Inspired at Saving Lives at Birth DevX2016

July 29th, 2016 | Viewpoint


This week, I was privileged to be part of the sixth Saving Lives at Birth Development Exchange (DevX2016) and represent JSI as one of eight transition-to-scale finalists. As we wait to hear if we will be awarded our grant, I have been reflecting on how exciting it was to be in a room with so many entrepreneurs, engineers, and researchers creating cool and amazing medical devices, and new ways of delivering pharmaceuticals—with a collaborative focus on meeting the needs of mothers and babies in developing countries. However, it has made me reflect on what type of innovators we are at JSI.

Senior Technical Advisor, Sarah Andersson at JSI's DevX2016 pitch booth.
Senior Technical Advisor, Sarah Andersson at JSI’s DevX2016 pitch booth.

I am passionate about the innovation that I represented at this forum, but it is very different to these innovations of “things”. Our proposal, partnering with Dimagi, is to replicate an approach JSI implemented and scaled with the Ministry of Health in Malawi and take those lessons to Kenya. While our approach does include innovative use of technology, a simple mHealth supply chain management tool for community health workers, this approach also includes IMPACT teams. In Malawi, we found that it wasn’t just the technology that was disruptive but it was these teams that changed the way actors in the supply chain interact with each other to use data, solve problems and make real change. It was an innovation in “process” or “system strengthening”.

To my delight, the need for innovations in processes or systems was highlighted a number of times throughout DevX2016. The first plenary panel highlighted that innovation is not just about products, and called for collaboration between the innovators of products and the innovators of the process so we can find new ways of doing things. We heard about new ways of training health providers such as facility-based trainings or using Game technology to do trainings, new ways of reaching mothers through telling stories, and lots of discussion about the value of human-centered design in developing and taking innovation to scale.

DevX2016 attendees gather for the Peer, People's Choice, Validation, and Seed Funding Award announcements
DevX2016 attendees gather for the Peer, People’s Choice, Validation, and Seed Funding Award announcements

What was also exciting for me was that many of the tips to taking a medical device or technology to scale also apply to take interventions to scale. Wendy Taylor, from USAID, advised to “Start early, consult widely, iterate often.” Jamie Jones, from RTI International, said “Investors want to see progress. Make contact, show trustworthiness, set milestones, meet them, and show them how.”

This reminded me of our approach in Malawi with cStock but our investors were our partners. We engaged them from the beginning, we constantly shared results, made iterations to the approach, as a result, our partners mobilized resources to scale both the cStock system and the IMPACT teams nationally within three years. So, for process innovators, it seems to me we are sometimes looking at a different type of investor, we want our partners who are on the ground supporting the same programs to integrate our new ways into their ways—and that is a success for us. You can read about our Pilot to Practice pathway here.

Whether we succeed or not in being awarded, I am pleased to have attended and met so many dedicated people that are working passionately to really change this landscape for mothers and babies including JSI’s own Nepal team who are an amazing success story of the Saving Lives at Birth Grand Challenge.

Read about our proposed innovation here.

Written by Sarah Andersson

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