A memo showed up on Richard Mahoney’s desk in 1973 at the Ford Foundation’s New York headquarters with a mouthful of a title: “Contraceptive introduction, manufacture, and supply.”
It was a clarion call about the promise of modern family planning methods to transform health—and a challenge to family planning experts to improve access to affordable, high-quality contraceptives in low-resource countries.
The memo’s author was Gordon Perkin, Mahoney’s colleague based in the foundation’s Brazil field office.
“I picked up the phone, and I called Brazil,” Mahoney recalls, “even though in those days it cost US$100 every five minutes to make an international call. And I said, ‘Gordon, let’s do it. I’m ready. Whatever you need, I’ll do it.’”
That phone call paved the way for a new kind of health organization—one that would bring together the expertise and resources of both the public and private sectors to ensure everyone had access to lifesaving health solutions, regardless of where they live.
Four years later, Mahoney, Perkin, and Gordon Duncan, all family planning researchers, founded the nonprofit organization that would become PATH.
Four decades of accelerating innovation to save lives
This year, we are celebrating our 40th anniversary as an international NGO (or nongovernmental organization) known for transforming bold ideas into breakthrough health solutions for people around the world.
Today, we work in more than 70 countries and reach an average of 150 million people a year. From our earliest days working in reproductive health and family planning, PATH quickly expanded to work on vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations that address every major global health challenge.
PATH’s start-up culture
From the beginning, we were unlike any other global health organization—a unique blend of entrepreneurial spirit, scientific expertise, and deep experience in the countries we serve.
Our focus, then and now, is to work in partnership with the countries we serve and bring together cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaborators to get health solutions to more people more quickly.
“Any idea was accepted, and any idea could be tried,” Mahoney says. “I am often reminded of that culture when I read about the culture of the tech start-ups in Silicon Valley. How people were just totally devoted to trying to make something work.”
“You spend hours and hours thinking about what to do, and it’s a seven-day-a-week enterprise, and there’s lots of fun and laughter,” he says. “We were great optimists, all of us, and we just felt that this would work. That family planning had to work.”
Impact reaching 150 million people per year
That early drive to innovate and improve the lives of the most vulnerable remains today. From three founders in 1977, PATH has grown to 1,500 people around the globe. Our focus is on working with governments, private companies, advocates, and communities to bring lifesaving innovation to massive scale. Join us for a photo tour through some of PATH’s most impactful milestones of the past 40 years.
Expanding family planning options in China
Uniject in the pocket: a disposable, prefilled injection device
In this video, PATH cofounder Gordon Perkin talks about the development of the Uniject™ injection system. Video: PATH.
Vaccine vial monitor: a leap from the food to the health industry
Introducing a new way to get vaccines to newborns
Rapid diagnostic tests revolutionize treatment in remote or low-resource settings
Bringing hope to turn cervical cancer into a preventable disease
Micronutrients pack a powerful punch in Ultra Rice
MenAfriVac: a vaccine spans continents to save millions of lives
A sure start for mothers and newborns in India
Japanese encephalitis: a scourge is stopped through vaccination
Malaria elimination within our reach
Country programs are locally led for the greatest impact
Sayana Press puts the power in women’s hands
In many ways, the Sayana Press story is emblematic of PATH’s journey from a small, scrappy start-up to the innovative global organization we are today. Starting from the problem statement that 290 million women around the world want access to modern family planning tools, PATH worked with partners to combine a long-lasting contraceptive with the safe and simple Uniject injection system we developed with partners in our early days.
The technology also illustrates many of the qualities that make PATH unique: our cross-sector partnerships, our ingenuity and persistence, our focus on end-to-end innovation, and our enduring commitment to improving health and saving lives of women and children.
We’ve been leading global health innovation for 40 years now, and our drive to continue serving the people of the world has only grown stronger. Here’s to another 40 years!
Uniject is a trademark of BD.
Ultra Rice is a registered US trademark of Bon Dente International, Inc.
MenAfriVac is a registered trademark of Serum Institute of India Pvt. Ltd.
Sayana Press is a registered trademark of Pfizer Inc.