Donors and NGOs around the world are investing in technologies that promise to make vaccines available to children everywhere. Many of these innovations took center stage at last week’s TechNet Conference, reflecting the enthusiasm to try something new. But maybe what we need is not necessarily something new – just something different.
Not just new ideas – old ideas applied in new contexts.
Many problems the supply chain community is trying to solve haven’t changed much in 30 years: how do we get vaccines from point A to point B? How do we keep them in the right temperature range? How do we create accurate forecasts? New technologies have shown incredible promise. Nexleaf monitors vaccine temperatures with ColdTrace devices even during transport. The BID Initiative champions appropriate technology in data for decision-making. LLamasoft improves the design of supply chains using modeling software. These innovations have the potential to disrupt the status quo – to leapfrog outdated systems and implement cutting-edge health delivery.
Not every innovation needs to be awe-inspiring. Sometimes the best solutions are the most humble, old ideas applied in new ways. Success is reliant on people and systems, so we must ensure health workers have the right training and that existing processes can adapt to evolving needs. We must ensure new solutions fit the context by considering the infrastructure and the political will to change. We must reinforce the culture of data use. Innovation does not require new technology; it requires thinking differently.
We must evolve.
Unlike many of the fundamental problems we face in supply chains, the context of our work has changed dramatically. Vaccines have been proven as one of the world’s best investments in health. New vaccines are protecting children from additional diseases. Health systems have grown more complex. Expectations have increased. Our innovations must align with this new reality.
The context of our work has changed dramatically.
The TechNet Conference, and specifically supply chain veteran John Lloyd, reminded all of us to question existing dogma. We take for granted the basic assumptions of vaccine delivery: the 30-day resupply cycle, the siloed supply chains. These assumptions derive from a context that no longer exists. Our solutions should address the problems we are facing today without the limitations we faced 30 years ago. When existing standards and policies become a barrier to progress, we should question them. We should understand the why behind our frameworks and be curious about their relevance. New thinking – different thinking – is needed universally, from the last mile of vaccine delivery to our globally-held assumptions.
Progress does not exist in isolation. Collaboration among a wide range of partners is the only possible chance we have to reach every child. Bringing in new voices and perspectives will only strengthen this community. New voices will naturally encourage new thinking and can make challenging dogma easier. Academics, the private sector, and governments will ask new questions and take different approaches. Even the most unlikely of alliances can provide new ways to bridge gaps and remove barriers. Taking the time to learn from each other is the foundation of success.
Events like the TechNet Conference provide a platform for learning and sharing. Every organization, company, and individual had something to contribute – a unique perspective or lesson learned. The conversation does not stop there – as Maeve Magner said “All of us are going to be innovators. All of us are going to learn from others here. Let’s be curious together.”