Social Entrepreneurs Gather to Discuss Global Health Innovations

Three-day conference at Duke brings together pioneers to scale up their best ideas

Conference keynote speaker Chuck Slaughter, left, received the Enterprising Social Innovation Award from Erin Worsham, executive director of Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship. Slaughter is the founder and president of Living

Solar-powered suitcases filled with medical care for African villages. Tuberculosis centers operating out of temples and shops in India. A system to identify counterfeit drugs before they reach poor families.

On Friday, the people behind these and other health innovations for the developing world wrapped up a conference at Duke where they shared experiences and considered how to ramp up the use of their best ideas. The Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted the three-day "Scaling Innovations in Global Health." The event followed by one day a USAID announcement in New York that Duke will be among eight university "cornerstone partners" in its new Global Development Lab initiative to foster science and technology-based solutions to help end extreme poverty by 2030.

Gathering Friday at the Trent Semans Center for Health Education, more than 200 people, many of them Duke students, attended public sessions. Panels ranged from the barriers to global health innovations to how best to change people's health behaviors or learn from inevitable failures.  Students also had an opportunity to pitch their own global health ideas before a panel of experts.

"There are so many social entrepreneurs represented here who are trying to scale the impact of what they're doing. It doesn't just magically happen; it happens within a larger ecosystem," Ticora Jones, a Durham native who is now a senior adviser at USAID, told the participants. She directs the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network, which awarded a $10 million grant to Duke in 2012 to launch SEAD.

"We want to learn what works and what doesn't. In the end, this is really all about social impact," said Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, executive director of the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery at Duke.

Chuck Slaughter, the founder and president of Living Goods, was honored with the Enterprising Social Innovation Award from the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) at the Fuqua School of Business. In a keynote speech, he described how he adapted Avon's door-to-door model to bring health services to families across Uganda.

"There is nothing more powerful than your neighbor or your friend bringing you a message from someone you can trust," said Slaughter, who founded the company Travelsmith and enjoyed success in the business world before turning to global health. "We are shamelessly ripping off this business model in service of the poor."

The Living Goods sales force visits Ugandan families to offer fortified foods, deworming medicines, solar lamps, water filters and other products. Like many of the other groups in attendance, it combines mobile phones and other new technologies with a deliberate mix of compassion and data-driven business realism. Living Goods is now expanding across Uganda and into other countries, collaborating with the Clinton Foundation, the international development group BRAC and others.

"It is important to do both -- to have an impact and be financially sustainable," Slaughter said. "Great ideas are great, but you really don't get anywhere without execution, management skills and basic business chops."