Social Capitalists: Profiles

Social Capitalists

By Alison Overholt

PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health)

Seattle, Washington

Founded: 1977
Field: Health care
Budget: $73.2 million

When Chris Elias describes what success looks like to him, he speaks as though he is willing the disparate parts of his organization--employees, chunks of plastic, silicon, brick, and data--to become a living, organic thing.

  • Entrepreneurship: A
  • Innovation: A+
  • Social Impact: A+
  • Aspiration: A-
  • Sustainability: A-

"Success means that we set clear goals and milestones for individual and company performance," he says. "It means we make plans and hold ourselves accountable to them. It means building, as much as is possible, a virtuous cycle of innovation leading to execution, producing results. Success is achieving the perfect entrepreneurial culture."

By Elias's measure--and nearly anyone else's--the success of Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) over the past 25-plus years has been stunning. The organization has broken ground in the global public-health arena by adapting existing medical tools to the financial and cultural realities of developing nations from Kenya to Cambodia, India to the Ukraine. Where easily adaptable solutions were lacking, PATH has simply invented new ones.

PATH has created such technologies as the SoloShot, a syringe that automatically disables after a single use, preventing accidental transmission of disease from needle-sharing. Now licensed and manufactured by Becton Dickinson, the SoloShot is packaged with every vaccine that the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations delivers to the 74 poorest countries in the world. A more recent invention (and descendant of the SoloShot) called the Uniject device is a prefilled, single-dosage syringe designed for easy use even by those with little or no medical training. Uniject will be used this year to immunize all 5 million newborns in Indonesia against hepatitis B.

The pantheon of PATH's innovations seems endless: There is the no-prescription, one-size-fits-most diaphragm and a newly designed female condom. There's the Ultra Rice product, fortified with vitamin A, iron, zinc, thiamine, and folic acid to meet nutritional needs in areas where rice is the primary food source. And there's the effort to circumvent what the public-health community calls the "cold chain"--the need for continuous refrigeration from a drug's origin to the point of delivery. Rather than creating cold chains in remote rural areas lacking refrigeration, PATH instead has developed stable, heat-resistant vaccines for diseases such as polio and hepatitis B.

But what sets PATH apart from other global health initiatives is not simply its mission or its capacity for creating new technologies. Even more impressive is its strategy for teaming up with private companies, bringing them into the solution. "We are bridging the gap between public and the private industrial sectors," says PATH technology vice president Michael Free. "We bring value to both the commercial side and the health arena. We can broker relationships, develop partnerships, and together effectively move technology forward."

Indeed, PATH is just as likely to work with U.S. Agency for International Development (on containing a tuberculosis outbreak in the Ukraine) as with international pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (on development of a pediatric malaria vaccine in Mozambique). Its partnerships with the private sector have resulted in production and distribution of inexpensive, rapid-result HIV testing kits by local companies in India, Argentina, and Indonesia, and of a similar testing kit for hepatitis B in both India and Indonesia.

These kits capture the beauty of PATH's approach. Where people travel hours--sometimes days--to see a doctor, they don't have the option to return two weeks later for test results. In such places, there are rarely even labs to process the test results. The answer: a test that gives on-the-spot results. For PATH, the magic lies not just in the ingenuity of the science, but in the simplicity of the solution.


Dr. Christopher J. Elias, President

Dr. Christopher J. Elias was named president of PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) in 2000, after a six-month international search for the organization's top position. At the time, Elias was posted in Bangkok, Thailand, as the senior associate and country representative of the Population Council, focusing on programs to address reproductive health and HIV/AIDS prevention. Elias holds an MD from Creighton University School of Medicine, in Omaha, Nebraska, as well as a master's of public health from the University of Washington. He currently holds two academic positions in addition to his role at PATH, at the University of Washington's School of Public Health and Community Medicine, and Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.


Learn more about the Fast Company Social Capitalist Fund.

Return to the Social Capitalist Awards directory.