March 23, 2015; The Australian

An Australian government initiative branded as the InnovationXchange will broker partnerships between business, civil society, philanthropy, and academia in order to tackle problems in developing countries in the Australian region.

The InnovationXchange is said to draw on the model for developing innovation in Silicon Valley technology startups. It will be licensed to embrace more financial risk than a normal government bureaucracy in trying new solutions.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launched the InnovationXchange’s first US$100 million project on March 23rd, saying it was a sign of a push for her department to be more creative, entrepreneurial, and innovative in its design and delivery of Australia’s aid program.

The first InnovationXchange program is a joint initiative with Bloomberg Philanthropies, which will add US$85 million to the Australian government’s AUS$20 million to help 20 countries in Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and Latin America improve their basic health records. The partners believe the lack of records such as the number of births and the causes of deaths is a key, structural impediment to improving health outcomes.

In a videoed message for the launch, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ founder, Michael Bloomberg, says:

“I often say ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ In many parts of the world, governments and international organizations have been flying blind when it comes to how to allocate their health resources because they just don’t have good data. More than 65 percent of deaths worldwide, or about 35 million deaths annually, go undocumented. Working together, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Australian government are leading an effort to help governments collect better health data, and that will help take steps to prevent deaths and lead to better, longer lives.”

In the first phase of this initiative, called Data for Health, the University of Melbourne has been granted a $10 million philanthropic grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to provide the principle technical guidance in establishing the Data for Health initiative.

Alan Lopez, Laureate Professor at the School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, will lead a team of experts in collecting and evaluating birth and death data in developing countries, with the goal of establishing a comprehensive ‘roadmap’ to better monitor global health outcomes.

Lopez says, “Once priority health issues and challenges are identified based on the broad and comparative understanding that these data can offer, the most effective policies and programs can be developed.”

Other partners involved in the Data for Health project are the CDC Foundation, Union North America, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the World Health Organization.

The InnovationXchange will be advised by an international reference group of private-sector figures and leaders from relevant civil society organizations. It will meet twice yearly and be chaired by Ms. Bishop and its members include Mr. Bloomberg.

Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, Australia’s largest international aid charity, was quoted in ProBono News saying:

“The Foreign Minister’s innovation hub is an important new development.

“It is critical that Australia’s contribution to the world through our aid program makes the most of new technologies, and is modern and forward-thinking.

“While the amount of money being offered for the start-up of this concept is not huge, it is large enough to generate outcomes in its initial phase, especially when supplemented with contributions from civil society and the private sector. The question will be, how can we fund the scaling up of the winning ideas?”

Other questions that are sure to arise are, “To what extent is this initiative merely politics and public relations?” and “When can we expect to learn some of its real heath-related outcomes in these 20 countries?”—John Godfrey