GHIC 2018: Global Health & Innovation Conference
April 14-15, 2018
Yale University, New Haven, CT

Unite for Sight’s 2010 Global Health & Innovation Conference

Blog Report By Abby Hannifan, Unite For Sight Global Health Leadership Intern

Enterprises and Innovations in Global Health Session

In the first concurrent session I attended, Ted London (director of the Base of the Pyramid Initiative at the William Davidson Institute) and his fellow presenters reiterated Jacqueline’s introduction to “patient capital.” In his talk “Creating Viable Enterprises for the Base of the Pyramid,” Ted discussed the “intersection between business strategy and poverty alleviation.” He asserted that business development (targeting growth and profits) can be aligned with the development community’s efforts to ameliorate social inequality. This proposition was based on his belief that there is fortune at the Base of the Pyramid, and that that fortune can be tapped into.

Before jumping into how this can be done, Ted briefly mentioned Hernando de Soto, a contemporary Peruvian economist who has garnered worldwide acclaim and intrigue for his investigation of poor Peruvians’ spontaneous creation of a market economy that suited their own interests, a development born out of marginalization and disenfranchisement from the exclusionary formal sector. In his book The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution of the Third World, he incriminates the bureaucracy in legal property ownership and the lack of state competence in stimulating production and distribution as the primary reasons why the poor are unable to leverage their assets. In Peru, however, major stumbling blocks such as these did not deter the poor from creating their own prosperity.

After World War II, major cities in Peru received an influx of indigent, mostly illiterate rural peasants. With little skills or practical assets to offer the formal economy, they were systematically denied participation in all aspects of urban life—jobs, housing, and transportation. So, based on their own convictions of entitlement and equality, the poor mobilized an informal market to fulfill their needs. It is this independence, bold initiative, and confidence in free enterprise that de Soto applauds and uses as evidence that the poor are quite capable of determining their own destinies.

For a more comprehensive review of the contents of de Soto’s book, click here. And, for a fascinating related reading on how the algo más (the desire for “something more”) of community members can be cultivated and nourished in community development endeavors, check out the book Broccoli & Desire, an exposition by Ted Fischer of the effects of globalization on Mayan farmers’ aspirations.

To determine how this “natural” inclination of poor Peruvians to obtain a more favorable existence could be translated into a universal paradigm shift in wealth re-distribution, Ted discussed two different orientations worthy of critique. The first is a discovery orientation, in which opportunities to tap into the assets of the poor are dormant and waiting to be discovered. The second is a creation orientation, one in which opportunities are built in a dynamic process of co-creation. Ted favored the second approach for the adaptation of traditional business strategies to poverty reduction endeavors. I think what he was getting at here was the need for continual conversations between the poor and agencies supposedly representing “poor interests.” If development agencies are pursuing their own agendas, monopolizing decision-making, manipulating the needs of the community to match their preconceived notions of the community’s deficiencies, or trivializing community members’ perspectives, then these “socially conscious” business strategies turn exploitative. And this, as Ted warned, will lead to the accusation that the perceptibly well-intentioned development agency is making money or publicity off the backs of the poor.

The other presenters during this session reinforced the call for more creative approaches to wealth generation for the poor (with the exception of the presentation by HealthStore Foundation’s co-founder Scott Hillstrom, which was about using micro-franchise pharmacies as a solution to insufficient access to essential medications). Omer Imtiazuddin, Health Portfolio Manager for Acumen Fund, presented on “Innovations in Global Health Through Social Venture Financing,” in which he reiterated Jacqueline’s belief in the power of patient capital, created by the crossroads of traditional venture capital and traditional philanthropy. Julia Novy-Hildesley, executive director of the Lemelson Foundation, wrapped up this session by talking about how invention is the core driver of prosperity. The Lemelson Foundation provides financial, technical, and monitoring assistance to individuals wanting to bring to fruition their innovative ideas. She ended her talk with a call for renewed investment in aiding and abetting the creativity of those in the developing world.

Key Takeaways