In Ebola fight, big ideas and impact require big change

In Ebola fight, big ideas and impact require big change

Posted on May 01, 2015 by Michael Corley

I joined approximately 200 people at the Ebola Innovation Summit in San Francisco, which was sponsored by The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in partnership with Skoll Global Threats Fund and USAID, to discuss what was learned during the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, and what can be done in preparation for the “next outbreak." In The Patterson Foundation's (TPF) terms, this was a Strategy Refresh event. What do I mean by that? The Patterson Foundation embeds regular “Strategy Refresh” sessions during each of its initiatives to give all participants the opportunity to evaluate what has happened and the current trajectory of the work being done. By requiring these as part of each initiative, no one is put off when they occur, and it gives everyone a safe platform to challenge, discuss and adjust. There is nothing like being in a room with very, very smart and accomplished people at a venue that fosters collaboration and creativity (check out the Innovation Hangar). I attended on behalf of The Patterson Foundation because of TPFs partnership with NetHope. We were pleasantly surprised when another partner, the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, also participated. As stated, the purpose of the gathering was to reflect on the experience of the last year in order to develop innovative solutions for the next Ebola (or other pandemic) outbreak. The consensus wasn’t “if” there will be some type of breakout but “when.” Ebola will likely rear its ugly ahead again, and if not Ebola, then some other “animal-to-human” virus transmission will occur. Naturally, there was much discussion about what can and should be done to prepare to respond “the next time” -- whenever that might be. There were a couple of common themes threaded throughout the ideas shared during the summit:

  • Lack of technology or technical know-how is rarely the problem. We are very fortunate that technology has progressed to the point that it is a contributor and not a limiter.
  • While the technology exists and is fairly readily available, the data standards, operating protocols, and the rules for capturing and sharing of data are virtually non-existent. This limits the effectiveness of the technology.

The good news is that we have the technology to improve our ability to respond. The challenging news is that developing standards, protocols and procedures will require a significant amount of personal and organizational change. While doable, we all know how difficult change can be. So what to do? If I were "King of the World" assigned to embedding the change necessary for developing a framework of standards, policies and procedures, I would:

  • Identify a representative, respected group of individuals to work collaboratively on this effort
  • Have this group determine 3-5 objectives that tie directly into the overall goals of this work
  • Identify incremental tasks and milestones to be achieved
  • COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE, COMMUNICATE throughout the process so all stakeholders know what is going on
  • Develop a meeting rhythm so participants can generate momentum
  • Require (and train) the participating individuals to engage their respective organizations throughout this process
  • Engage a very good facilitator

A change of this magnitude would likely require multiple layers of what was just described. How would you approach embedding the change necessary to create common standards among multiple parties?

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  • Learn about these and other concepts used in TPF's approach to philanthropy.


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