NextBillion Editor

Friday Roundup ? 3/11/11: Uniting for Sight

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Staple-Clark is the CEO for Unite For Sight, which she founded from her dorm room while a sophomore at Yale University in fall 2000. She spoke with NextBillion about the upcoming Global Health & Innovation Conference. NextBillion readers are interested in the idea of Development through Enterprise. Can you give us a preview of how this concept permeates the upcoming conference?

Jennifer Staple-Clark: The Global Health & Innovation Conference, presented annually by Unite For Sight, is the world’s leading global health conference and social entrepreneurship conference. The conference will convene 2,200 professionals and students on April 16-17, 2011, from all 50 states and from more than 55 countries who are interested in global health and international development, public health, medicine, social entrepreneurship, nonprofits, filmmaking and photography, philanthropy, microfinance, human rights, anthropology, health policy, advocacy, public service, environmental health, and education.

The conference includes social innovation sessions by the CEOs and leaders of Ashoka, Acumen Fund, City Light Capital, IDEO,, and many others. The evidence-based, results-oriented presentations by the 160 featured speakers demonstrate what works in global health, international development, and social entrepreneurship. Presentations range from Victoria Hale’s “Pharmaceuticals For Humanity”, Michael Fairbanks’ “Enterprise Solutions to Poverty,” and Ted London’s “Next Generation Base of the Pyramid: Fortune-Creating With The Poor” to Jeremy Levine’s “Making Good Fortune: When Aid Hurts” and Scott Henderson’s “Not Everyone Cares: Marketing Your Cause in a Cluttered Marketplace.”

In addition to the results-oriented presentations by the featured speakers, more than 125 cutting-edge ideas in development are presented in innovative social enterprise pitch sessions. Unite For Sight reviews and accepts social enterprise pitches on a rolling application deadline, and as of early March, the social enterprise pitch sessions are nearly filled to capacity. Innovative ideas continue being submitted and accepted for presentation. The most important criteria for selection include the evidence basis for the idea, as well as the expected outcomes and metrics for measuring the impact of the idea. The social enterprise pitch sessions are intriguing ideas in the brainstorming or early implementation stage, and the topics range from sustainable transportation to new modes of diagnostics, mobile applications, and new information sharing systems.

The Global Health & Innovation Conference provides a unique forum to create and collaborate on designs, strategies, and effective solutions to improve health and development globally. In addition to the weekend exchange of ideas, an online Conference Connect Networking Platform connects participants before and after the conference. Conference Connect is a robust technology that enables each conference participant to create a profile that describes their interests, affiliations, and involvement in global health and social entrepreneurship. Participants may send private messages to each other, post links to their websites or blogs, and communicate on message boards. What are some of the most exciting market-based innovations you’re aware of that are enabling access to critical healthcare services?

Staple-Clark: There are numerous interesting market-based innovations, and those with measured outcomes and proven impact are very exciting and impressive. KickStart is an organization that develops and markets new technologies in Africa and conducts thorough impact assessments. The organization explains that “we could base our claims of success on the number of pumps we’ve sold to-date. But this tells us nothing about whether we are meeting our mission–helping people get out of poverty. To know this, we have to measure how much more money the buyers of our technologies earn as a result of owning them.” One Acre Fund helps East African farmers grow their way out of hunger by providing small-scale farmers with an investment package of high-quality seed and fertilizer, education courses, and access to output markets. Like KickStart, the organization not only reports how many families they have reached (output), but they also report the average impact they have on a family. For example, in 2010, they reached 28,000 families, and those families who received help from the One Acre Fund doubled their income per year compared to matched controls. We are delighted to have One Acre Fund speak about their important work at the Global Health & Innovation Conference.

