Combining Science, Innovation and Philanthropy to Address Pressing Challenges

Dr Maximilian Martin

By Dr Maximilian Martin, Global Head of Philanthropy at Lombard Odier.

As part of the reconfiguration of the global economy in what is commonly referred to as the “fourth industrial revolution”, science and technology have enabled many new forms and patterns of value creation. Science, the underlying force behind the fourth industrial revolution, has also proved to be a catalytic enabler in how philanthropists can respond to age-old socioeconomic challenges with new solutions and achieve a greater impact.

New Ways of Giving Reshape Access to Capital and Ideas

Advances in technology are having the most profound impact on almost every aspect of human life, and this includes philanthropy. In terms of accessing capital, technology has already started changing the way philanthropic organisations raise funds. The introduction of crowdfunding (a relatively new concept in South Africa) platforms and campaigns allows a compartmentalisation of philanthropy and democratises access to capital. Next to raising additional capital, such technology-driven innovation in resource mobilisation also creates visibility for new solution models. It further fosters a start-up, problem-solving mentality that thinks in terms of minimum viable products to get started rather than waiting for the grand solution. While there are currently no African based philanthropic crowdfunding platforms yet, this could be a very effective mechanism to channel philanthropic capital to African causes.

The use of smartphones and other mobile devices is also offering another tool to help direct further philanthropic capital to African socio-economic challenges by enabling donations to be made in real time, conveniently. Access to such convenient platforms, especially in Africa, is an important enabler to increase the amount of philanthropic capital available to address the continent’s socio-economic challenges.

The Science of Saving Lives

Technology is a tool, but science is what pushes out the frontier in terms of what is possible. Responsible for one in eight deaths, globally, cancer is a good example as the larger percentage of lives lost is concentrated in middle income countries. The starting point for care in these regions is sobering: the reported efficacy of treatment is as low as 25% across all cancer types. Over 200 cancer types render the disease complex to identify and difficult to treat and each type of cancer requires unique diagnosis and treatment.

However, encouragingly, due to the power of science, the prospect of converting cancer from a terminal disease to a chronic disease is finally moving into sight. The advent of immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors and immune stimulators, targeted therapies with antibodies and radiopharmaceuticals, cancer vaccines, cell therapies, and oncolytic viruses would have been considered as science fiction only two decades ago.

Now we need to be similarly ambitious about the areas where we still need the step-change such as pancreatic cancer, or diagnostics and screening. Here, philanthropy is a considerable contributor to the solution. Philanthropy can play the key role of filling the void left by governments and markets. The single most effective and cheapest way to improve the chance of survival is early diagnosis. Yet when diagnosed, a patient in a developing nation is likely to suffer from the advanced disease due to the lack of diagnostics, lack of healthcare professionals – including surgeons – and poor health infrastructure. Cultural frameworks also need to be factored in. For example, the African Union reports that Somalia has one of the lowest levels of awareness for breast cancer on the continent. Culturally, the disease – which attacks vital but private parts of the female body – is treated in shame. Moreover, compounding the challenge is the fact that most oncologists in Somalia are male. Due to the stigma and lack of female oncologists, those affected often shy away from seeking medical help until the breast cancer becomes so advanced that it starts to give off obvious physical signs. By then it is often too late.

Building capacity and a platform for exchange in the Global South is a job best done by non-profit organisations, and they need philanthropic support to do so effectively. For example, the Union of International Cancer Control’s (UICC) core vocation is to integrate cancer control into the world health and development agenda. UICC does so by working with its 1100 members: the world’s major cancer societies, ministries of health, research institutes and patient groups. Next to member contributions, it is philanthropic funding that enables the organisation to constantly build capacity by offering new services to its members and act as effective advocates. To bring these insights to the donor community, Lombard Odier recently collaborated with UICC to release a free, new edition of the Lombard Odier Donor’s Guide to Cancer.

Enabling Better Philanthropy through Big Data

Another key feature of the fourth industrial revolution is the wide spread availability of data. The world is currently producing 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day (that is the equivalent of 2.5 million terabytes)[i]. Just consider the opportunities to target funding for social impact that effectively mining this vast amount of data could make possible. For instance, philanthropists could target traditional grant funding towards social data projects that would enable organisations to innovate and scale high-potential projects.

Progressive philanthropists could also give support to open data platforms to foster collaboration and division of labour. Such platforms provide transparency by showing who is funding what but also help identify gaps and opportunities, track progress and explore successes – all of which is improving the level of philanthropic contributions going to worthy causes. Another trend is encouraging data philanthropy, which entails the donation of datasets and pro bono data analysis expertise to philanthropic and non-profit organisations in the private sector. This provides philanthropic organisations with skills that are otherwise not available to them. In short, getting the most out of big data would position philanthropy well for the future and make some previously inaccessible possibilities achievable.

All in all, the opportunities that are being presented through innovation, leveraging the power of emergent science and harnessing the enormous potential of big data, are tremendous. Being in a position to explore some of the many possibilities that are enabled by science, innovation and big data is accelerating the tackling of socioeconomic challenges driving a fair, healthy and sustainable future for all

 

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/05/21/how-much-data-do-we-create-every-day-the-mind-blowing-stats-everyone-should-read/#2863d6e160ba

 

 



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