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MDG 8,Target F: Last but Not Least, Technologies and Global Partnerships for Development

Earlier this week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced its new pledges totaling $11.7 billion from many donor governments as well as other private sources like Chevron, the United Methodist Church, and the Gates Foundation. The Global Fund announcement follows close on the heels of the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which concluded with the adoption of a global action plan and the announcement of major new commitments for women's and children's health and other initiatives against poverty, hunger, and disease. Meanwhile, the recent Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) garnered nearly 300 commitments totaling more than $6 billion dollars with wide-reaching support from Melinda Gates to Demi Moore and from companies like Proctor and Gamble to Duke Energy.

These are examples of successful “global partnerships”—conglomerates, governments, consortiums, think-tanks, and the like coming together to espouse or fund the scale-up of a successful intervention or investment. When we’re talking about how to achieve MDG 8—creating global partnerships for development—the commitment of world leaders, corporations, organizations, and globally recognized individuals in innovative partnerships is essential.

But as many social entrepreneurs know, a successful, scalable partnership can—and usually does—start small with a great idea or a simple solution to a key problem. The partnerships that work are those that offer concrete benefits to all partners and create space to experiment. As Leila Chirayeath Janah, the founder and CEO of Samasource noted during a CGI plenary session on how to encourage true innovation, “We need to be comfortable with failure and learn from it.” 

At IntraHealth we are working to support great local ideas, encourage local entrepreneurship and experimentation, and share lessons learned, success and failures in innovation for global health. One of the exciting areas we are focusing on is ICT4D (information communications technology for development)—more specifically, finding ways to use technologies to support health workers and respond to critical global health needs. This work is aimed at helping us meet the challenge laid out under the last target of MDG 8, which is to make the benefits of technology—especially information and communications—available in developing countries.

With partnership as a base concept, we launched IntraHealth’s OPEN Initiative, which is a coalition aimed at building technological fluency, local capacity, and innovation in open source systems for health in the developing world. The OPEN Council comprises over 100 thought leaders in the fields of public health, technology, and entertainment representing a wide variety of public and private entities. Members serve as advisors, mentors, and partners on initiatives championing a health worker-centered approach to open technologies for better care, connecting health workers to better tools, and supporting local entrepreneurship and leadership in open source and mobile technologies for global health.

The goal is to encourage bright tech entrepreneurs to apply their skills to create locally led 3.0 solutions to the most pressing health issues of our time. We use open source as a base because it maximizes collaboration and builds local capacity. With open source as a principle, new innovations can be shared with others, updated, and tailored from country to country. Resources go into local infrastructure and local economies and help support the next generation of global health leaders.

On OPEN’s front burner right now is the development and launch of year-long eHealth fellowships for locally based African software developers and technology specialists. As a part of the fellowship, developers would be paired up with groups working in the health sector so together they can envision, create, and customize user-friendly, practical, and context-specific open source software solutions to address specific public health program needs and deliverables.

eHealth Fellows would have workspaces in selected labs and innovation hubs in the developing world to foster collaboration and competition as well as encourage the wider involvement of local tech entrepreneurs in the global health field. eHealth Fellows will also be charged with designing and launching OPEN Unconferences like the one that kicked off in Ghana last week. The Unconference format encourages a more informal, workshop-style gathering that combines traditional conference-style presentations with training sessions as well as activities intended to build a sense of community. The OPEN Unconferences are designed to encourage innovation among developers with installfests, hackathons, training and system integration, while raising comfort levels and encouragiong user-input and tech-fluency for health workers through presentations and hands-on experience with eHealth tools.

Like open source technology, creative open partnerships enable new innovations to be shared with others, encourage input from all partners, and can be updated, tailored, and customized from country to country in ways that bolster local infrastructure and local economies and build the next generation of global health leaders. It’s really exciting and important work that brings together some of the brightest and most creative minds out there. If you would like to read more about it or get involved, please check out the OPEN Initiative.