New UW and Gates Foundation Partnership Allows Foster MBAs and Faculty to Help Save Lives
Say you need to pick up a prescription for antibiotics to treat an infected thumb. You simply drive to your local pharmacy, right?
What if you were in Bangladesh or Papua New Guinea? The solution is not as straightforward in the developing world. Health care may be delivered in far-flung government facilities, clinics operated by non-profit groups, tiny mom-and-pop shops, or even by scrappy kids peddling unregulated medications on the street.
Guy Stallworthy, a senior program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, thinks there is a better way.
“We don’t want to be funding health care, but rather catalyzing innovation in the delivery of health care,” says Stallworthy. “We need to distinguish between making incremental improvements and coming up with a transformative model.”
To develop the tools that will help his team accomplish this goal, he might have hired a consulting firm. Instead, he reached out to a bright new partnership between the Gates Foundation and the University of Washington. Graduate students and faculty from the Foster School and the Department of Global Health are contributing to a variety of projects in support of the foundation’s work in the discovery, development, delivery and advocacy of global health.
Saara Romu (MBA 2007), a senior project officer at the Gates Foundation, founded the partnership and serves as the organization’s hub for UW-bound project requests in global health, development and policy/advocacy.
What she's devised is a local, specialized alternative to consulting for the foundation. UW faculty get to apply their expertise to global challenges. And the students get a golden opportunity.
“A big piece of this collaboration is offering students the chance to work on the most pressing issues in global health,” Romu says.
Adds Martha Choe, chief administrative officer of the Gates Foundation: “The partnership is valuable not only because it provides graduate students and faculty the opportunity to engage in research projects that support the foundation’s strategic program goals, but also because it contributes to the training of the next generation of global leaders.”
The Foster School partnership began with a pair of projects in the fall of 2011. The test pilots, so to speak, were MBA student Cynthia Miller, working under the guidance of Mark Hillier, an associate professor of quantitative methods, and Evening MBA student Eric Slagle, working with Ed Rice, an associate professor of finance and business economics.
Slagle and Rice created an exhaustive database of early stage vaccine R&D going on all over the world—the groundwork for the foundation’s efforts to spur development of effective vaccines for neglected diseases and populations.
Miller and Hillier projected the costs of developing different “vector controls” that prevent the spread of malaria, created strategies for specific countries where the disease is a particular threat, and then modeled the probabilities of success for various vaccine candidates.
The initial consulting projects were an unqualified success.
“The caliber and capacity of the UW has not ceased to impress the programmatic teams at the foundation,” Romu says. “There is a depth of accessible expertise that consulting firms can’t necessarily provide.”
“The Gates Foundation is realizing that the UW has a unique capacity to meet their needs,” adds Kirsten Aoyama, director of the UW Global Business Center, which manages the Foster School’s contracts with the foundation.
It quickly became clear that the Foster School and Department of Global Health should be collaborating.
“We started to look at how we might work together instead of just shunting projects to one group or another,” says Lisa Manhart, an associate professor of epidemiology who mentors the student consultants from the Department of Global Health.
In January, MBAs Joelle Bassily and Katie Collier beat out 17 Foster candidates for the opportunity to work with six global health students on a variety of projects. Their mentor is Mark Forehand, associate professor of marketing.
Bassily contributed to a massive strategy project of the Gates Foundation’s pneumonia team, specifically reporting on the extent that the costs of manufacturing, importing and distributing medications act as a barrier to effective interventions.
Collier delivered market and cost analyses of different technologies that measure micronutrient deficiencies in a given population.
A joint MBA/MPA student at the Foster and Evans Schools with a background in environmental and economic development, Collier was born to collaborate. She sees the multidisciplinary approach to global health as both essential and challenging. “MBAs are always driving forward on a timeline, racing toward conclusions. Scientists, on the other hand, are more focused on the process and the details,” she says. “There’s a tension between the two approaches that’s really healthy for both sides.”
She calls the work energizing: “I love that my work makes an actual impact.”
Hillier, an expert in quantitative methods and operations management, concurs. “It’s exciting to work on something that’s so important,” he says. “The research I do at the Foster School is important, but not to the magnitude of saving lives.”