I recently returned from the snowy streets of Davos, Switzerland, where I bumped into world leaders bouncing between panels, speeches, meetings, and parties at the World Economic Forum. The forum turned out to be a great venue for me to advance PATH’s mission.
I went to Davos with some concerns about the elitism of the event and its location—a quaint ski town in the Alps with the tightest security I’ve ever seen—but I wanted to put the opportunity to practical use to further PATH’s work to ensure global health equity by taking innovation to scale. I was able to discuss our innovation commitments to family planning with an African health minister, meet with the leader of a pharmaceutical company with whom we’re advancing vaccine development, and host a dinner with the CEOs of some of the largest nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the world—all in the course of a few hours.
Our time has come
The discussions held over the five-day event also helped to galvanize my thinking about the future of NGOs and global health. Let me share two “aha” moments.
First, Davos reaffirmed my belief that the only way we can solve the toughest challenges of the 21st century is through collaboration across sectors—nonprofit, for-profit, public, and academic. I’ve spent my life championing cross-sector collaboration, and PATH and other change agents are forging the way, taking advantage of each sector’s capabilities and assets to save even more lives. I now believe that the time for this innovation model has come.
At Davos, I saw an emerging understanding that NGOs have become complex strategic, operational, and financial businesses that play an integral part in addressing the world’s biggest problems and creating sustainable futures for our kids. For example, I moderated a panel of business, government, and foundation leaders, called “Catalysing Markets Through Philanthropy,” where we explored the growing variety and complexity of financing models. Private, civil society, and government players are engaging in exciting and creative ways to support social innovation around the world.
You can watch two panelists (and yours truly) share their “tweet” versions of this cross-sector convergence in this short video from the Accenture Development Partnerships Executive Roundtable.
Also check out the World Economic Forum report The Future Role of Civil Society, which provides terrific insight into the blurring lines between the sectors and how our businesses operate.
Global health in the digital age
My second “aha” moment was around the power of new technologies and social media—particularly when used by youth and previously disconnected communities—to change the world in ways we aren’t even able to imagine. These tools are being used to disrupt established paradigms and bypass the usual “gatekeepers” to be a positive force for change.
For example, in one session, we discussed how better tools and sophisticated business platforms are advancing our ability to reach new audiences, gain new data, overcome old barriers, and energize change. In another, I learned about the vast digital infrastructure that underlies demonstrations and movements in places like India, Egypt, and the UK. While these tools are mostly deployed by political and advocacy organizations, I kept imagining what it would be like if we used them to overcome inequities in health. Could social media help us reach the six-month-old girl in a remote village who needs lifesaving vaccines or treatment for diarrheal disease? How might crowdsourcing change the way we approach behavior change or health data management? And how will deeply engaging young people, with their different world view on the use of technologies, change the global health and development landscape as we know it?
I am glad to be back home, focused on family, work, and putting our global partners and relationships into action in concrete ways. But the chance to expand my thinking—and our network of thought and business partners—to reshape the work ahead, will stay with me far longer than the suntan from the slopes of Davos.
- Steve Davis is the president and CEO of PATH.