December 2, 2015 | ,

Building a more humane, just, and sustainable world

A public health professor finds inspiration in technologies and solutions that benefit humanity, then takes them back to the classroom.
Craig Stephens and Karina Collins during a PATH Journeys trip.
Craig Stephens (L) attends an elders meeting during a PATH Journeys trip to South Africa. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Editor’s note: PATH donor and supporter Craig Stephens recently returned from a PATH Journeys trip to South Africa. PATH communications officer Tara Lee brings us his story.

On what brought him to PATH

I was in my third year as a judge for the Tech Awards, a program of the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, when I discovered PATH. The competition honors individuals, nonprofit organizations, and companies from around the world who are applying technology to benefit humanity. I became really interested in PATH after we named it a Laureate in 2003, and had a chance to meet some of its staff at the awards ceremony. Since then, I have followed the organization, and became a donor that year as well.

In the years since, I’ve met many people from PATH and attended various events in the San Francisco Bay area, where they’ve shared technologies being developed. I’ve also hosted both Steve Davis, PATH’s president and CEO, and Chris Elias, PATH’s former president, at Santa Clara University (SCU), where they spoke with faculty and students about PATH’s work and innovations.

On teaching biology and public health in Silicon Valley

SCU is literally and figuratively surrounded by companies and technologies that are changing the world. . . . but honestly, most of those companies aren’t changing the lives of the majority of the people on the planet, the people living in poverty and suffering from diseases.

PATH, on the other hand, is explicitly focused on developing technologies and solutions that are inexpensive enough, simple enough, and effective enough to make a difference in low-resource contexts around the globe.

I believe that people everywhere deserve to be healthy. PATH’s mission resonates deeply with me, and with my students at SCU, who are taught to “cultivate knowledge and faith to build a more humane, just, and sustainable world.”

The key lesson I convey to students is that technology, when designed and applied thoughtfully, can positively impact the lives of even the most impoverished communities—but it isn’t easy, or fast, or flashy. You need a deep understanding of how people live and the challenges they face.

PATH collaborates with engineers and physicians, nurses and public health experts, and business and technology leaders, all over the world. And getting solutions to the end user means working with everyone from the World Health Organization to health ministries to corporations to community-based organizations.

Learning about all of this is very eye-opening to students—and tremendously inspiring. Many of them want to go into global health and work with organizations like PATH.

Craig Stephens stands next to a sign of Nelson Mandela.
Craig stands next to a Nelson Mandela sign in Soweto, South Africa. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

On his recent PATH Journeys trip to South Africa and what surprised and challenged him

The Journeys trip was incredibly educational, not only with respect to PATH’s work, but also by witnessing the realities of South Africa, past and present. I came away with positive experiences and optimism for the future of South Africa.

What stuck with me most were visits to the Global Health Innovation Accelerator to hear about some very clever, potentially high-impact technologies, and a visit to an informal settlement outside Johannesburg to meet some remarkable young women who are receiving accredited training that gives them the opportunity to register for entry-level social work through the Thogomelo Project. I was surprised by how much PATH’s focus on innovation has broadened beyond technology to include teaching and training, and more generally strengthening of health systems.

On the cultural side, I won’t forget walking down Vilakazi Street in Soweto, seeing Nelson Mandela’s house, visiting the square where Hector Pieterson was killed and the student uprising started in 1976, and having lunch with several amazing women who had been leaders in the anti-apartheid movement—all of whom were incredibly welcoming and open with us.

On what he wishes the general public knew about PATH

I’d like everyone to know about the incredible impact PATH has made to improve the health of many millions of people. I’d also like to remind people that sustainable change doesn’t happen overnight, but comes slowly with the help of organizations like PATH that have joined hands with the people of South Africa, and many other countries around the world, to build tools and systems that can lead to a healthier, brighter future.

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  • Craig Stephens is a professor of biology and public health at Santa Clara University.
  • Tara Lee is a communications officer at PATH.