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There’s no stopping the changes coming to the development sector. But let’s be smart about them.
Sometimes, Dai Hozumi says, innovation sucks.
“We’re in sort of an innovation fever these days,” IntraHealth International’s chief technical officer said to the crowd today in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. “It’s one of the most common words I’ve heard here at SwitchPoint. As an MD, I have the right to diagnose your symptoms and I’m telling you, you have innovation fever.”
It’s probably true. Those of us who had gathered for the SwitchPoint 2019 conference this week tend to get excited about new tech, new terminology, new ideas about how to do global health and development work around the world. We might even burn through years of effort and millions of dollars—as Hozumi can attest—before we admit that whatever big innovation we were stoked about…just isn’t working.
Of course, this doesn’t mean we should go back to our old ways, he said. “But we have to be cool-headed, even cold-hearted about innovation and resist being blinded by wonderful ideas.”
And not just because of the risk to our bottom lines. The stakes are much higher than that.
Worldwide, Julia Bunting of the Population Council said today, “one hundred and thirty million girls are currently out of school. One girl every two seconds gets married. And the face of HIV is becoming increasingly young and feminized.”
It’s clear we need to invest in girls if we want to make progress in global heath and development, she said, particularly when they’re between the ages of 10 and 14. This is when their worlds and potential opportunities begin shrinking compared to boys. So the Population Council proposes evidence-based solutions that are girl-centered, segmented, and focused on delivering returns on investment. Essentially, a business plan for girls.
In Nigeria, founder and president of the Wellbeing Foundation Africa Toyin Saraki is also implementing a plan—one to educate pregnant women throughout the country to care for themselves and their babies, and on their rights to decent, respectful health care. The foundation deploys midwives to give women throughout the country practical information, advice, and support to help prepare for birth and care for their newborns.
When Saraki began her foundation in 2004, she said, “one in six women died in childbirth or a week later or lived with permanent birth injuries.” Charitable giving would never be enough to solve the problem, which led her to start the foundation. The Wellbeing Foundation Africa today reaches around 8,000 women per month and they hope to eventually reach 40,000.
Saraki is working to bring a big idea to scale in a big country—and she doesn’t want to wait for more women or newborns to die.
“There is urgency,” said IntraHealth president and CEO Pape Gaye today. “We’ve made great progress in global health over the past fifty years, but still, today at least half of the world is not fully covered for essential health services. This is not acceptable. The status quo simply will not do. We cannot take another fifty years to change this.”
We don’t need more brainpower to do it—we have all we need, Gaye said. And we don’t need flashy innovations that don’t deliver. What we need is radical change, a new model of development. One that no longer depends on high-income countries implementing their own visions in low-income countries. But we have to be smart about how we create it.
“We can dream the big dream,” Gaye said. “We can get there. But we have to embrace doing things in a way that is radically different. And we have to get people together who are not usually in the same room and get them to collaborate as we make it happen. This is what we do at SwitchPoint.”
Also read: SwitchPoint 2019: Day 1
SwitchPoint is produced by IntraHealth International.
Want to know what happened last year at SwitchPoint? Check it out: