Friday, November 20, 2009

On meetings: Global Health and Innovation Summit, April 2010

The Global Health and Innovation Summit will be held at Yale University next April. Unite for Sight sponsors this conference every year. Here's what their website has to say:

"200 speakers representing all disciplines of global health, social entrepreneurship, international development, and innovation. Keynote speakers include Seth Godin, Jacqueline Novogratz, Jeffrey Sachs and Sonia Sachs....Partners in Health, WaterPartners, Save The Children....2,200 participants from all 50 states and from more than 55 countries who are immersed in global health and international development, public health, eye care, medicine, social entrepreneurship, nonprofits, philanthropy, microfinance, human rights, anthropology, health policy, advocacy, public service, environmental health, and education."

Well, it sounds like a fabulous conference. (It costs $140.00 to attend, much less than most medical conferences cost.) But it is precisely because I'd love to go and sit at the feet of all these bright and well-meaning people that I'm filled with skepticism. Will tangible change result from this conference, or any other? Will it turn out to be a lot of talk? Will anyone who is poor be measurably better off because this conference happened? Will it set good changes in motion, soon?

Don't get me wrong. Ideas move the world, I know. Without thought, planning, and strategy, many of our efforts are wasted. And so it's sophomoric of me to be haunted by the idea that what we actually need to do is walk out the door, visit the ATM, then keep walking, driving, or flying until we hit our first emergency. Then fix that emergency. Then keep walking.

To assuage my own impatience, to guard against the possibility that reading and writing about poverty and going to conferences amounts to so much hand-waving, I make microloans. It feels good to do this; it feels like a temporizing measure, a substitute for fighting on the front lines, although sober minds have assessed microloans and found them wanting.

So it looks as if I need to learn more about what does work. Time to visit the ATM, I suppose, and take out $140.

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