Consider a few of the mega-trends in the world today. Health care costs are outpacing inflation or economic growth (ex: health care cost in the US increased by 9% last year). 25% of the global population has no access to health care at all. At the same time, there are 5.9 billion mobile subscribers in the world (87% of global population). It is not hard to fit these facts together and imagine a business which uses technology to deliver better, less expensive and more widely available health care. So clear, perhaps, that you may be wondering why you haven’t done it yourself?
The answer is that you are not Paul Meyer. In the weeks after the 1999 war, Meyer founded IPKO, thefirst and largest Internet service provider in Kosovo. The venture provided critical communications for civilians and humanitarian aid workers. And a healthy return for Meyer. Before that, Meyer was in West Africa, setting up computer systems to help match refugee children that had been separated from their families. Meyer’s own knowledge – from deploying connectivity and computers in rugged developing environments, to the way information flows in these environments, and an understanding of the people who need and use the information – these are assets unique to him.
But it is important to see exactly how this knowledge helps him. He has the same idea you do after the first paragraph. His knowledge lets him turn the idea into action. Ideas are cheap and plentiful. Action creates opportunities. Which is exactly what Meyer has done. Together with three co-founders, Meyer formed Voxiva in March 2001. The mission was nothing more than to create a business which uses technology to deliver better, less expensive and more widely available health care. And the action – the important part – is to distill simple elements of the health care delivery process into SMS messages. Whether collecting data on the spread of communicable disease or stepping pregnant mothers through the preparations for childbirth, Voxiva turns a cheap cellular handset into a readily available doctor. Anywhere. Actually, pretty much everywhere:
Peru. The first deployment in 2002, in the sparsely populated Andean foothills, showed that Voxiva could make contagious disease information, previously updated on paper once a month, instantly available, and reduce costs by 40% at the same time.
Iraq.In the spring of 2003, Voxiva won a $1.3-million contract to deliver a system for monitoring the spread of disease across the country as the population recovered from war.
Rwanda.In spring of 2004, the firm focused its attentions on HIV/AIDS, deploying an information system across the country. The initiative was so successful it led to expansion in South Africa, Nigeria, Madagascar and Uganda, and garnered support from Columbia University.
India. On February 1, 2004 Voxiva launched operations in India with an initiative to monitor the spread of Japanese encephalitis in the country. The initiative was so compelling that it drew Madhu Krishna from her position directing the Bill & Melinda Gates Child Vaccine Program in India to join the startup.
United States. Emerging and war torn economies are not the only beneficiaries from better, cheaper and more available health care. Voxiva’s Text4baby, the largest mobile health service in the US, provides information to over 150,000 mothers a week, and just launched in Russia.
Mexico. Care4life is Voxiva’s mobile-enabled diabetes education and management service. Initially developed in partnership with Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud, it is now being launched in the US.
So now you are wondering – do you have to be Paul Meyer to achieve this kind of impact? The answer is no, but there are at least two things to learn from him. Anyone could have undertaken what Voxiva set out to do 10 years ago. And the first take-away is the importance of action. The second is less obvious. Which is how dependent action and outcome is on the person who takes it. Someone with experience in a big pharmaceutical company might have taken action with corporate partners. Someone more social might have enabled peer-to-peer support instead of information delivery and data capture. What would you have done?
Publication: British Airways Business Life
Crazy Quilt (Partnerships)
Pilot-in-the-Plane (Control vs. Predict)