Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reverse Innovation in Health: Interview with Patty Mechael, Director of the mHealth Alliance

During the Social Good Summit, I had the privilege to interview Patty Mechael, Director of the mHealth Alliance, a public-private partnership to provide valuable health information through mobile phones. Mechael was an early proponent of mobile health (mHealth), writing her PhD on mHealth in Egypt, a country that only had 3% mobile penetration at the time. 

"Mobile health in general is a reverse innovation," says Mechael. The developed world was slow to adopt healthcare delivery through mobile because of prior investments in computers and electronic records. Developing countries had limited infrastructure in place and these lower barriers to entry helped mHealth take off. Mobile health has been used to provide services for a number of demographics and healthcare issues- from maternal health to ageing populations. 

In Uganda, platforms like UReport collate information through voice and text messages from the general population on healthcare and other issues. This grassroots survey is being compared to compared to the country's official health system reports. And healthcare officials in Uganda are responding- creating a feedback loop that is far more coordinated and advanced than most countries.

The potential for mHealth in the developed world goes beyond governments and public health systems. According to Mechael, the pharmaceutical and insurance industries have a lot to gain from mHealth approaches. Indeed, the private sector has already been involved through private-public partnerships such as the mHealth Alliance. Multinational corporations have taken a service delivery approach and provided insights on how to plan for scale.

As the mHealth Alliance and other organisations aim to reach entire populations with mHealth services, they are focusing on simple innovations that can scale quickly. Interestingly, they are moving away from pilots in an approach tot think at scale from the outset. "While pilots were useful in the early days of mHealth, thinking in terms of pilots does not translate well to implementation at scale. We need to design for scale from the outset," says Mechael.

One of the keys to designing at scale from the outset is a participatory design process. Inclusive processes need to include beneficiaries to ensure relevance and buy-in. According to Mechael, "Whether or not people feel like a technology has been designed for them determines whether or not they will use it."

Mechael is optimistic about the potential of mHealth to expand beyond the current model of information delivery. "The two transformative technologies that I have seen are cell phones and rapid diagnostics," she says. Low cost, easy to deploy diagnostics are using basic biochemistry to reduce the cost and increase access to accurate diagnoses. The mHealth model also lends well to a more personalised approach to healthcare delivery, using sensor technology for self-monitoring. Given the shortage of doctors worldwide, mHealth can also be used to empower lower-level health workers.

A key challenge of mHealth is to implement models that work with today's mobiles whilst looking ahead to potential opportunities as technology advances. "You have to work fast enough to benefit from a current technology and simultaneously plan for the next upgrade in 12 months" Mechael recommends standardised approaches can be upgraded with new technology, but do not need to be drastically altered. Tools such as currently text messages can be expanded into a broader range of content when smartphones become more prevalent in the developing world.

Mechael is currently focused on the countdown to the Millennial Development Goals. She encourages us all to think about the ways that we can leverage mobile in an "all-out" way to tackle these pressing issues.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Social Good Summit and Importance of Caring

I have been fortunate enough to attend the Social Good Summit these past few days, a conference about social good that runs in parallel with UN week in the States. The conference provides an open platform for diplomats, entrepreneurs, business and civil society leaders to share their thoughts on the opportunities for social change.

One of the recurrent themes was the importance of feeling a personal and emotional connection to an issue- in short, caring. During a pre-Summit breakfast, a discussion on HIV centred around the importance of putting AIDS back on the map as a global issue. The sense of urgency that once surrounded the issue is no longer there. As the disease has been "contained" to marginalised communities and particular regions, many people in the developed world feel a lack of personal connection and eradicating AIDS has become less of a priority.

Ben Keesey of Invisible Children echoed the importance of storytelling and eliciting an emotional reaction to drive action. Keesey spoke about his own background and how, as an unengaged young person, he felt an emotional connection and decided to change his life, joining Invisible Children and dedicating himself to ending violence perpetrated by the LRA. His organisation's video KONY2012 was the most successful viral video at the time it was released, reaching 100 million views in six days. When talking about the success of the video and Invisible Children's approach to raising awareness, Keesey focused on engaging storytelling. According to Keesey, compelling stories change the way we feel, which changes the way we think, which changes our behaviour. He also suggested that we start from an assumption that people are unengaged in order to create highly engaging content. "Don't take for granted that people care," he said.

