On Friday afternoon, 1776 hosted Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, to meet a few of 1776’s health startups, participate in a roundtable discussion, and have a fireside chat in front of a large guest audience with 1776 Cofounder and Co-CEO Evan Burfield about driving change in global health. In addition to her work with the Clinton Foundation, Clinton teaches a course at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she earned her Master’s degree in public health.
The 1776 team and health startups were thrilled about meeting Clinton, who has had extensive experience in the health industry in the U.S. and abroad. Clinton’s visit to the 1776 headquarters meant a chance to learn more about global health challenges and how innovation can help to tackle them. Clinton said,
“We are always looking for more ways that we can help the market disruptors, to help change the rules of the game … because we know that innovations don’t exist without being in the right ecosystem and the right organizational methods to help them get to where they’re most needed.”
Big Data in Health Care
When Burfield asked about potential areas for impact in digital health, Clinton touched on tracking health data to measure initiatives such as the war on childhood obesity. Clinton asked different startups about their goals in using data to resolve health issues and how they plan on measuring their outcomes. With regard to leveraging innovation and big data, the Clinton Foundation states,
“The movement toward the digitization of our lives has the potential to empower individuals to take control of their health, democratize access to health resources, and revolutionize health care systems across the world.”
Furthermore, Clinton encouraged startups in the digital health sphere to connect with organizations that she has specifically worked with. For example, Psych Media’s psych.E platform engages youth with social and visual media to enhance mental health care and treatment. Clinton suggested that Psych Media work with the Jed Foundation, the largest suicide prevention organization in the U.S. She also discussed the strides the Clinton Foundation has taken with the Jed Foundation to promote emotional health and help young people recognize signs of illness as well as safely handle them with the right resources.
Clinton also explained how innovative ways to track health data would be particularly smart to share with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government agencies.
Governments’ Roles in Digital Health Innovation
Clinton stressed the critical importance of the role that government plays in innovation networks, as well as the networks themselves. The Clinton Foundation works only in countries where the government has invited it and strongly believes in the public sector as a necessary partner for progress and a mechanism for improved public health.
The Ethiopian government was one of Clinton’s main examples when conveying why entrepreneurs and innovators need to be working in conjunction with governments. In particular, Clinton drew parallels to the Clinton Foundation’s work in Ethiopia when another 1776 health startup, Babyscripts, outlined its innovation during Friday’s roundtable.
Babyscripts is about remotely tracking — through an iPhone App and wireless weight and blood pressure devices — women’s pregnancies to collect data in real time for rural areas, far away from health care centers. After half-joking that Babyscripts’ pink packaging is a game changer in itself, Clinton described a similar project that the Clinton Foundation has with the Ethiopian government to ensure that health centers are significantly more accessible, even in rural areas, and that health workers handling pregnancies can send SMS messages to the Ministry of Health, which sends diagnoses, guidance, and updates to the health workers throughout the cycle of each case.
Clinton certainly emphasized how governments must play integral roles in networks for innovation to successfully take hold. She also shared her hope that 1776 is working on how to best unite health startups, medical leaders, governments, foundations, and NGOs into innovative ecosystems to drive the most effective impacts around the world.
Understanding Local Context
Continuing to talk about how to best engage government, Clinton and Burfield both expressed how vital grassroots innovations are when evaluating problems and formulating solutions. Perhaps most importantly, Clinton and Burfield discussed how the success of any innovation aiming to tackle a health issue hinges on a deep understanding of the local context.
Burfield posed the question of how to best serve people in different geographic regions, and Clinton noted that he had raised the important point of local context. Burfield said,
“It’s great when you encounter startups in Silicon Valley, or New York, or here in [Washington,] D.C. that are like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this great solution for how to solve a problem in Africa.’ It’s really amazing and probably more impactful, when you meet an amazing founder in Lagos or Nairobi who has a concept, and they’re trying to figure out how to get access to resources to scale it because often they just understand that local context.”
Clinton also voiced her faith in 1776’s global focus and mission to foster networks of health startups, medical leaders, governments, foundations, and NGOs to promote real progress in digital health. Clinton’s visit to 1776 was another positive and productive example of how convening change-makers can foster invaluable connections between institutions and startups.
Oftentimes, startups have the ability to act nimbly, and institutions have great resources at their disposal. So, both types of players bring necessary perspectives and strengths to the table, which further explains the essential need for collaboration when it comes to addressing the multi-level challenges in global health.