December 23, 2011 | The Editors

Definition of a catalyst: you

Woman overlooking field of green vines.
Growing nutritious orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. Photo: PATH/Carol Levin.

At the end of the year, many of us make decisions about our charitable contributions. That means it’s a busy season for PATH’s Donor Relations team. We asked Dawn McCarra Bass, Donor Relations communication officer, why individual donations are so important to PATH’s work. Today and next Tuesday, she explains, with some help from other PATH staff members.

This is a busy season for fundraising at PATH, and with good reason. Contributions from individuals are critical to teams across the organization. Through the Catalyst Fund, a pool of flexible support from PATH’s donors, our staff can explore new challenges, test innovative strategies and technologies, and make sure the most promising ideas get a real chance to succeed. It’s a unique commitment for which we’re extremely grateful.

Through the end of the year, a match from a group of our supporters means we can double all gifts to the Catalyst Fund. Please consider making a gift before midnight on December 31 and help us meet the $150,000 challenge.

To get to the heart of why funding from individuals is so important, I asked some of PATH’s team members to tell me just what it’s meant to their work. Look for their answers below and Tuesday on the blog.

Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes

Carol Levin, senior health economist with PATH’s Technology Solutions program, leads a project that’s looking at new ways to keep mothers and babies healthy by integrating health services with agriculture—starting with a sweet potato.

“With support from the Catalyst Fund, we were able to collaborate with a new partner, the International Potato Center, and assess the health and nutrition needs of communities in Kenya hit hard by poverty and the AIDS epidemic. We found that pregnant women and their babies would benefit from maximizing agriculture’s contribution to improved nutrition. Our solution is to distribute vines for vitamin A–rich, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes when pregnant women come in for prenatal care.

“Now fully funded, the initiative has reached more than a thousand pregnant women with new varieties of sweet potato, and information on healthier pregnancy and optimal infant feeding. It may sound small, but that first step—the initial assessment—was critical. Without the Catalyst Fund, the sweet potato idea might never have gotten off the ground.”

Mobile phone technologies

Dr. Mohammed Makame, former director of our tuberculosis and HIV work in Tanzania and now leader of our program in that country, is exploring a new way of thinking about public health—using mobile phones and mobile apps to help health workers gather information and make diagnoses in the field.

“The Catalyst Fund helped pave the way for the introduction of a mobile phone application to enhance tuberculosis control in Tanzania. With support from the Catalyst Fund, my team analyzed how health workers who coordinate care for people with both tuberculosis and HIV gathered and used information. We used what we learned to design a mobile app that would cater to their needs.

“With the new technology, health workers can transmit disease data rapidly to a central database, where it’s used by both coordinators and health workers who provide direct care. Expanding the use of this tool can improve planning, coordination, and provision of high-quality services for people with tuberculosis throughout the community.”

Global health quiz

On Tuesday, we asked what “unrestricted funding” has to do with improving global health. As these stories show, individual gifts from people like you provide the support many of our projects need to succeed. Thank you.

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