The Gates Foundation is slowly growing into a powerful global force driving innovation around the world. Its health and developmental agendas have gradually be revised and realigned into a framework that increasingly blends improving the world with doing new things in order to be able to improve the world. Their motto, impatient optimism, seems to capture that sense of purpose and vision rather well.
Here at CKS we’ve been working closely with the Gates Foundation since 2009, when we began ethnographic research and design activities in Bihar around vaccine delivery services. The Foundation is a sponsor of our upcoming Design Public Conclave and we’ll have several of their key personnel at the event as well.
I sat down yesterday to talk with Ashok Alexander, the Country Head of the Gates Foundation in India. He talked to me about the need for immersive engagement, intimacy, understanding, between those who are trying to do good and those one is trying to help. In the case of Avahan, for instance, the Gates-supported HIV-AIDS program, Ashok said that learning about sex-workers and their lives, livelihoods, challenges and threats was all critical for designing the intervention. That kind of approach, and the learnings that came from understanding how to prevent violence against women in urban environments, turned out to have surprising impacts on how the Foundation was able to think about maternal and child health in rural areas, including in the state of Bihar.
Ashok Alexander will be speaking at the Design Public Conclave on how to better imagine India as an innovation society. He’s got the kind of engaged, critical and visionary perspective that we need to institutionalize in new ways to actually transform ourselves into an innovation society.