When we think of capital, financial capital is what often comes to mind although natural, human, intellectual, and digital capital are essential elements for societies, businesses, and economies. This year’s St. Gallen Symposium challenged leaders of today and tomorrow worldwide to look past financial capital and find purpose beyond profit.
Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Christina Kirk, shared her insights into innovative ways of applying technology for social good, and how we as tech companies have an ethical obligation to apply our technology for alternative use cases to help solve global challenges – including the global healthcare crisis.
Read her presentation here.
Good afternoon. My name is Christina Kirk, and I’m humbled to be here amongst such distinguished guests, discussing capital for purpose, which is a very important subject.
I’m the Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation at LEO Innovation Lab. We’re part of LEO Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, owned by the LEO Foundation. We were established to take on the global challenges impacting the future of healthcare – challenges that reach far beyond the ecosystem of traditional pharma. We’re building digital solutions to improve the lives of people living with chronic health conditions.
I’m not here to talk about my company, but I would like to shed some light on how we try to innovate for social good by applying our technology for alternative use cases to address global challenges.
I’m actually here because of Sally Becker and her mission to save children in war zones. Her organisation Road to Peace is working across the world to provide medical treatment for sick and injured children in areas of conflict.
She already has a network of paediatric specialists available in a WhatsApp group, ready to help. But the current setup is not structured and scalable.
This boy who was injured when an ISIS militant threw a grenade to him and shouted: ‘Catch!’ He lost his left arm, and his right arm is immobile due to scarring around the elbow joint. He was told there’s nothing that can be done to help him, but his case was uploaded to the specialists, and he was referred for scar release Z-plasty that enabled him to regain use of his arm. There are many examples I will free you from.
With a better and more secure digital solution, additional paediatric specialists could be added to the network, and more children could get help.
We as a company want to help scale their efforts. We want to scale what Sally has started – because we can!
We have an ethical obligation to share our technology
We as a company, as well as most of you, are sitting on life-changing technologies that are developed for targeted users and customers. If your service is digital, there might be a shorter distance to alteration and implementation compared to, let’s say, donating a pharmaceutical treatment that must be shipped and distributed. Going back further, developing a new pharmaceutical treatment can easily take 12-15 years.
Digital technologies can be implemented quickly, as the criteria for uptake simply requires the user to have a smartphone. In sub-saharan Africa, where smartphone ownership is at its lowest point in the world, there’s still an ownership of 33%.
They can also help achieve almost instantaneous global reach, potentially facilitating the capacity building and infrastructure support that many emerging economies are in need of.
If we broaden our thinking beyond our roadmap, we might be able to reach additional users and use our technology for alternative use cases.
We believe that we can make a difference beyond simply donating grants for charity by reusing and donating IP for purpose.
So the question is: Do we have an ethical obligation to share our technology with people who can benefit from it if it can be easily done?
For us the answer is yes!
Technology can improve access to healthcare
There is a healthcare crisis, and the WHO predicts a shortage of 13 million healthcare workers by 2035. We’re moving into a world where there aren’t enough doctors to treat us all – especially in remote areas.
At LEO Innovation Lab, our research in healthcare delivery has indicated that digital platforms can offer a direct route to addressing this issue. This is why we’re committed to building technology that can enable better access to healthcare, regardless of a person’s location and social background.
We’re building digital platforms to increase the capabilities of doctors globally in developed economies where we have a network and expertise.
With telehealth solutions and instant diagnosis, we can augment some of the work of doctors, and we can enable doctors to treat a higher volume of patients.
We can expand the capabilities of our healthcare system with technologies such as AI, so we don’t have to move into a phase of extreme fatigue from doctors.
At LEO Innovation Lab, we recently developed a platform that can diagnose skin conditions from a smartphone to empower primary care doctors.
Taking psoriasis as an example, we’re capable of diagnosing to an accuracy of 91%, which is on par with experienced dermatologists. On average, general practitioners diagnose skin conditions with an accuracy of 50%.
A similar technology is also available directly to patients to stay on top of their skin disease with progression monitoring.
By adding these technologies in telehealth platforms, we can ensure access to doctors, and we can build the necessary capacity in remote areas where the help isn’t present.
Digital platform to help children in conflict and disaster zones
Let me describe another problem.
1 in 10 children globally are affected by armed conflicts. The number of children living in areas affected by conflicts is estimated to be as high as 246 million. Over the past several decades, schools, health facilities, and health workers have become direct targets, increasing the impact of war on children.
The destruction of medical and public health infrastructures makes it difficult to treat children in areas of conflict and disaster.
In conflict, you see many cases of children becoming separated from their families, and they’re more vulnerable to infections, psychological trauma, and exploitation.
Many more children are physically harmed than killed; however, not enough resources are directed to provide adequate care for these children by professionals with expertise in paediatric emergency medicine.
Local physicians tend to flee areas of instability so children are sometimes left to die simply because those tending to them have little or no experience treating children. The children are not getting the help they need.
We were connected with Sally and her organisation Road to Peace and agreed to help the organisation shape and launch the global telehealth initiative Save A Child by sharing our experience and know-how within telehealth and donating resources and technology.
We saw how the tech, we’re building to help people with chronic skin conditions, could be applied to helping children in areas affected by war and disaster around the world. And we want to save more children’s lives.
Save A Child is a digital platform that enables on-ground medical staff to correspond directly with a global network of voluntary paediatricians and paediatric specialists ready to assist remotely. On-ground staff can upload a case, including images, and then correspond with the first available specialist to receive treatment advice to better diagnose and/or care for the patient. As a result, more lives will be saved.
This initiative will bridge the gap that clearly exists in paediatric emergency care and give the children the treatment they deserve.
At LEO Innovation Lab, we have committed to provide access to IT infrastructure which, in turn, will accelerate the development of the solution, and we’re helping the organisation attract funding to scale the network and digital solution to build the world’s largest network of paediatric specialists.
Practically, we’ve donated a full-time resource to get the project up and running by supporting the organisation and transferring the telehealth know-how we have from building similar platforms. When we have attracted the necessary funding, the platform will be built with already done technical components, such as communication facilitation, imaging technology, and automated diagnosis assistance – all supported by our existing infrastructure with a reliable backend that is HIPPA & GDPR compliant. These aspects are very valuable for a small organisation as details around compliance can be difficult for small teams to navigate.
Do you have technology that can benefit others?
Even if there isn’t a direct link from your service to an alternative use case, consider if it can be used to bridge a gap. Even providing know-how instead of capital can in many ways bring initiatives closer towards the goal and ensure impact.
With our know-how, we can help, and as a corporate we need to serve our societal function beyond having a financial target as the primary goal. As the topic outline for this year’s theme says, this shift requires bold decisions and commitments, and taxation and investment regimes need to be aligned to foster efficient use of public and private capital to achieve lasting change to tackle global challenges in healthcare.
We have an obligation to use the technology, we’re sitting on, if the distance toward the goal is simple and not in competition to the business.
I believe we have moved from a digital era to a democratised era, and if your technology and IP can make a positive impact, you should consider donating it.
Let me ask you: Do you have technology within your organisation that can benefit others, and that can be donated and transferred easily?
By Christina Kirk, Director of Entrepreneurship & Innovation
St. Gallen Symposium: Capital for Purpose
The St. Gallen Symposium is an annual conference taking place at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It is one of the world’s leading initiatives for intergenerational debates on economic, political, and social developments.