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Social Capitalists: PATH

43 entrepreneurs who are changing the world
Social Capitalist 2007 Winner


Seattle, WA
Year founded: 1977
President: Christopher Elias

PATH: A Catalyst for Global Health

What if products and strategies for improving health in the developing world were designed expressly for the people who need them? The free-market concept of user-driven design is rarely applied to nonprofit causes, but it's been the foundation of PATH's approach to global health for the last 30 years.

Instead of tossing wealthy-world answers at problems unique to poor countries, PATH creates real solutions for permanent change, such as health "technologies" for remote villages, immunization programs built side by side with the governments administering them, and cultural projects sparking dialogue and social change in communities at risk of HIV.

A holistic approach

PATH works at every problem from two or three angles--rethinking and adapting technologies, improving health systems in poor countries, and inspiring people to make better health choices. For example, developing countries need to vaccinate safely children who live days from the nearest clinic. They need a technology that works and a system that can get it done.

In response, PATH invented the Uniject™ device, which is little more than a needle attached to a tiny plastic bubble and is so simple that village health workers with minimal training can use it. The needle has a one-way valve that prevents reuse and thus transmission of infections like HIV. PATH worked with the Indonesian government to build a sustainable immunization program that uses the new technology. Village midwives are now using Uniject to get vaccines to children in some of the world's farthest corners.

Partnering with the private sector for public good

In keeping with the organization's innovative business model, PATH licensed the rights to Uniject to a syringe manufacturer. In return, PATH secured a commitment from the company to produce large quantities of the device and make it available to public-sector buyers, such as UNICEF, at affordable prices. Six different medications are available in Uniject and millions such devices are distributed and used around the world to save lives.

PATH is also working with biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to support the development of vaccines for some of the world's most devastating but neglected diseases, such as malaria and meningitis. Many of the vaccine candidates PATH supports had been shelved; market forces alone weren't enough to spur research and development. With PATH's leadership, promising solutions get a second chance and so do communities trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease.

The essential role of individuals

With advances in medical and social sciences, the solutions to global health problems are at hand. PATH takes full advantage of resources available in both the public and private sectors to ensure today's solutions benefit people around the world.

Is there a role for individuals? Yes! Funding from individuals becomes innovation capital for PATH to create new prototypes and prove the viability of pilot programs. Funding from governments, foundations and corporations helps scale successful projects and concepts.