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From Los Angeles to Cape Town, Lessons Learned at the Pioneers of Health Exchange

In 2011 I launched a project aimed simply at building stronger neighbourhoods in South Africa, starting in Cape Town. My experience is that implementing any ambitious project requires acute focus and stamina – with little time to step back from the canvas to study the gains and output derived. It certainly doesn’t provide the luxury of organized events to compare notes with like-minded social entrepreneurs.

Share your work not just online, but globally. Meet with people face to face.

The opportunity to have people in similar positions evaluate your work, while sharing their stories and lessons – all this against a backdrop of being exposed to even more inspiring projects in a foreign city - scales the heights of a dream scenario for anyone running a social enterprise.

Our project, Name Your Hood, was one of five incredibly fortunate projects to be part of the GOOD Exchange in Los Angeles, in August 2013. In the three years that I have been running Name Your Hood, this was probably the most inspiring week I’ve experienced. Bar our project launch, perhaps.

In five days we were able to not only study social projects in Los Angeles, but also have an audience with the brains and leadership behind such initiatives. This provided immense value in understanding the challenges which entrepreneurs across the planet face, how they address them, and crucially, how their solutions could be put into practice back in South Africa.

Social entrepreneurs' challenges are universal.

The challenges facing us transcend international boundaries. This exchange taught me that often challenges facing a social entrepreneur in Africa are similar to those in Mexico, New Zealand and Brazil. I was able to share my experiences and provide information and advice on introducing and launching the same projects in my country. In so doing, we were each able to appreciate how other projects, or elements thereof, could easily be bolted on to our projects – with the outcome being immensely greater value for those who stand to benefit from the community work which we do.

The ability and opportunity to implement elements of projects will come in time – as it is naturally important to ‘stick to the knitting’ – but at the same time such integration forms part of our collective greater intent.

Unexpected cities can be hotbeds of ideas and innovation. Visit them.

When I heard that GOOD was considering a similar event in Africa, focused more narrowly showcasing groundbreaking health initiatives from the continent, I was moved to suggest Cape Town as a potential venue. For a number of reasons, it made sense. The halogen lamp of the design world is being turned to Cape Town in 2014 as the World Design Capital – with design including health care, innovation in systems design to improve healthcare – and not just on aesthetic design.

Cape Town is home to huge wealth inequalities, but also home to outstanding innovation to meet such challenges. It is therefore a hotbed of great ideas – which I felt could both be shared with visiting innovators, but also be projects capable of implementing other great initiatives from across the continent.

I could appreciate what is required for an event of this nature and was hence able to design a program that included relevant, practical sessions to inspire those heading up the various projects.

From a health innovation perspective, it was an incredible opportunity to have an afternoon of presentations from health innovators around the continent. The exchange of ideas was inspirational and I’m sure that much good will come of such interactions. On a practical level we were able to take the innovators to both formal and informal health clinics where innovation is being pushed to both treat more patients, and to improve health care delivery.

The exchange was invaluable for me and provided a priceless learning experience. I have no doubt that the fellows who were fortunate to be in Cape Town will take similar, practical learnings to boost the amazing work they are doing in their home countries.

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