Positive Disruption: From an 1854 water pump to today



In 1854, John Snow disrupted a London neighborhood where a cholera outbreak had emerged, much to the dismay of many neighbors. After mapping recent cholera cases, he saw they had clustered around the Broad Street pump. His solution wasn’t to post flyers about his discovery to try to convince the residents to stop drinking the water (which he suspected was the cause of the outbreak). Instead, he simply removed the handle from the pump. No handle, no water, and, eventually, marked reductions in cholera cases.

Undoubtedly, some residents were upset to have their convenient local water supply temporarily dismantled and thought he was a bit strange for taking that action. Ultimately, he improved the health of that community and made a landmark contribution to the field of epidemiology.

Like our namesake, JSI staff constantly challenge ourselves to find unconventional solutions, design game-changing systems, and support visionary ideas to promote and improve health around the world. We believe that a sure way to stimulate fresh thinking—in the field of global health and beyond—is learning about how people in other fields tackle development challenges in their backyards and internationally.

JSI has learned that innovation requires iteration. The global health landscape is riddled with examples of positive disruption, often sparked by individuals in a community who identify a problem, see an opportunity, and implement a creative solution.

In Tanzania, stocks of drugs were traditionally tracked and managed using a paper-based system. By implementing a mobile platform—ILS Gateway—for managing stock levels, health facility workers can simply send a text message to report the quantities of drugs they have; managers can view stock status on the web in real time and make informed decision to distribute drugs where they are needed most. The Innovations for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health project solicited ideas and solutions from community members themselves to find creative, innovative solutions to common health and development challenges. Four of those innovations have been implemented, and data from those projects has informed the development of five new activities. In both cases, new programs improved because feedback was incorporated; iterations are healthy and good.

Innovation also requires change. Positive disruption in the world of global health and development will shift away from some current contracts models, and will require creativity and flexibility on the part of each individual and each organization working in this space. Looking forward, disruption and fresh ideas will pave the road to progress. While disruption is typically unwelcome and brings a connotation of conflict, chaos, and potential danger, it can also be a catalyst for change, challenging assumptions and exposing new possibilities.

The 2013 TEDxChange global broadcast aims to “shed a unique light on difficult issues, giving fresh urgency and perspective to the challenges of our global community.”  To learn about examples of positive disruption from around the world, tune in to the global broadcast on Wednesday, April 3rd, or join a TEDxChange satellite event in your community. JSI is excited to co-host the TEDxDupontCircle event on April 5th, featuring presentations from the global broadcast, local speakers, and opportunities for interaction and engagement for participants to explore the question of “what is positive disruption?”

Visit the TEDxDupontCircle event website for more details and tickets.

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