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Working Differently: An Invitation from Pape Gaye to SwitchPoint

In IntraHealth’s three decades of working in global health, we have had many ‘aha’ or switchpoint moments. One that stays with me from early in the days of our organization took place in the late 1980s. At the time, we were part of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, and most of our work focused on training health workers in family planning and reproductive health. Through our experiences, we began to see the impact of training but also how other factors were affecting health workers and their ability to do their jobs, including management practices, the work environment, and policy. We did something radical for those days. Our leadership—representing a training organization—stood up and presented a paper titled Training Doesn’t Work. It was shocking and courageous, but we did it to shake things up, to say that training alone was not enough. This experience stays with me today. It was truly an ‘aha’ moment and led to a whole new way of approaching health worker performance.

It is fundamental that international NGOs and development practitioners start to work differently, and that’s what SwitchPoint is all about. IntraHealth is hosting this event to raise the bar on how we engage our partners and community. We want to create opportunities for ‘aha’ moments and for showcasing the dramatic shift needed to solve some of the most pressing global health problems.

At IntraHealth we believe that health workers are central and essential to the health system. We also know that the health workforce is only one building block of the health care delivery system. These systems are weak or failing in many countries, in ways big and small, and health workers are witnessing these failures every day. Every little failure touches someone’s life. We know that health workers are victims of these failures as well as critical to helping fix them, given the right support and innovative thinking.

Health workers are providing care in a world that is changing rapidly. Individuals and communities around the globe are increasingly interconnected. We need more intersectoral approches to address development challenges and no longer have the luxury of focusing only on one aspect of our work. We need to mix perspectives, experiences, and interests and look at things in new ways. We need to instigate ‘aha’ moments, those moments when a light comes on and we can leap, rather than crawl, forward. SwitchPoint is an opportunity to mix voices and ideas from the global South and North, from rural and urban areas, from non-profits and the business sector, and from technology and the arts, to see what new approaches and solutions emerge.

SwitchPoint will bring together people whom you would not generally see in the same space at the same time. That alone is exciting because of the type of energy it can create. For us, it’s also a public demonstration of what it takes to make a health system work. You can’t fix deeply entrenched problems in a bubble. You need to tap people’s ideas and different perspectives, to generate partnerships and solutions that change the way we approach international development, that lead to faster and greater progress than we have made in the last half a century. Innovative things happen when you bring people together. We know that innovation includes creating something entirely new, but it also means learning from what has already been done. Even if a solution is not new, applying it to global health and the health workforce can be pioneering.

Our keynote speaker, Michael Tiemann, Red Hat’s vice president of open source affairs, is a renowned pioneer in developing a new business model around open source technology. Information and communications technology is a key tool to connecting the world and connecting health workers, and it can help us to broaden our reach and become more efficient. In a world that is increasingly calling for greater transparency and accountability, all fields including government, education, and health care can benefit and learn from the spirit of open source technology. Michael is a visionary speaker, and we can’t wait to get his ideas about global health challenges.  

When I spoke with Michael recently, he told me how excited he was about the SwitchPoint venue, the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, North Carolina. For us, the venue really embodies what SwitchPoint is all about. We could have held the event in the middle of a university, but instead we’re going to a small local community doing big things. The location symbolizes what we are trying to do out there in the world too. It symbolizes the crucial role and power of local communities, and the role health workers play within those communities.

And, in the Triangle, we are sitting on a gold mine of talent and ideas. We’ve got brilliant academic institutions, organizations doing great work, and a passion for global health that resonates with lots of people and organizations. SwitchPoint is the perfect opportunity to engage community members who are looking to participate but aren’t sure how to contribute. I am looking forward to expanding our community, and to having a lot of ‘aha’ moments about what approaches are going to work now and in our future. Our traditional approach of development needs to adapt. IntraHealth has a lot to share with others, but, even more importantly, we’re committed to learning more about how to expand the impact of what we do.  

Please use the comments below to share your own ‘aha’ moments, and join me, my colleagues, and an exciting array of speakers on April 20 in Saxapaw, North Carolina for SwitchPoint 2012.