I first became interested in public health, epidemiology and nutrition when I was in the Peace Corps and I have maintained my interest in this area ever since. I went on to study Epidemiology and Global Health at graduate school and after a short stint working on an immunisation programme in Africa I became a Foreign Service Officer for USAID. I was at USAID for around 8 years focussing on the programmatic application and policy implications of maternal and child health and nutrition programmes.
After leaving USAID, I worked at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle for about 10 years, eventually heading up the Nutrition Team. Following that, I worked for the Swiss based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) where I focused primarily on public-private partnerships to help address nutrition working on large scale fortification, infant and young child nutrition and the enabling environment.
Missing the Seattle vibe and focus on innovation, I took a position at PATH, which offered a workplace dedicated to innovating to improve health outcomes in low and middle income settings. Initially, my primary role was focussed on strategic planning, which then led to a focus on nutrition innovation- assessing what types of tools and interventions might be instrumental in helping to address stunting, wasting, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and overweight/obesity
Just as we finished a strategic planning exercise to identify opportunities for innovations within the nutrition sector I took the Transform Nutrition Short Course in 2016. I was delighted to have the opportunity to join the wide range of participants in the course and it raised a number of considerations for how PATH could move forward in this field and leverage the expertise of a wide range of sectors and disciplines to help solve nutrition challenges. In particular, I was interested in platforms for innovation, and business models such as incubators and accelerators that could be used in a public sector setting to source ideas, drive impact and ‘crowd’ in ideas and knowledge from different perspectives. As a result, PATH has designed and developed an incubator approach which broadly looks to foster innovation in 4 key areas:
Develop and advance new tools and technologies to measure and improve nutrition outcomes, increase income opportunities, and increase food safety and food security, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.
Strengthen the collection and use of data, analytics, and knowledge about nutrition and how it intersects with other development sectors. This “nutrition intelligence” will help national and global leaders plan, implement, evaluate, and align efficient and effective policies and programs.
Strengthen the systems that bring food from producers to consumers so that systems are more effective, sustainable, efficient, and resilient. This includes identifying or protecting agricultural practices or food sources that can close nutritional gaps.
Develop and strengthen partnerships across disciplines and sectors so that nutrition solutions are holistic, effective, and build on the best information and expertise possible.
Through our nutrition innovation incubator approach, PATH is working with a number of academic institutions, foundations and the private sector on several novel ideas targeted at improving nutrition outcomes. These include development of a commercially available multiplex diagnostic with Quansys Bioscices that will enablable simultaneous measurement of a number of vitamin and mineral deficiencies using only a finger prick, new food-based delivery mechanisms for antibiotics for acutely malnourished children, a meta analysis looking at the contribution of tobacco use during pregnancy and growth outcomes, research on the potential for edible insects to be micro-farmed and improve diets, and work with Prestige, India’s largest producer of kitchen products, to modify their pressure cooker to add iron to food during the cooking process, among others.
We hope to redefine how we engage with the private sector to engage companies- from start-ups to very mature organisations across a number of sectors to help improve nutrition. Some of what I learned in the Transform Nutrition course informed some of our work, and validated the need for new interventions.