entrepreneurship

3. Feministing on changing the world and SE

4. Riches for Good

4. So What Can I Do hosts the Carnival of Change

5. Renjie on measuring social impact

6. Finally, Alberto from the Hub in London finds inspiration in this closing video

Written by Aman

August 11, 2008 at 7:19 am

Aug 15 Deadline: $150,000 for Stories of Change

I keep forgetting to put up a post on this, so here it is, close to the deadline. It will be great to see the film(s) that come out of this (hopefully global health related!):

Stories of Change: Social Entrepreneurship in Focus Through Documentary
“The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Skoll Foundation have partnered in a three-year initiative to explore how independent feature-length documentary film can advance knowledge about social entrepreneurship.”

“The Stories of Change Fund will consider independent feature-length documentary projects in all categories of development, production and post-production. Completed films are note eligible. Film projects must be completed by 2010. Grant awards will be made on a case-by-case basis and may range up to $150,000 US per film.”

Written by Aman

August 10, 2008 at 9:01 pm

New Global Health Center@MIT: Medical Innovation for the Next Four Billion

There has been a major boom (dare I say, even a bubble?) in global health degree programs and organizations at universities in the US. To a much lesser degree there also has been an associated growth in university based centers that are action oriented. There is one in particular (MIT center for Innovation in International Health) that I would like to highlight because they have tremendous potential and a great set of leaders. The other program I just heard about, Global Resolve, is at Arizona State University (more info at the bottom).

Jose over at Little Devices that Could is playing a major role in the new MIT international health outfit which already has several products in the pipeline. From his blog:

“IIH is a collaborative research program that spans across MIT Departments and brings in partners from around the country and around the world to create a rich multidisciplinary environment to launch medical technology for the next four billion.” (For more discussion in this area see

One of the founders is Macarthur Genius award winner Amy Smith. You can view her TED video here. A quick digression on Prof Smith, her bio from TED: Amy Smith designs cheap, practical fixes for tough problems in developing countries. Among her many accomplishments, the MIT engineer received a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2004 and was the first woman to win the Lemelson-MIT Prize for turning her ideas into inventions.

If you know of new innovations in global health, Jose would love to hear about it, you can email us or him. Unlike the vast majority of other actors in the global health sector, I get the impression that IIH is all for “high-risk” and truly innovative projects that can break the mold and solve problems today. This reminds me of the DARPA model. I’ll let you read about the fascinating history and structure of DARPA at wikipedia – but just note that DARPA played a role in bringing us the internet, GPS, and speech translation because of this philosophical approach of investing in high risk ideas. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a $3 billion slush fund to produce innovative global health breakthroughs? Yes, we still need coordinated public health programs and health system infrastructure development, but the stuff that could come out of the MIT center is also a major part of the picture. Besides DARPA the other entity that came to mind is the Pioneers division at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The other thing I like about this effort is that they seem to be truly open to collaborating and connecting with other groups – so please email with any ideas you have.

Neat new other organization I just heard about, definitely check out what they are doing:

“GlobalResolve, is a social entrepreneurship program at ASU connecting students with projects designed to improve the lives of the rural poor in developing countries.” They are focused on sustainability and have 3 main projects:

  • Producing a smokeless stove system (clean burning stove)
  • Creating a water purification system in Ghana
  • A neurosurgery device to treat head injuries in South Africa’s rural hospitals

Several student alums from Global Resolve “launched a startup called Energy Derived, a company developing technologies to support the alternative energies market. Their first project is an algae de-watering system designed for the commercial production of algae bio-fuels”.

More information here: Social Entrepreneurs Develop Cleaner Alternative to African Wood-Burning Stoves

Written by Aman

July 17, 2008 at 8:55 pm

Global Health Council 4: Coming Full Circle with Aravind

Aman already reported on the Aravind Eye Care System (AECS) being awarded the prestigious 2008 Gates Award for Global Health, which “honors extraordinary efforts to improve health in developing countries”.  And as Aman mentioned, three of us at this blog owe a big debt to the Aravind organization, first for allowing us to work with them starting in 2004 in studying the Aurolab model, and second for launching us into the arena of technology, innovation, and global health.  More than 4 years after we began our relationship with Aravind, I found myself at my poster talking with Dr. Nam and Dr. Ravi about medical licensing for recent graduates in India and Mongolia.  (Similar policies of requiring graduates to work in rural areas between medical school and residency.)

The photo below is from after the awards ceremony on Thursday night.  L-R: Dr. R.D. Ravindran, Chief Medical Officer of the Pondicherry hospital, Dr. P. Naperumalsamy, me.  Thanks to Suzanne Gilbert, Director of the SEVA Foundation, Center for Innovation in Eye Care, for taking the photo.  She was also instrumental in getting us started in this field, so it was great to reconnect with her here in DC.

Dr. Nam’s award acceptance speech on behalf of AECS followed up a short film about Aravind and a detailed telling of the Aravind story by William Gates, Sr.  Some new directions I learned from his speech:

  1. Aravind has signed an MOU with China to increase the number of cataract surgeries done there
  2. They have an increased emphasis on information technology for supporting and extending services
  3. They aim to provide 1 million cataract surgeries per year within 5 years (currently 280,000)
  4. On October 1st, they will dedicate a research institute named after Dr. V

Dr. Nam closed by saying: “We have done something through Aravind, but there is much more to be done.”

$1Million Gates Award Goes to Aravind!

We have talked about the Aravind Eye Care System quite a bit before and have published several academic articles on Aravind. One is forthcoming in the July 2008 issue of the journal Health Affairs which is focused on India and China. So I was thrilled to hear that Aravind won the 2008 Global Health Council Gates Award. We were very fortunate to receive a fellowship to goto Aravind in the summer of 2004 and that is were our interest in innovation and health really became solidified and this is eventually what led to the creation of this blog. The folks at Aravind (which includes Aurolab) are truly remarkable people, this award is well deserved.

The Aravind clinic started in 1976 in a 11 bed rented house and today is probably the largest eye care system in the world. Their mission is to eradicate blindness in developing regions, which is primarily due to cataracts. Aurolab is the non-profit medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing arm of Aravind. For a quick overview on Aravind see this Wall Street Journal piece or this Fast Company article and see this video (35 min, Link). Basic facts about Aravind & Aurolab:

– 2/3rds of patients receive some sort of charity care, 1/3 pay above cost
– 280,000 cataract surgeries per year
– 5 hospitals across the state of Tamil Nadu, over 1000 beds
– 1300 community eye camps
– 2 Million outpatient visits per year

– Export products to over 120 nations
– Reduced price of synthetic lenses (IOL) for cataract surgery to under $10
– FDA compliant facility
– IOL, suture, pharmaceutical, spectacle and hearing aid divisions
– Globally unique due to scale and non profit status

Blindness due to cataracts is a substantial problem in developing countries. Aravind and Aurolab managed to build infrastructure, systems and manufacture core medical technologies at the local level that allowed them to chart their own course. Instead of relying on a non-sustainable donor model, they decided to build their own system and self-manufacture their own technologies and still manage to make a substantial profit.

Some of the factors of success include: solid management, charismatic leadership, clear socially driven mission and unwavering persistence. Of course there are many other factors, see our case study for more information on how they built partnerships, transferred technology and charted their own direction. Finally, one very important ingredient, is that it takes time (see historical milestones). Aravind was started in the mid 1970s and Aurolab was founded in 1992. They faced various challenges, learned from their mistakes and over the course of 3 decades built a world renowned system.

Others have also covered this award, see:
ThinkChange India
The Scientific Indian (whose grandfather was treated at Aravind)