Dubbed ‘Back to the Future Day’, October 21st 2015 was the date Marty McFly travelled from 1985 to intervene in the fate of his future children. Bob Zemeckis, in his science-fiction classic, had to imagine in 1985 what a future 30 years down the track might look like. He made some very prescient predictions.
Remembering the internet was yet to be invented in 1985, the characters in the film made video calls on giant flat screen TVs, there were drones swarming around in the street, and kids using interactive eyewear. Biff pays for his taxi using his thumbprint and Doc resorts to gene therapy to arrest and reverse the process of ageing.
‘Back to the Future Day’ serves as a reminder that even in my own lifetime, that many things that seemed like fantasy 30 years ago are now broadly a reality. Science has continued to push the boundaries of innovation in all aspects of our lives and change is accelerating at pace.
One of the most striking of the changes in our modern world is the breaking down of boundaries and the opening up of our world. The internet, cheap airline travel and mass containerisation have led to an unprecedented shift across borders of goods, people, capital, services, information and ideas that have literally re-made our modern world. The world is starting to feel very small. The power of this connectivity has led to transformational shifts and interactions across many domains in our global society.
Let’s just take a moment to think of some examples of these interactions that have improved the health and wellbeing of people around the world.
Innovations in gene technology have increased our capacity to feed a growing number of people on the planet as modified crops have shifted agricultural production to become more drought resistant and more nutritious.
Innovations in communications technology has put a device in the pocket of almost everyone on the planet. Highlanders in PNG use GSM phones to do their banking. Health information about antenatal care and chronic disease management is being delivered in new ways in remote places.
Innovations in behavioural science and economics has provided a more nuanced understanding of human decision making and the importance of context and mental heuristics. This is being used in public health to promote healthier choice architecture to deal with the epidemic of non-infectious disease.
You see here a pattern emerging, a pattern of interconnections. Our world is experiencing transformational shifts and profound integration where new developments in one part of the globe quickly spread to every corner. Think of the pre-reel to a TED talk, the single drop that activates a galaxy of networks and interconnections.
Many of these changes have been shaped by a powerful and progressive force: globalisation. On average, globalisation has led to increased global prosperity, raised living standards, better health and wellbeing and longer life expectancy.
But the story of globalisation has two sides. While the benefits have been astonishing they have chiefly accrued to a powerful elite. The harms have mainly been thrust upon the already marginalised and vulnerable, most strikingly the world’s indigenous peoples. The story of globalisation is of unimagined opportunity for increased prosperity, social inclusion, health and wellbeing placing the eradication of poverty and preventable disease within our reach. But it’s also the story of a global transfer of risks and complex interdependencies.
“We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it.” —President Obama
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) September 23, 2014
Look no further than climate change to see the two sides of this coin. In 2009, the Lancet published a commission on climate and health describing climate change as the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century” citing increased floods, famines, fires, malnutrition, outdoor air pollution, mass displacement and rising inequality.
But just this year the Lancet published an update and flipped the coin now describing tackling climate change as the “greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century” – not just mitigating these risks but also citing the health co-benefits of integrating our transport systems and decentralising our energy networks. There is no greater example of a complex interconnected global health issue than climate change.
How might we better prepare to face these complex interconnected global health challenges? My answer to that is to bring together an interdisciplinary community of global health innovators with the tools to systematically shape an uncertain future.
Global health is too important to be left to the doctors. We need engineers, political scientists, lawyers, geographers, anthropologists, economists, philosophers and designers. It is only when we work together across disciplines that we can find the connections that lead to disruptive breakthroughs. As Marcel Proust said, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes”.
At Global Ideas, we believe that better health is a building block for a fully flourishing human life. What unites us is our passion to achieve better health for all the world’s peoples, to create the building blocks for healthier lives and communities and to work especially hard on improving the health of the most marginalised and vulnerable, to level the distribution of globalisation’s benefits and harms. We do this as responsible global citizens in our world.
To break down silos we’ve designed our programs around personas rather than professions. We came up with five models of change that we might bring to bear on shaping the global health determinants and solutions of the next century. They’re certainly not mutually exclusive nor collectively exhaustive. But we felt if we lined up the range of potential responses to global health challenges, that they naturally fall into about five categories.
Our personas are therefore archetypes that share a worldview about their model of influence; the way each persona thinks about the way the world works and about how they might go about shaping it.
Leading the pack is Insha the Innovator. She is constantly thinking about new discoveries at the cutting edge of science and technology. She is working to create the new technologies, products, services and knowledge required to advance global health and the systems in which innovation thrives.
Taking these innovations to market is Enterprising Erin. She’s an entrepreneur meeting human needs by organising production, distribution and sales networks for products and services that improve the human condition. These enterprises may be nonprofit or for profit, but always using profit to achieve social and environmental objectives. She uses markets in the service of people and planet, not the other way around.
Carlos the Campaigner is creating the social movements that put pressure on decision makers in government and business by mobilising community opinion and action. He’s working with his networks to create the space for higher level political action by shifting grassroots public opinion and arguing the case for change. He is an advocate, organiser and political activist.
Grassroots Greg sees local action leading to global effects. He believes in creating strong community connections and really understanding local systems. He spends a lot of time living and working with vulnerable communities and creates sustainable partnerships. Through these connections he creates networks to bridge finance, skills and knowledge.
And finally Policy Poh sees Global action leading to local effects. She believes in getting the structures and frameworks right. She’s active in International institutions and decision making bodies to shape public policy, regulation, treaties and ambitious goals. She’s in the business of governance to create priorities, norms and global public knowledge goods. In other words, making sure the rules of the game are set to create better health for all.
Together we think the five personas pretty well encompass the range of potential responses to the global health challenges we face in the 21st century. We need one and all of them to be working together to reimagine global health, to be shaping the systems that allow us to lead happy, healthy, productive lives as members of our families and communities. To fully realise our global humanity.