Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference


I had the privilege of being able to attend the Unite for Sight Global Health and Innovation Conference at Yale University this last weekend. The conference is the world’s leading global health and social entrepreneurship conference, which welcomed over 2,200 participants from all 50 states and 50 countries. The participants were a diverse group of ambitious individuals to say the least. From undergraduate  Harvard students, who already have booming social enterprise businesses, to seasoned professionals, who are eager to share their current research in remote parts of the world, to academic icons, who head prestigious global health departments of the world’s leading academic institutions.

Let me share with you a few of my thoughts, and the ideas and people that struck me as exceptional.

                                         Sasha Dichter– Chief Innovation Officer of Acumen Fund

Sasha spoke on why social enterprises are important and shared some helpful tips for constructing one. Social enterprises link philanthropic missions to a market based approach. Market based models are useful because they are set up for quicker innovation to solve problems.
He also gave a few pointers on how to make change:
1. mobilize resources: need money behind your ideas
2. listen to customers and understand their needs before you move forward with your idea
3. never lose hope of the possibility that individuals have to make meaningful social change


Neal BaerClinical Professor of Preventive Medicine; Executive Producer, A Gifted Man, CBS
Neal spoke about show to create a meaningful story that invokes thought from the audience. One way to do this is to expand story parameters, by investigating past the beginning and ending of the story you are given. For example, it was only until doctors went beyond simply treating children for re-occuring asthma that they found a solution that stopped the cycle. Doctors investigated the homes of their patients and found that the parents needed to start vacuuming to eliminate the antigens that were provoking their children’s asthma attacks. 

Neal also talked about how useful twitter can be in not only raising awareness for an issue, but giving people a way to act. His bubble tweet on issues like rape kits have generated more than 3 million hits.

Jeffrey Sachs- Director of Earth Institute, Columbia University
Jeffrey spoke on the lessons we have learned from fighting malaria and the future challenges that we face. Malaria kills 1 million people a year. The problem with malaria in Africa is that they have a hospitable climate for malaria carrying mosquitos, and the type of mosquito’s in Africa almost exclusively feed on humans rather than animals, which spreads the disease more rapidly than other regions of the world. Long lasting insecticide treatment nets last for 5 years, and since 2004, malaria has come down 30-40%. The problem is, we need 3-4 billion per year to keep malaria prevention efforts up (what the pentagon spends in 2 days), but we only have 1-2 billion for these efforts. Since the mosquitos in Africa have a huge reproductive number, if we don’t hold ground on prevention efforts, we will move backwards. 

Tyler Gage- CEO of RUNA Amazon Guayusa
Tyler started RUNA fresh out of Brown with a degree in linguistics. It all began after visiting the equadorian rainforest and trying the local tea, guayusa. He realized the drink had more antioxidants than green tea and equivalent caffeine of a cup of coffee and started working on how to export it to the US. In 2009, Tyler built the supply chain for Runa from scratch, and he currently supports 1,200 indigenous farmers and has generated $100,000 in direct revenue from his beverage business. He is currently working with ministry of environment in Ecuador to write sustainability practice for harvest guayusa ethically and sustainably. He also has plans to turn the business over to the local tea harvesters by slowly giving them shares of the company. 


Some random quotes from various speakers that I enjoyed:

  • innovation almost always uses existing ideas and technology 
  • don’t lose the sense of possibility that individuals have to make change
  • people don’t care about health as much as they care about their image (water and sanitation innovations that work and don’t work because of their appealing design)
  • organic is a social justice movement, its not just about health (Kopali Organics- http://kopali.net/)
  • development is the participation of the community in self defined uplifment (Dean’s Beans- http://www.deansbeans.com/)
  • Growth is the outcome of business done well
  • Pose complicated questions in the way you tell stories- they allow individuals to see and think differently (Neal Baer)
  • collaboration is our competitive advantage
  • if we don’t change the direction we are headed, we will end up where we are going  (Chinese proverb in regards to food security)
  • it is a fundamental right for everyone to be free from hunger, but there are 1 billion people who are malnourished, and 1.5 billion people who are over nourished