Steve Davis, CEO of PATH, was the latest speaker in the Albers Executive Speaker Series on January 15th. The theme of his presentation was, "Innovation for Social Good," a topic he is well positioned to address. His address explored the importance of cross-sector partnerships (business, non-profit, and government) in fostering innovation to solve societal problems.
Davis has taken an interesting path to get to PATH. Most recently he was at McKinsey as global director of social innovation, focusing on cross-sector work in global health and development. Prior to that he was CEO of Corbis, the digital media firm, and also served as interim CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute. He has also served on the boards of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Global Partnerships, and the Council of Foreign Relations.
To illustrate his point about innovation and the importance of cross-sector partnerships, Davis gave the example of the Meningitis Vaccine Project, which PATH has been working on with the Gates Foundation, WHO, and others. It began in 2001 and eventually achieved the breakthroughs needed to be at the point today where over 112 million people have been vaccinated. One of the guiding principles of the project was that the price of a dose needed to be kept under 50 cents.
To achieve that price point required significant innovation. Ultimately, it meant PATH was working with a Dutch technology firm, an Indian manufacturer, African political leaders, and many others. Key lessons learned from this and other innovative ventures include:
1. You need to be clear about what you want to do.
2. Partnerships are critical to success.
3. You need to think of innovation globally. It does not just happen in the US.
4. It takes leadership to make it happen and it is hard work.
Davis said there has been a notable shift in where innovation happens and where power sits in global health and development. In-country capabilities have improved and countries are taking more ownership of the process. In particular, the process has become much less patriarchal and much less dominated by global powers such as the US.
When asked what advice he would give to students wanting to work in the global development field, he said:
1. Trust your instincts.
2. Be comfortable taking risks.
3. Develop a specific skill. Organizations do not hire many generalists.
As someone who has gone back and forth between the for-profit and non-profit organizations, Davis was asked to reflect on differences between the two sectors. He noted they had more similarities than differences and we need to "bust some myths" that non-profits are inefficient and business is greedy. Business can be inefficient and on-profits can be greedy. He also thought that non-profits are harder to manage since there are fewer financial tools and metrics are harder to come by.
There was a large turnout for the event, with over 250 in attendance. It was clear that students from across campus were present, not just business students. It's an indication that Davis' message was well received and many are eager to learn more about the power of cross-sector collaboration.