Telling the Gobee Story

Who piloted the command module during the Apollo 11 lunar landing? Who orbited the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took a walk?

With much due respect to Michael Collins, the third member of the crew is lost in our pop history. For many of us the lore of the first human walk on the moon does not include the name Collins. But this accomplished astronaut played a critical role. The Apollo 11 team made it to the moon. Neil Armstrong “only” took the first step. 

This is a simplified telling of the Apollo 11 mission. But it can still serve as an useful metaphor. It is a history I referenced in trying to hone my own story about Gobee Group. In over two months with the firm I have seen first hand the unique approach that Gobee takes to client – or “partner” – engagements. Gobee works closely with its partners along intense and often difficult journeys so that the partners may accomplish their own moon shots. Gobee consultants become critical members of the partners’ teams, enabling these clients to execute thoughtful work that provokes change. Unlike many consulting firms Gobee is not there simply to chart the proper course, Gobee is along for the ride. And Gobee does so with the humility of the third astronaut on the Apollo 11 crew.

An Education

Who has the right to an education? If basic education is really a universal human right, why do some have it and others don’t?

I often think about these questions in my work for Cell-ED, a mobile service that works to increase access to basic education for adults, aged 16 and above. The target demographic are adults lacking basic literacy skills who are in need of an affordable education that can fit a flexible schedule. In the process of forming a deeper understanding of this group and a fuller picture of national and global literacy rates, I’ve combed through figures that are, at the very least, shocking. So much so that their repeated use by governmental institutions, NGO’s, and adult literacy programs perpetuate a mind-numbing refrain: 1 in 5 people on this planet lack the ability to read and write – 2/3rds of them are women. This figure is as difficult to grasp as it is to parse, and does little to inform the magnitude of the problem and it’s deeper implications: what is the spread of illiteracy within this demographic? Who are the people represented by these numbers and where are they located? What are their circumstances? What are their actual abilities and educational needs?

In this post, I attempt to grapple with some of these questions and share some thoughts on literacy and its relationship to forms of structural inequality.

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Fueled by Optimism

A conference in late July hosted by the Center for Care Innovations (CCI) about sustaining the activities of innovation teams within health care safety net institutions stands as one of the highlights of an amazing month of learning. Drawing representatives from four health care institutions across the Bay Area – all participants in CCI’s Innovation Center for the Safety Net program – the conference served as an opportunity for the teams to apply visual and design thinking skills they have developed through the now year-long Innovation Center for the Safety Net program (along with related programs also supported by CCI).

Participants were charged with exploring and developing possible models for formalizing and sustaining innovation teams’ activities within each institution, and also as part of the current four-institution network. The teams are responsible for driving innovation within their institutions in two ways: first, and the primary focus of the CCI program, is to serve as a conduit through which innovations developed in the private sector can flow into safety net institutions; and second, to drive process innovation internally. Recognizing the importance of this work CCI and the teams explored opportunities to develop sustainable organizational models that will align the resources and expertise necessary to continue the teams’ activities beyond the duration of CCI’s grants.

All of which to say that there was much ground to cover, and some very complex challenges to confront, in a daylong conference. There were plenty of opportunities for each participant and participating institution to put on the brakes of what became a nearly four-hour collective brainstorm. But the group demonstrated tremendous creative optimism. The attitude in the room was curious, positive, collaborative, and eager. This group, not one of them a capital “D” designer, probed and prodded, iterated and built, and generated momentum in the conversation that will energize future explorations, all fueled by their optimistic attitudes. Every participant earned their “design thinker” badge and exemplified that, in futurist Stuart Candy’s words, design is “creative and iterative optimization within constraints.” Three cheers to the optimists!

Thoughts on mHealth

We live in a world focused on instant gratification. Fast food. Online ordering. Next day shipping. Technology, for better or worse, has granted quick, easy access to virtually every good and service.

Except healthcare. One of the largest sectors in the global economy, the healthcare industry has long been burdened with inefficient processes, long wait times, and opaque financial exchanges. Mobile health, or mhealth applications, are praised for their great potential to close gaps between patients and doctors and facilitate better care. However, few mHealth projects achieve the long-lasting and wide spread impact so eagerly desired during the nascent stages. Maybe failure comes from a lack of resources. Maybe it has more to do with confusion among stakeholders. Or maybe it’s a matter of building a tool in response to the right question.

Within the HIV market, mHealth apps exist that guide drug procurement, disseminate drug information, encourage regimen adherence, and enhance patient education. But how do you ensure their long-term sustainability?

As with any venture, entrepreneurs need to have an integrated business strategy, design strategy, and implementation strategy if they are to succeed. Individuals overemphasize the design strategy, loading an app with myriads of features and assuming the rest will figure itself out. You cannot effectively make change if you never move past a pilot phase. And far too often, mHealth apps are unable to cross the chasm.

Fellow Profile: Rachel Dzombak

Though she has focused on engineering in both her undergraduate and graduate study, Rachel’s interests are as diverse as her perspectives and experiences. A self-described “systems thinker” she draws on a comprehensive skillset; she is what Bucky Fuller would call a “comprehensive design scientist”. In addition to her training, systems thinking and design sensibility, Rachel applies her varied experiences across the globe to the Gobee fellowship experience. For example, I have been intrigued to learn about her experiences helping to build Mashavu, a social enterprise in Kenya. Mashavu works to bring health services to communities and individuals facing barriers to healthcare access. She helped grow Mashavu from its inception but most importantly she and the Mashavu team built community ownership and management skills so that Kenyan women entrepreneurs have run the company without continued foreign support since 2012. Since Rachel stepped back from the project the Mashavu entrepreneurs have began to expand the service to new communities, a true testament of the company’s success.

Rachel’s diverse background became the theme of our discussion in this final fellows profile. In our application to become Gobee Summer Innovation Fellows one of four prompt questions asked “How do you define diversity?” I revisited this question to begin my conversation with Rachel. Her responses have been edited.
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Luck and the Role of Multiple Disciplines

Earlier today we had a quick meeting to discuss progress, logistics, and plans for the next few weeks. At one point, the dialogue turned to our SIF collaborative project. Graham, Saima, and I each acknowledged that we were lucky that we work well together.  Upon more thought, the fact that we laugh while working can be called lucky. But our work is the byproduct of our backgrounds. We each bring a distinct perspective to our conversations. We source ideas from different sectors, support arguments with tales of experiences, and voice concerns learned from previous challenges. Our work benefits from the vast knowledge we collectively have amassed. We push each other to continuously question our ideas and iterate our plans. And as a result, we produce good work (at least, in my opinion).

Why then, are university courses not structured to encourage such collaboration? Typically in engineering, “multi-disciplinary project work” means an electrical engineer works with a mechanical engineer. Courses that achieve a truly diverse student population are scarce across the country. Sometimes, it is the result of institutional barriers such as major requirements or enrollment controls. However, more often, a culture of academic silos permeates universities. No problem worth solving is tackled by a single discipline. We, as a society, need to learn to better appreciate differences and recognize the value of multiple perspectives. To do this, traditional education structure will need to shift.