June 18, 2013 | The Editors

Message to grads: innovate for good

Portrait of Steve Davis.
Steve Davis. Photo: Auston James.

Last Saturday, PATH President and CEO Steve Davis delivered the commencement address to the 2013 graduating class of City University of Seattle. Davis challenged the graduates to use innovation and creativity to change people’s lives for the better, and he shared stories of different types of innovation he’s seen in his career. Below is an excerpt from his speech.

Every day, I think about—some might say even obsess on—how to use innovation and creativity to change our world. I try to avoid the trap that creative genius and innovation is only relevant to artists, or inventors, or technology stars. I have come to deeply appreciate that there is an enormous opportunity—in fact, an enormous need—for finding, deploying, exploiting, and even demanding innovation and creativity in every walk of life, in every type of work, and in tackling every kind of issue.

A few weeks ago, I went to South Africa for my work as the leader of PATH. I was visiting a health clinic in a township where poverty is rampant. More than 200 babies are born at the clinic each month. But too many women are dying in childbirth because they don’t have access to the services and tools they need for good health.

The head nurse of this clinic was this incredible lady—weathered, funny, determined. She’s doing heroic work in a very difficult environment, making sure she and her staff can save as many lives as possible.

Three women holding babies on their laps.
Mothers and their children at a South African health clinic. Photo: PATH/Wendy Stone.

Simple innovation saves lives

As we toured the clinic, she showed me the government-issued log books where she manually fills in information on each patient. I noticed that she had drawn a number of vertical lines in the book to create extra columns.

So I asked her what these were, and she said that she needed to collect more information on each patient in order to determine better treatments. She needed to look at the trends and data differently in order to save more women’s lives. So she figured out a simple, on-the-spot way of changing the process.

Now that’s innovation that really matters.

With pencil and paper, drawing lines in her log book, in that rural African clinic, she was trying a new approach—a very simple approach—to solve a very big problem. Her simple decision to draw more lines is saving even more women’s lives.

In this low-tech, impoverished setting, she tapped into a creative way to change lives for the better.

Solving problems in new ways

Innovation is not just about building a new gizmo. It’s about solving problems in new ways.

Today, as you perch on a new starting line, I urge you to run after your wild ideas and tap into your extraordinary creative juices. Be that nurse in South Africa. Innovate new ways, however small, to make a difference.

Go put your pencil to paper. Go draw more lines in your log book. Go be disruptive. Go innovate. Go change many lives for the better.

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