Take humanitarian innovation impact to the max with market access strategy

By Olga Katzelnik | Innovation Insights Series

Photo: WFP/Emanuel Feruzi

I have had the great opportunity to mentor different social businesses and healthcare start-ups that have been selected to participate in innovation bootcamps at the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator. Start-ups supported by the Accelerator focus on driving and bringing innovation to WFP’s humanitarian operations in different corners of the world. One example is an innovative Maziwa breastfeed pump developed and adapted to working mothers’ needs in Kenya, contributing to their health and well-being. Another interesting example is Pragmatic Innovation Inc., a device that improves the wound healing process for patients, transforming humanitarian response in conflict zones such as Syria.

Creating an innovative product is only part of the equation if you are aiming at social impact. Another part is making sure that it reaches and benefits the communities in need. Speaking in business terms, the final goal of humanitarian innovators is to achieve broad and full market access of their innovation at the optimal price while driving human impact in their focus market.

Market access is a well-known challenge for innovators seeking to pilot their ideas in the real world. In the mentoring discussions, innovation teams express consistent concerns: How can we implement healthcare innovation in the fastest and most efficient way? How can we ensure it reaches the people that it needs to? How can we achieve buy-in in a target country, in the absence of networks, and with minimal resources?

These questions are all valid and should be addressed. Based on my work with mentees, I have put forward a simple and comprehensive framework that has been proven to lead humanitarian innovators to successful market access. Let’s take a look at the main components of this framework, including: research, value proposition and stakeholder engagement.

Understand the market and end-users

Even the most promising and groundbreaking innovation may fail on the ground if it does not fit the country realities and the needs of your target audience.

As early as possible in the innovation process, you should study the focus market and, crucially, potential users of your solution. Gaining a clear understanding of your users’ needs as well as legal requirements, social and economic factors and other peculiarities relevant to your innovation can help refine your idea and maximize its social impact.

Existing publications, databases and other secondary resources can aid market research. But when it comes to user research, it is particularly useful but usually more costly, however, to do your own primary research. For instance, to better understand the needs and demand for healthcare innovation, you could interview different actors in the healthcare sector in your focus market, including patients, physicians, nurses or experts in the field.

Learn more about user research techniques for humanitarian innovation:

Demonstrate the value of your innovation

The value proposition is the core of your solution; it, essentially, is the value that your innovation provides to its end-users. In humanitarian and development contexts, your value proposition should demonstrate the social impact your innovation strives to achieve. For example, the value of healthcare innovation is essentially the value of health outcomes for patients and health care providers.

There are different methodologies to measure health outcomes of a given innovation. Let’s take the two aforementioned innovations as an example. To measure the health outcome of the Syrian wound healing device we could use the time needed to heal the wound and speed up the patient’s recovery as an indicator. In the case of the breastfeeding pump in Kenya, it would be the convenience of the working mother to be able to pump during the working day and to store the milk.

When developing the evidence to support your value proposition, it is useful to compare your innovation with existing solutions and demonstrate the added value of your innovation. A common mistake that innovators make is believing that a more complex solution can lead to greater health outcomes.In many cases, simple models will be enough to answer the target group’s needs if they offer the value-add.

Enhance your value proposition by developing a compelling value story:

Put your value proposition into action

Social impact innovators should strive to achieve market access by showing the value of their innovation to stakeholders that are critical to the implementation of the innovation.

In many cases, you will need to approach different stakeholders, so you need to identify the key stakeholders in the first place. For example, in the healthcare sector, the main stakeholders usually include the following:

  • Healthcare providers: the physician, nurse or other medical personnel who delivers the innovation to the target community.
  • Beneficiaries: direct consumers, including the patient, caregiver or other people who would benefit from the healthcare innovation.
  • Funders: people or organizations that provide financial support in delivering healthcare innovation to the end-user. These can range from the beneficiaries themselves to their employer, medical insurance provider, government, non-governmental organizations or other public or private entity.

As part of your stakeholder engagement plan, set the objectives and engagement strategies and tactics for different stakeholder target groups. Some objectives will be interconnected. For example, engaging funders may allow you to leverage reimbursement resources or financial coverage in the given market. This, in turn, may intend to provide access to the innovation for beneficiaries at low or no cost — especially if they cannot afford the innovation. Engage national, state or social media where appropriate and track stakeholder engagement activities regularly to understand which tactics and channels are more effective.

The market access strategy enables innovators to reach communities in need more efficiently and maximizes social impact. The above framework can serve as useful guidance, but I encourage innovators to keep seeking advice and honest feedback from mentors as they continue their innovation journeys. More and more professionals and experts are available to share knowledge and mentor social business start-ups across developing markets these days. It will not only make the world a better place but also allow experts themselves to broaden their horizons and stay on a continuous learning path.

Olga Katzelnik is a Market Access Lead Europe/International at Regeneron, a biotechnology company, and has held global leadership positions for 12 years in the pharmaceutical industry across different functional and therapeutic areas. Before joining the pharmaceutical industry, Olga worked as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group and has served as a mentor to innovators participating in different programs of the WFP Innovation Accelerator. She also mentors digital healthcare start-ups in business development and growth strategies. Olga strongly believes that health is a fundamental human right in every corner of the world.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

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