Guest Author

Dr. Vishwajeet KumarDr. Vishwajeet Kumar is the founder and CEO of Community Empowerment Lab (CEL). CEL is a community-centric, innovation-led, data-driven and impact-focused organization. He is one of our innovators in the Saving Brains program. Dr. Kumar joined the Global Health Innovation Round Table, organized by Grand Challenges Canada, during the State Visit to India of Governor General David Johnston.

I had the honour of meeting His Excellency David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, at an innovation round table hosted by Grand Challenges Canada during his visit to India.

At the round table, I shared the story of how we worked together with the rural community of Shivgarh in north India, in shaping newborn care behaviours by marrying science with local wisdom. I am often asked the secret of how we were able to reduce the neonatal mortality rate in this community of 100,000, by more than half. One can get lost in the details and the myriad aspects of this social experiment, but the essence found resonance in His Excellency’s thoughts.

Global Health Innovation Round Table

As public health experts driven by a missionary zeal to reduce those ‘numbers’ and our collective sense of shame, we often lose sight of the love that binds a mother with her baby and how much the loss of that one baby means to that family. Only when we recognize and respect that love – and truly believe that the commitment of the mother and the family to the well being of their baby can only be far greater than ours – it is only then that true exchange, innovation and empowerment can happen.

His Excellency’s message to us was simple. While it is important to publish these findings in the Lancets of the world, it is equally essential to share these stories globally and connect with people’s hearts. For science is but a means for the greater good, and these stories of love and triumph can inspire and elevate an entire generation and help us connect with each other as human beings, without the labels of ‘rich’ or ‘poor’. True innovation lies at the intersection of diversity, and is fostered by an ecosystem that enables the meeting and mating of diverse ideas and cultures. Inspiring words from a global leader.

Our relationship with Grand Challenges Canada began in the summer of 2012 and what a journey it has been! Despite being a new organization with a $0 turnover, Grand Challenges Canada gave us a grant of close to $1 million as part of its Saving Brains challenge, purely on the strength of the idea and the potential of the team. Throughout this period, they have provided all the support, driven accountability, fostered a community of innovators who meet on a global platform to share ideas and, importantly, engaged us with utmost respect. This ecosystem has given us the space and spirit to innovate new models for assessment of human capital in resource-poor settings. Our story is really a testimony to Grand Challenges Canada’s commitment to innovation.
Community-Based Essential Newborn Care, India

With all the humility that is the hallmark of a great leader, His Excellency thanked the innovators at the roundtable, adding that they would have innovated anyway – Grand Challenges Canada just happened to be there. With all the honesty of a humble innovator, I must disagree. In the 10 years of my tryst with global health, I have witnessed few organizations that truly embody their values and purpose in what they do and how they engage. Grand Challenges Canada is fostering a global climate of innovation for the greatest challenges that face humanity, firmly established in genuine respect for diversity and collaboration, and with love and empathy as a guiding force. Thank you, Grand Challenges Canada and the people of Canada, for being there!

We encourage you to post your questions and comments about this blog on our Facebook page Grand Challenges Canada and on Twitter @gchallenges. You can connect with the author on Facebook or Twitter @Community_Lab.