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Achieving Sustainable Impact at Scale

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I was privileged to participate in the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town this month, along with the rest of the PSI (Population Services International) team. More than 800 leaders of business, government, civil society and the NGO world were in attendance, to talk specifically about meeting Africa's enduring challenges in our current environment of financial crisis. The mood was sobering, though it's hard for this set of success-oriented people and institutions not to be optimistic about the future.

One of the most potent panel discussions revolved around the "Girl Effect" -- a simple concept that underscores a profound truth: economic growth and social advancement are being agonizingly held back everywhere, particularly in the developing world. This is because we continue to undervalue half of our human capital: the female half. Since many, if not most, of the clients and customers of PSI's family planning, HIV-prevention, safe drinking water, child survival and malaria programs around the world are women, this discussion really resonated with me.

PSI was able to invite many of the World Economic Forum participants to see some of our activities on the ground in South Africa in the Khayelitsha Township outside of Cape Town. There, the Society for Family Health (PSI's South African affiliate) demonstrated our mobile voluntary HIV counseling and testing model, as well as some of the hard work our peer educators do around HIV-prevention messages. The personal testimonials from young girls, victims of sexual violence and HIV, were among the most moving moments during this journey.

Any World Economic Forum meeting overflows with good, even brilliant ideas about how to tackle the world's current challenges. This Cape Town meeting was no different. What I hope we brought to the table was a focus on how we should take good, great and brilliant ideas from concepts to large-scale sustained implementation and impact.

Invited to present at a panel on innovative health strategies, we reached back to something deceptively simple but also impressively effective in recent years: community-based malaria prevention and treatment in Rwanda. There, partners such as PSI, combined with incentivized community health workers and critically orchestrated by government leadership around a single national malaria plan, have brought Rwanda's malaria burden down by some 60% in five years. Hospital wards that once were full of sick and dying children under five are now empty. Rwanda leadership of this national effort was key. It's an inspirational story of how we can make a difference against a disease that has threatened the lives of young children particularly across Africa for centuries.

Sustained impact at scale. Our innovative thinking must all be designed to increase our ability to achieve it. I hope that has been among PSI's lasting contributions to this World Economic Forum meeting in Cape Town.