Building Stronger Collaborations at SwitchPoint

Krishna at SwitchPoint

Published April 28, 2014, last updated on April 9, 2018

By Krishna Udayakumar
Associate Professor of the Practice of Global Health and Medicine
IPIHD Executive Director

What do vaccines, beer, and bread have in common?

Learning about yeast fermentation and its role in vaccine development, micro-brewing, and baking was one of many fascinating discussions at this year’s SwitchPoint 2014 Conference, organized by IntraHealth International. Sampling local micro-brewed beer and freshly made sourdough bread during the conversation was an added bonus!

As I drove out to Saxapahaw, North Carolina, I wasn’t sure what to expect. This annual conference, retreat, and concert promises to bring together a diverse and eclectic group of participants for an intensely interactive experience intended to support innovative thinking and new collaborations to address critical challenges in global health. This year’s event certainly delivered that and more.

The concept of a SwitchPoint is the intersection of two or more unexpected ideas or people coming together to inspire new and better solutions. My own SwitchPoint was the opportunity to host a “microlab” with Jaspal Sandhu, an expert in human-centered design who is a partner at Gobee Group and faculty member at the University of California – Berkeley.  Being thrown together with someone I’d never met before to organize a 45-minute interactive session for 30 people was an interesting challenge. After a few minutes talking by phone and a quick conversation over lunch, Jaspal and I were ready to go!

To get ourselves out of our comfort zones, we decided to introduce each other for the session. We then asked the group to help us solve a current real-world challenge Changamka, one of the global health innovators being supported by the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) and the Duke-hosted International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD), is a Nairobi-based health financing company that leverages mPesa, a mobile money platform, to increase access to health insurance for low- and middle-income families across Kenya.  Jointly with Saraficom (Kenya’s largest telecom provider) and Britam (one of Kenya’s largest insurance companies), Changamka recently launched a new health insurance program called Linda Jamii (Swahili for “protect the family”), which allows families to save gradually using the mPesa platform to purchase affordable, comprehensive health insurance.

How might we help Linda Jamii customers save money more effectively in order to purchase health insurance? To generate creative and out-of-the-box answers to this critical question, we relied on Jaspal’s expert facilitation skills to get our microlab participants working for Changamka. Using a sticky-note brainstorming technique in small teams, the group came up with more than 200 ideas in less than 30 minutes, and then identified their top recommendations. Some of those ideas include using opt-out models to make it easier to schedule regular payments, offering savings toward health insurance for redeeming plastic and other waste products, and gamification tools to make saving fun. We’ll soon be sharing these great ideas our group generated with Changamka.  

Not only did we collaborate to help a global health innovator, I also came away with new tools to facilitate idea generation and collaborative brainstorming and made an exciting new connection along the way. I’m confident that Jaspal and I will continue to collaborate on more projects in the future – maybe in Amsterdam!

I met many other impressive people during my short time in Saxapahaw, which provided a casual and inviting location that was a good fit for this event. My talk about global health innovation on the big stage at the Haw River Ballroom followed a session by CJ Suitt, who performed an amazing and powerful piece of spoken word poetry – what a change from the usual settings where I give talks! And I was delighted to spend time with Nickson Nyakambi, a medical student in Kenya and tech enthusiast who has spent hundreds of hours developing mobile and web apps to address urgent local health challenges like maternal and child health. Through their mHealth Solutions Center, Nickson and his team have developed an mHealth cervical cancer app to improve screening and treatment of cervical cancer in Kenya. This effort was recognized as a finalist at the SwitchPoint 2014 “Silo Busters” student contest.

Events like SwitchPoint help to build stronger collaborations and expand the community of practitioners, students, academics, and others committed to developing and implementing new, innovative solutions for global health challenges. I would like to commend IntraHealth for organizing a great conference, and thank them for the opportunity to participate in this year’s SwitchPoint. I look forward to building new partnerships as a result of this event.