So much of the talks surrounding tech disruption deals with industry sectors and change in behavioral patterns—but can disruption change how we take care of our mental health? Health care disruption is a big issue on the Davos agenda this year. The technologies underpinning the fourth industrial revolution have countless implications for the automatisation and improvement of global health care practices. From robotic arms performing surgery to 3D-printed prosthetic limbs, the human body is becoming increasingly high-tech. Not as highlighted on the official Davos agenda is a less tangible issue—mental health.
Umbilical cord blood transplants cure more than 70 serious diseases, but public cord blood banking requires funding. Governments and nonprofits are increasingly addressing the issue, but thousands of patients still die every year while waiting to find a match in the public registry. Social enterprises—which hybridize for-profit business with charitable missions—are known for the type of innovative business models that could be game-changers for cord blood banking.
NARAYANGANJ, Bangladesh–“I never reach for the stars,” says Runa Khan during our interview. As the founder and director of Friendship, a Bangladeshi non-governmental organization (NGO) in a country of more than 20,000 NGOs, this is quite the statement. “I look at the stars, I see the stars—I want that. But…the key to the work that Friendship does is simplicity.” Khan, an emerging leader in satellite health and social service provision to the coastal areas of her home country, is not afraid to cause a commotion. Khan, born and raised in Dhaka, is the brains, and beauty, behind Friendship, an NGO that began work converting river barges to sustainable health clinics in the vulnerable chars, islands made of sediment in the North.
Istanbul – where the East and the West collide – is the only city in the world to sit on two continents. This city has seen scores of people fighting to call this land their home, shining light on another great battle that is being waged all over Turkey today. Currently, the vast majority of the population is Muslim – obviously to varying degrees of piety. Also, due to its position as a conduit of trade and culture between the East and the West, it has also developed a strong secular mentality. Thus, it is hard to differentiate which norms are based in religion, and are thus more difficult to alter, and which are social, and consequently more amenable.
Jack Sim is a funny man with a serious, yet unexpected mission: to revolutionize toilets for the base of the pyramid and to ensure worldwide sustainable sanitation. Often referred to as “Mr. Toilet” – a title he takes great pride in – he has worked tirelessly for fifteen years to make the availability of clean toilets a political priority and an economically feasible reality for the world’s ‘poor’. The need is big: 2.6 billion people currently lack access to a clean private toilet. When I met Jack Sim at a pre-WEF event at the HUB Zürich I couldn’t help but wonder about this curious man on stage. He was humming with energy, excited to share his story about the many issues concerning poop, making the audience laugh and yet providing relevant information about his cause.
When I met up with Mechai Viravaidya at his restaurant Cabbages and Condoms in Bangkok, he walked the grounds with an ease of familiarity, showing me elaborate sculptures, figurines and lamps all made out of colored condoms.
He posed for a picture next to one of his favorite decorations, a rendering of the Mona Lisa that offers a reason for her wry smile: two condoms tucked in her folded hands. The restaurant, an open-air courtyard flanked by lush plants, also features educational posters and interactive games such as a safe sex roulette wheel. The condom theme is not just a gimmick. Cabbages and Condoms is one of many social enterprises founded by Mr Viravaidya, a public health advocate and entrepreneur known for his compassion, commitment to health initiatives and rural development, and daring sense of humor. Mechai got his start in 1974 when he founded the Population and Community Development Association (PDA), aiming to slow Thailand’s rapid population growth and alleviate strain on resources and communities.