A panel with the founders of RYOT highlighted the impact that is possible when people are moved by stories. RYOT pairs news stories with calls to action, encouraging readers to support organisations whose work relates to the news stories on the site. RYOT's innovative model prompted Mashable founder Pete Cashmore to ask its founders, "Is taking action is the new commenting?"

As we focus on the democratisation of social change and getting ordinary citizens to participate, how do we tell the right stories about the issues we care about? How do we get others to care? And, most important, how do we focus on caring as a starting point to taking action?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Three Elements of a Successful Social Campaign

Peace Day is an annual event that takes place on September 21st. This year, for Peace Day, the organisation Peace One Day has launched a social action campaign encouraging people to answer the question "Who will you make peace with?" The Global Shapers Geneva Hub has embraced the campaign and sparked a call to action with the entire Global Shapers Community. A number of other hubs, from Guyana to Barranquilla, have taken up the campaign and are raising awareness in their local communities. 

There are three elements that make this specific social action campaign such a success:

The campaign is EMOTIONAL. One of the key elements of the question "Who will you make peace with?" is that it brings about an emotional reaction. It changes the perception of peace as a lofty global goal, where the responsibility lies on diplomats and politicians, and instead focuses on peace as a highly personal and emotional concept.

The campaign has UNIVERSAL APPEAL. When asked "Who will you make peace with?", most of us can immediately think of several people with whom we are NOT at peace. The question has a universal relevance (regardless of cultural, religious, or socio-economic background) that appeals to human behavioural traits. Most of us are holding a grudge against someone or something.

The campaign engages individuals in an AUTHENTIC CONVERSATION. Sharing suggestions for Tweets and Facebook status updates can be effective, but what makes this particular campaign effective is that it asks an open-ended question with no right answer. "Who will you make peace with?" invites us to participate- without judgment, without expectation, without an ulterior motive. It genuinely draws us in to a participatory and meaningful conversation.

These three elements- emotion, universal appeal, and authenticity- have enabled Peace One Day to expand their message beyond those who are familiar with the organisation. Their goal for 2013 is to raise awareness about Peace Day to 600 million people. With their current campaign, I have no doubt that they will succeed.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Why Support Networks Matter for Entrepreneurs

I was speaking with a friend this morning, an early-stage entrepreneur who has invested the past two years in her start-up. She has made progress- there is a product, a team, and some seed funding. But she still feels far away from the vision that drew her to launch the company in the first place. And there are many day to day challenges as an entrepreneur- from raising funding to dealing with uncertainty and motivating a team of people to work exceptionally hard for less than they could be making at an established company.

We tout entrepreneurship as Europe's saviour and the source of growth for developed economies worldwide. We applaud the Steve Jobs of the world. We celebrate successes and acquisitions and IPOs. But we rarely talk about the long and often difficult process. And the struggles. And the emotional toll that entrepreneurs experience. The road to success is often longer and bumpier than we think.

Social capital has been cited as a key factor in entrepreneurial success; it both encourages nascent entrepreneurs and helps them advance through the start-up process. Yet much of the research on tech ecosystems has focused on access to funding and government regulations. As governments worldwide look to create "the next Silicon Valley", we need to start focusing on the importance of strong networks. Large concentrations of entrepreneurs create a sense of community. Incubators, mentors, and MeetUp groups help entrepreneurs find one another, share advice and provide support.

My personal experience with Astia has been so beneficial that I remain involved seven years after participating in the incubator. Social entrepreneurs involved with the Impact Hub rave about the sense of community that co-working creates. Online communities have been a key resource for entrepreneurs who live outside tech ecosystems.

If entrepreneurship is the way forward, then we must focus on the tools to help entrepreneurs succeed. Entrepreneurs, who shoulder an enormous amount of stress and operate under conditions of extreme uncertainty, need support beyond capital and loose regulation. By acknowledging the impact of social capital on venture outcomes, we can focus on creating more social networks (both physical and virtual) to provide the holistic support that entrepreneurs need.

Photo Credit: DeskMag

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What does Facebook's Decline Mean for the Industry?