The social ventures that we hear about are most often initiated by foreigners who see a social problem in the developing world and decide that something should be done. However, those of us working at length in the developing world regularly meet extraordinary local social entrepreneurs who are undiscovered talents bounded only by resources and support. Unite For Sight has had the privilege and honor of supporting numerous local healthcare professionals who have remarkable ideas for social ventures to eliminate patient barriers to care. Aside from the impressive annual conference, can you share a bit more about the work of Unite For Sight and how our readers can get involved?

Staple-Clark: Unite For Sight is a 501(c)(3) non-profit global health delivery organization that empowers communities worldwide to improve eye health and eliminate preventable blindness. Unite For Sight supports eye clinics in India, Ghana, and Honduras by investing human and financial resources in their social ventures to eliminate patient barriers to eye care. Unite For Sight has provided eye care to close to 1.2 million people worldwide, including more than 40,000 sight-restoring surgeries. In the West African country of Ghana, five of the country’s 45 ophthalmologists are partners of Unite For Sight, and due to Unite For Sight’s support, these five ophthalmologists are providing more than half of all cataract surgeries done in Ghana.

Unite For Sight addresses global health delivery for patients living in extreme poverty. Global health delivery is complex, and programs are best developed by local medical professionals and local social entrepreneurs who know their communities, their barriers to quality care, and their local understandings and perceptions. Unite For Sight develops a powerful synergy by harnessing the entrepreneurial talent of local healthcare leaders with support in the form of human and financial resources. We support the local doctors to eliminate barriers to care for patients living in extreme poverty. The daily, year-round eye care outreach efforts are supported by Unite For Sight, provide comprehensive eye care by local eye doctors, and extend to individuals in villages that are located approximately one to eight hours from the eye clinic. The eye clinics’ outreach teams also provide the patients and villages with follow-up care regularly throughout the year, and medical outcomes and quality of care are constantly monitored. The local ophthalmologists and ophthalmic staff provide the local management and leadership, and Unite For Sight’s support enables eye care delivery for more than 200,000 patients each year who are living in extreme poverty in rural villages, slums, and refugee camps.

Unite For Sight and our partners consider and address all barriers to care that may be impacting patients: cost; fear of doctors; fear of treatment; lack of awareness; fatalism; cost; lack of transportation; and others. Through a mutual collaboration, we learn from our partners, and our partners learn from our research-focused expertise. Our programs are designed to continually enhance global health delivery, both at our eye clinic partners, and on a broad scale. We review cutting-edge research and literature about global health delivery and share these lessons learned with each eye clinic partner so that they can explore and apply new practices in the field. Concurrently, we also develop our own cutting-edge research. We recruit volunteers to serve as Global Impact Fellows, and we work with them to design and implement research studies that contribute to understanding about healthcare delivery. For example, one recent research study explores patient understanding of postoperative medication and evaluates the use of visual communication to effectively enhance patient understanding about their crucial postoperative medication regimen. All research studies are reviewed and approved by an Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Unite For Sight focuses on measuring outcomes, and not simply outputs. As an output, we track the number of patients living in poverty who receive eye care through Unite For Sight outreach programs. Like KickStart and One Acre Fund, we also focus extensively on measuring the outcomes of our programs. For example, we monitor the postoperative visual acuity and outcomes of every patient receiving surgery to ensure that their surgery was indeed sight-restoring. We additionally assess the increase in each eye clinic’s cataract surgical rate, targeted for patients living in poverty. Comparison measurements are made for cataract surgical rate before and after the introduction of the Unite For Sight partnership.

We scale our overall impact on global health delivery by developing and nurturing current and future global health leaders. Global Impact Fellows learn how to apply Unite For Sight’s strategies to their current and future global health work. Global Health University includes idea incubator workshops, Certificate Programs related to global health and social entrepreneurship, fellowship and internship opportunities in the U.S. and abroad, and more than sixty online courses in our Global Health E-Library. Our annual Global Health & Innovation Conference convenes 2,200 participants from all 50 states and from more than 50 countries to exchange ideas and strategies across all disciplines of global health, international development, and social entrepreneurship.


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