February 6, 2014 |

Myth: there aren’t enough lifesaving ideas

Are more good ideas the key to improving the lives of the world’s poorest people?
A man writes on a whiteboard while a woman and a man watch.
It’s a long road between the whiteboard and implementation. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

This week we’re debunking six myths that impede progress in global health. Today we take on:

To improve the lives of the world’s poorest people, we need more good ideas.

Mythbuster: Anurag Mairal, leader of the Technology Solutions Program at PATH.

While creative new ideas are important, the landscape of the global health and development sector is littered with really great and innovative ideas that ultimately did not reach the people who might have benefited.

We do not lack for good ideas. The real challenge comes in moving the best ideas through the innovation pipeline to reach the ultimate goal: scaled, manufactured, commercialized, and community-accepted interventions that improve thousands or millions of lives.

From idea to implementation

As a technologist, I have seen countless great ideas sketched on whiteboards. But there are many hills and roadblocks on the long road between the whiteboard and implementation: engineering, prototyping, testing, manufacturing, regulatory approval, market-shaping and commercialization, supply chain management, community acceptance, and adoption, to name but a few.

It takes a smart and diverse team to move even the best ideas through these difficult stages. It takes inventors and scientists, but also public health experts, project managers, commercialization and supply chain experts, policy wonks and advocates, lawyers and intellectual property specialists, marketers, and more. We need all of them working in partnership with the target community at every stage to ensure that, at the end of the road, the bright idea finds acceptance in homes, clinics, or commercial markets.

Toast the real successes

PATH has been moving innovation along this road to implementation for almost four decades, and we have learned that the moment to pop the champagne is not when brilliance is sketched on a napkin. It’s the moment when the hundredth prototype solves a key design issue and drops the unit price in half, finally making a lifesaving solution affordable for the people who need it. Or when the perfect manufacturing partner comes aboard. Or when a government or agency grants regulatory approval or changes a policy to enable more efficient distribution to remote clinics. Or when local shop owners in affected communities eagerly stock the new product, helping their neighbors while simultaneously raising their own fortunes by earning a fair profit.

We will always need new ideas. But ideas are just the beginning.

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  • Portrait of Anurag Mairal.
    Anurag Mairal was formerly the global program leader of the Technology Solutions program at PATH.