A lot has been written lately about the Facebook "exodus". Teenagers are not on Facebook, and as 13 year old Ruby Karp mentioned, "All of our parents and parents' friends have Facebooks." And teens do not want to socialise where their parents are. Beyond losing its cool factor with teens, many of Facebook's current users are leaving. This spring, Facebook lost 6 million US visitors in one month and experienced a 4.5% drop in log-ins in the UK. It is clear that the Facebook era has peaked. What does this mean for the industry?

We are have already seen a series of acquisitions by big players and this trend is definitely going to continue. Yahoo acquired Tumblr, Facebook acquired Instagram, and Amazon and Google will likely make audience-driven acquisitions in the near future. Given the success of Twitter's Vine (which lets users upload and share 6 second videos), the tech industry's key players might be tempted to spin off new platforms of their own. With Twitter, this was a brilliant extension of the platform's uniqueness: brevity (Twitter lets users communicate in 140 characters or less.)

It would be much harder for Google, Facebook, or Microsoft to spin off new platforms because their offerings are so much more complex and multifaceted. Take the example of Google+, unsuccessful attempt by a big tech company to create a social networking platform.  It's hard to articulate the value proposition of Google+. Even with a massive amount of registered users, there's no reason to come back to the platform on a regular basis. Google should have just continued to integrate social features into Gmail (adding Hangouts as a new feature, the way it did with Google Chat and Google Voice), which users already log onto multiple times each day.

Apple and Amazon both stand a greater chance of creating successful own platforms. As the two companies centre around content, they could easily build out networks of niche enthusiasts around books, movies, and music. But community building is quite different from platform building, which is probably why Amazon and Apple have both focused on improving their computer-generated recommendations.

As the big players struggle to stay relevant and compete with one another, we will see a proliferation of smaller platforms pop up, much like we did in 2007-08. I'm excited to check out the next wave of niche networks that focus on a single feature or topic. Many of these will get acquired quickly. But we might just see the next Twitter emerge- a formidable competitor in its own right.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

+Social Good Advisors and Connectors

+SocialGood is a global community movement made up of innovators, social entrepreneurs, and thought leaders from more than 120 countries around the world working together to accelerate positive social change through technology and social media, and is a joint initiaitive of the United Nations Foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme, the Case Foundation, and the 92nd Street Y as strategic associates in this global engagement platform. +SocialGood  announced its inaugural class of +SocialGood Advisors and +SocialGood Connectors. The Advisors and Connectors are pioneers in new media, technology and social change from around the world. They bring proven track records for bringing together big ideas and new opportunities, and creating impact in their communities through technology and social media.

Advisors and Connectors will help to foster a diverse and truly global community from around the world, identifying emerging voices, ideas and projects that are making a difference around the world, and empowering the broader +SocialGood community to network across issues and regions.
The +SocialGood Advisors will provide strategic counsel, connections and help identify social good innovations emerging within their communities and networks.

The inaugural class includes:
    Maria Ressa, Founder and CEO of, Manila, The Philippines
    Esther Agbarakwe, Activist and founder of the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition, Abuja, Nigeria
    Sartaj Anand, founder, EgoMonk Bangalore, India
    Carolina De Andrade, Director, Social Good Brazil, Florianopolis, Brazil
    Ismaël Le Mouël, founder of Mail for Good and Social Good Week in France, Paris, France

To learn more about the +SocialGood Advisors, visit
The first class of +SocialGood Connectors are leaders in their social good communities who are facilitating convenings and conversations that are bringing together entrepreneurs, innovators, institutions and ideas to tackle global issues and create opportunities. The +SocialGood Connectors have planned meet-ups in their home communities and are making connections with the worldwide social good movement to share lessons learned and identify ways that people are driving positive social change. They include:

    Ismail Chaib, Algeria
    Nishe Modoyan, Armenia
    Holly Ransom, Australia
    Jennifer Corriero, Canada
    Julian Ugarte, Chile
    Hazem Khaled, Egypt
    Mac-Jordan Degadjor, Ghana
    Meera Vijayann, India
    Hiroyasu Ichikawa, Japan
    Mark Kaigwa, Kenya
    Grace Clapham, Singapore
    Aurelie Salvaire, Spain
    Sebastian Lindstrom, Sweden
    Noa Gafni, Switzerland
    Nicolò Wojewoda, UK
    Ruben Cantu, USA
    Yangbo Du, USA

To learn more about the +SocialGood Connectors, visit: