For health entrepreneurs and funders, successful collaboration requires a variety of ingredients that go beyond an initial monetary investment. Strong communication, alignment of objectives, and a long-term outlook are critical for any partnership to thrive. But these collaborations require something else, too—flexibility.

When it comes to global health, we have long known that no single company, foundation, or organization has all the answers. In the past, the private sector, including corporate-giving programs and foundations, relied largely on cash and product donations tied to immediate health needs or interventions.

Against a backdrop of a dramatically changing world, however, we must think and act differently to promote strategies for improving global health that can endure long after the initial investment.

Across the world, innovators and entrepreneurs are “disrupting” traditional approaches and implementing new solutions on a local level that seek to sustainably improve health for vulnerable communities. The private sector can play an important role in accelerating these innovations and creating an environment where entrepreneurship can thrive. But doing so requires a flexible and truly collaborative approach to funding that provides growing enterprises with the autonomy to navigate the unique and fluid challenges they face.

Our organizations’ partnership is an example of this. In 2016, the Pfizer Foundation and ayzh, Inc., a for-profit venture that provides high-quality, affordable reproductive health products—from menstrual hygiene kits to products designed to ensure cleanliness during and after birth—entered into a strategic partnership through the Pfizer Foundation’s Global Health Innovation Grants (GHIG) program. Through this collaboration, the foundation will support ayzh’s scaling and data-collection efforts, helping to empower ayzh with the tools it needs to refine and expand its offerings.

The Pfizer Foundation is working in a similar way with twenty organizations and social enterprises in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, combining grant investments with technical support to create a nimble, collaborative, and responsive approach to helping entrepreneurial initiatives grow, all with the objective of improving the health of vulnerable communities.

The successful partnership between the Pfizer Foundation and ayzh is rooted in our organizations’ shared mission: to improve the health and well-being of underserved people around the world. It also reflects a collaborative approach to funding in which the needs and priorities of organizations are emphasized over specific intervention tracks defined by funders. This method represents a shift from traditional, restricted funding models and seeks to empower social entrepreneurs, knowing that for an organization’s impact to grow, the organization must have resources and support, including funding, technical assistance, and mentorship.

Ayzh’s Story

Take ayzh’s story: Since its founding in 2010, this social entrepreneurship business has brought to market a line of innovative, low-cost, maternal care offerings for women in India and Africa. ayzh’s core product is janma, a $3 clean birthing kit in a purse, which provides essential components recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) for a safe and hygienic birth. The kit fills an important gap. Approximately 830 women die every day because of complications during pregnancy and childbirth, mostly in low-resource settings.

The inspiration for the birthing kit came from a meeting with a midwife in India who, lacking dedicated birthing tools, stated that she used an agricultural sickle to cut umbilical cords following births. Throughout the kit’s design process, ayzh consulted with global health experts, physicians, and mothers to ensure the product was designed with women’s needs in mind.

The resulting product is simple and symbolic: the kit’s tools come packaged in a beautiful purse that women are able to keep as a sign of prosperity. One woman, who received janma in Malawi, Africa, expressed that it was the first purse she had ever owned.

So far, janma birthing kits have affected more than 600,000 mothers and children, by providing sustainable, low-cost interventions to help reduce maternal mortality and improve women’s and children’s health. Funding from the Pfizer Foundation is helping ayzh expand its product line and establish new production and distribution hubs that employ local women.

Just as critically, however, GHIG funding has supported an initiative by ayzh to engage more than 1,000 current and expectant mothers to gather feedback on their experiences and opinions about the janma birthing kit.

While some donors are reluctant to fund analyses like these that lack specific health interventions, the Pfizer Foundation understands that the results from the study have the potential to help ayzh refine its offerings and, in the long-term, further our shared goal of empowering women and communities through lasting health improvements.

Other Examples Of Pfizer Foundation Partnerships

Other examples of entrepreneurial projects that the Pfizer Foundation is supporting through the GHIG program include:

  • An initiative with Afya Research Africa to expand a network of primary care clinics in rural farming communities. The clinics use a co-ownership business model that engages communities and encourages sustainability.
  • A project in Liberia with Last Mile Health to train community health workers and equip them with mobile health (mHealth) technology platforms to facilitate accurate and rapid diagnoses of common illnesses.
  • A partnership with salauno to scale up efforts to detect and prevent blindness among underserved populations in Mexico through a telemedicine center, physician training, and a program to lease portable retina cameras for use in primary care settings.

Future Outlook

Moving forward, the private sector will continue to play a critical role in supporting global health and achieving the promise of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to leave no one behind. But we must also recognize that lasting health improvements occur from the ground up. As ayzh has shown, entrepreneurs have the local knowledge and ideas needed to address communities’ unique health challenges and support progress toward the SDG targets. We should seek to empower local innovators—not just with funding, but with the type of support they need to grow those ideas into solutions that can improve the health and well-being of people for generations to come.

The Pfizer Foundation is a charitable organization established by Pfizer Inc. It is a separate legal entity from Pfizer Inc. with distinct legal restrictions.