2015 is a big year. It marks the beginning of a new 15-year global agenda, and finally (hopefully) a binding agreement on climate. This month, the United Nations’ adoption of the new agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, will determine the health and well-being of millions of children and their families for decades to come. Years in the making, many agree they are the most ambitious goals yet, aimed at putting the world on track to end preventable deaths forever.   

In anticipation of the clock starting on this bold new plan for the world, attention is shifting from what the goals are to how we’re going to achieve and pay for them.

For those of us working in global health, this is the moment when we pause to celebrate the remarkable strides we’ve made—such as ensuring that millions more children live to see their fifth birthday—and regroup to tackle continuing challenges, including preventing the deaths of 6 million children who still perish each year, mostly from preventable causes.

To make good on these global promises, innovation will be crucial. In particular, we need health innovations that make solutions as affordable and accessible as they are safe and effective.

One good example is the expansion of family planning options, which we know empowers girls and women, reduces maternal health risks, and has positive ripple effects on the economic well-being of entire communities, even countries. Yet more than 200 million women don’t have access to the family planning option that’s right for them. A recent innovation makes a three-month, injectable contraception more accessible—particularly for poor women living in remote areas—by packaging it in an easy-to-administer, prefilled injection device.

Innovations like these have the capacity to change the world and have led people like Bill and Melinda Gates to place a bet that by 2030, the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster and more dramatically than at any other time in history.  

In the coming years, we’ll also need a sea change in how we choose and finance innovations. As the economies of low- to middle-income countries grow and graduate from aid, those countries will need to decide which innovations to introduce, based on which have the greatest potential to impact health and what they can afford with domestic resources. We also expect private funding from social impact investors, philanthropists, and others to play a larger role in financing innovations, alongside traditional donors like the US and UK governments. Increasingly, as this complex mix of decision-makers and investors confront today’s siloed approach to global health funding, they will need new tools to find and accelerate game-changing solutions.

But tantalizing possibilities occur when we break down the silos that separate sectors, borders, and disciplines, and align our collective expertise and resources. To that end, our organization set out this year to engage an independent group of innovators, entrepreneurs, and health experts to identify and evaluate promising innovations to transform global health over the next 15 years.

Several important strategies for harnessing the power of innovation to save and improve lives emerged from this collaborative effort, called Innovation Countdown 2030 (IC2030). These strategies have relevance for anyone looking to help achieve the next set of global goals, whether in health, education, energy, climate, or other areas: 

  1. Tap and support innovation wherever it occurs. World-class innovation is happening across the globe, and we’ve never been better-positioned to find and amplify smart ideas, regardless of where they come from. The IC2030 initiative—a new platform to identify, evaluate, and showcase high-impact global health technologies and interventions—crowdsourced hundreds of compelling ideas for our inaugural report and highlighted many of them for potential investors using new visualization technology. IC2030 is part of a rising interest in assessing and prioritizing innovative solutions that can deliver the greatest impact in health and other sectors, including Saving Lives at Birth and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Institute for Globally Transformative Technologies.
  2. Assess and advance innovations that deliver the most value for the money, and democratize access to sophisticated evaluation. Finding promising innovations is only part of the solution. A clear and rigorous framework to analyze innovation and gauge the best value for money will help low- and middle-income countries, as well as innovation investors, more accurately assess social and financial returns. Others are tackling this issue: The new global partnership platform Convergence is bringing together public and private investors to finance investments in emerging and frontier markets, and the UN Every Woman Every Child’s nascent Innovation Marketplace is looking to accelerate and scale more health innovations for the world’s poorest women and children.
  3. Develop new financing mechanisms for innovation. We must leverage and coordinate new sources of funding—including social impact investors, country governments, and venture capitalists—if we are to ensure investments are made to bring ideas all the way to the market. For global health, blended finance—strategic mixing of public, private, and social impact sources—will include funds like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund; and the World Bank’s new Global Financing Facility, which can increase the certainty that funds will be readily available to purchase high-priority innovations when countries demand them.

By creating new channels for collaboration, new strategies for investment, and a coordinated approach to ensure the greatest value for money, we can accelerate the innovation cycle, developing and scaling up the most promising solutions to reach the millions of people still waiting to share in the gains of progress.

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