At The Innovation Effect gathering that PATH hosted in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, I opened with the intentionally provocative question: Do we really need to have yet another conversation about innovation?

The answer from more than 150 leading global health and development thinkers was a resounding “yes.” Throughout the day I heard a call to action to more fully realize the power of innovation and disruptive solutions in order to tackle some of our greatest global health challenges.

The Innovation Effect: Powering Disruptive Global Health Solutions

This convening, sponsored by PATH in collaboration with others from multiple sectors, explored what happens when unique partnerships, disruptive technologies, transformed systems, and data-driven insights combine in often unexpected ways to create dramatic improvements in the health and well-being of people around the world.

It was an inspiring discussion about how innovation can result in visionary, sustainable change. It was also a candid one, asking some tough questions about the challenges and barriers to achieving faster progress. Many speakers challenged us to find new ways to put innovation at the center of the drive to meet audacious global goals for progress in eliminating diseases and poverty.

From U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden, to Jackie Chang from Facebook, to Inder Singh from Kinsa, to Nigerian entrepreneur Adepeju Jaiyeoba, the room was full of conversation and ideas about how to move forward disruptive global health solutions through policy actions and multisector partnerships.

I took away these five observations from our rich dialogue:

1. Innovation still matters: It is clear that we need innovation now more than ever. Whether it’s incremental or revolutionary, it needs to be integrated into everything we do, every day. We should double-down our commitment to this agenda of innovation.

2. Innovation comes in many forms: Yes, there are new products and gadgets, but we also must innovate in systems and processes, and in financing and policy changes that combine to create the biggest impact. This also requires us to be very intentional about looking at innovation through multiple “lenses,” including gender, culture, adolescence and national security.

3. Innovation will be turbocharged with digital tools: We can now do innovation differently with new tools in data, digital solutions, and social networks. We have a new level of connectivity that we’ve never had before. While we should not forget that health innovation often relies on basic biology, chemistry and engineering, better use of data combined with better connectivity tools and ideas are letting us bridge gaps and accelerate networked impact.

Screengrab via YouTube

4. Innovation needs to matter: We must constantly be asking, “So what?” To have impact, we must be more thoughtful and also more assertive about human-centered design and the scalability of ideas. We must aim to lessen global inequities in health and we must focus on impact: changes that will increase access, cost less, or be more effective. Urgent crises require urgent responses, but those responses should be part of a broader framework that keeps the big-picture development agenda at the center, and aligns resources accordingly.

5. Innovation that matters requires partnerships: Acting alone holds back progress. Successfully scaling up social innovation requires government, the private sector, and the social sector to come together, along with strong global leadership, to make an impact. I’m hard pressed to think of a single social innovation that has gone to scale without these three sectors working in partnership.

PATH is committed to building a world where health is in reach for everyone. Together we can unlock the power of innovation to break the cycle of poverty, empower girls and women, allow families and communities to prosper, and reduce health disparity.

We invite you to join us in continuing the dialogue around the Innovation Effect.

The Innovation Effect event in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by PATH, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Devex, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Tableau Foundation, United Nations Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Johnson & Johnson.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Steve Davis

    As president and CEO of PATH, Steve Davis combines his extensive experience as a technology business leader, global health advocate, and social innovator to lead PATH's work to accelerate lifesaving ideas and bring new health solutions to scale. PATH and our partners reach an average of 150 million people per year with innovative technologies and approaches that improve health and save lives.