Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup – 5/3/14: An Arab Spring for global health?

Amartya Sen once said that famines don’t occur in democracies. The Nobel-laureate’s point was that democratic governments, facing elections and an independent press, had no choice but to look out for and be responsive to the people.

There are those who argue the finer points of his premise, but his statement remains largely true, 15 years after he made it.

The problem is, most of the world’s population lives in countries that don’t hold free and fair elections, according to The Economist, and “democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century.”

That’s bad news on a lot of fronts, including global health.

“Democracy is correlated with improved health and healthcare access… Democracies have lower infant mortality rates than non-democracies, and the same holds true for life expectancy and maternal mortality,” Karen Grépin, assistant professor of global health policy at New York University, wrote in a 2013 paper (as citied in the post from African Arguments). “Dictatorship, on the other hand, depresses public health provision.”

It’s a discussion that continues to roil the development intelligencia, pushed along by Bill Easterly in his most recent book. It’s even worse when one considers that an independent press – another key element in the background of Sen’s statement about famines – is in dire straits. The Internet has caused traditional journalism to try to reinvent itself worldwide.

But it might be time to put a twist on Sen’s statement. Maybe, instead of framing the discussion around government or an independent press, the new paradigm is famines won’t exist in countries where citizens have a voice.

That’s a more hopeful proposition, given that nine out of 10 people in the developing world have mobile phones. It will only be a matter of time, one could argue, before they find their collective voice, even in the most remote corners of the globe.

Imagine if people around the world understood what is possible through modern health care – that their children could lead fuller, happier, more productive lives – and demanded access to it. An Arab Spring for global health. Is it possible?

Doctor (and Entrepreneur), Cure Thy Lexicon

One of the more thought-provoking blogs we’ve run lately on NextBillion Health Care was Dr. Philip McKinley’s piece about the miscommunication that can occur between doctors and entrepreneurs interested in improving global health care.

Sometimes, he explained, it can be a matter of different cultures. Where doctors tend to be relatively conservative – “Trying something new and/or unproven is not in their vocabulary” – entrepreneurs are all about disruptive innovation and moving forward.

Then there are the language differences. Like doctors, entrepreneurs have their own “jargon,” McKinley says, using phrases like “lean processes,” “right skilling” and “scalable.”

It’s an issue because entrepreneurs and doctors need to trust each other if they hope to achieve their mutual health care goals, and clear, open communication is vital to building that trust.

This caused our ears to perk up when we heard about a May 14 webinar in which health care language and metrics will be addressed.

Called “Measuring Impact in Health: Perspectives from Impact Investing Partners and Lifespring Hospital,” the event will center around how to measure the social, environmental and financial performance of health care organizations. It will include the standardized definitions for common measures developed by the Center for Health Market Innovations and the Global Impact Investing Network.

It’s important, as McKinley points out, that doctors and MBAs speak to each other in language they can both understand.

It’s no less important that steps taken to improve health can actually be quantified and compared. This macro view is vital not just to those involved on the ground in health care delivery, but for those equally vital in the process: investors.

Weekly Must Read

A wonderful post this week by Acumen’s Sasha Dichter confirms that working in the developing world is not just a “people business,” it’s a business for incredibly dedicated, focused, tireless people.

Dichter reflects on a conversation involving “two pillars of our space,” Dr. Fazle Abed, founder of BRAC, and Thulsi Ravilla, president of Aravind Eye Hospital. Dichter likened it to “sitting at the feet of the masters, getting pearl after pearl of wisdom.”

(Given that build up, can you tell we think it’s worthy of a read?)

The takeaway is that there are no shortcuts. Abed and Ravilla have given their lives to improving the lot of their fellow man. They conscientiously built the culture of their organizations, they know the difference between need and demand, and consider questions about scale and urgency to be no-brainers. (Big needs require big solutions, and now.)

Fascinating reading for anyone working in the BoP space … or for anyone who seeks to lead.

Kyle Poplin is the editor of NextBillion Health Care.

In Case You Missed It … This Week on NextBillion

NexThought Monday: A strategic approach to scaling impact By Simon Winter

Impact Investing in the Base: A chat with Vox Capital’s Daniel Izzo By Tara Sabre Collier

The Great Equalizer: How advances in “big data” allow tech-savvy start-ups to compete with the major players in East Africa By Nate GonzalezAccion

How a Profit Focus is Expanding Water Access: Xylem sought to ’upend’ the tradition business model, aiming for the BoP By Marie von Hafften

Social Impact Bonds in Latin America: Reframing social development in the region By Avnish Gungadurdoss

The Rx for Doctor, Entrepreneur Communication: Improving global health care includes speaking the same language By Dr. Philip McKinley

Shifting Tracks From Cash to Mobile Money: The development sector is transitioning, but many internal and external obstacles remain By Julienne Lauler

More Questions than Answers: Impact investors struggle to present their sector to the general public By James MilitzerWDI

Mondato Summit Africa: The high-level mobile money gathering will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa on June 17-18th By Arielle Jaffe

Good Ideas, Multiplied: How NGO, research collaboration is boosting social entrepreneurship By Aarthi Rao

Education, Health Care, Impact Assessment, Technology
governance, impact measurement