Health Hackathon Highlights of the Babson-UGHE Collaboration

Dozens of students focused on solving problems in African health systems as part of the first health hackathon jointly held by Babson College’s Kerry Murphy Healey Center for Health Innovation and Entrepreneurship (KMH) and the University of Global Health (UGHE).

At the July event at UGHE’s campus in northern Rwanda, 40 students from three schools in Rwanda and several countries identified health care delivery problems and devised and refined potential solutions within a roughly 48-hour period.

Wiljeana Glover—the founding faculty director of the KMH Center and The Stephen C. and Carmella R. Kletjian Foundation Distinguished Professor of Healthcare Innovation and Entrepreneurship—led the Babson contingent, which included graduate student Emmanuel (Manny) Nsanganwa ’24.

As a docent, I had the privilege of joining members of the Babson community who organized and facilitated the hackathon. As part of our debriefing, I interviewed Glover, who is responsible for UGHE liaison, grant funding, and strategy and execution on behalf of Babson. Here are the highlights of that conversation:

What did this hackathon accomplish?

“We achieved the measures of success we agreed upon beforehand: First, students learned and implemented the design thinking themes and built relationships with each other and all other participants, including facilitators and external stakeholders they consulted. Additionally, the top three ideas go to our Innovation Center there, an incubator where their idea innovations and plans will be further refined over the fall and winter and presented for possible implementation by late spring.

“Finally, we have also strengthened the Babson-UGHE institutional relationship, which is meaningful because it allows students and faculty at both schools to learn about and influence the realities of health care, especially in middle-to-low-income contexts and underserved communities.” “

What is the purpose of the Babson-UGHE connection?

“Our institutions were introduced to each other by someone from the Cletian Foundation. We have a common goal to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in healthcare for underserved communities.

“We received our first grant right as COVID shut down the opportunity for in-person collaboration. So this event is extremely important because it was our first chance to see how we work together in person. Also, the pandemic has highlighted the need to promote our mission: Who else has been out there to help figure out how to improvise making a mask or ventilator parts? Or catalyze the other hacks and workarounds that were necessary?

“I have seen firsthand this need — to fuel health care innovation — in my hometown in Georgia. Our Innovation Center is a proof of concept that health innovation labs in middle- and low-income settings can create value.”

What can we expect from this partnership in the next few months?

“At the earliest, the three winning teams of the hackathon will enter the Innovation Center program this fall. This means they will participate in workshops and be introduced to technical partners. In January, Babson students will travel to Rwanda to help these teams further refine their innovations. By the end of spring, we hope that the teams’ innovations – created at our hackathon and refined throughout the year – can be presented to hospitals, ministries or investors for implementation.”

Would you call this hackathon, because of its role in your longer-term plans, a high-stakes event?

From left: Associate Professor Adam Sulkowski, Williana Glover, student Modest Mviseneza and Dr. Rex Wong of UGHE.

“Yes, it was a key moment in terms of seeing if we work well together and therefore the future of the relationship, which is important for us and our students because Babson does not have a hospital. So for any student or our 20 faculty affiliates interested in healthcare innovation, this setup is a great opportunity to learn by experience and work in the real world of healthcare.”

Any surprising observations or highlights to share about the hackathon?

“One surprising lesson learned was the importance of excitement—how much students anticipated and enjoyed experiential learning. The sheer value of building excitement helps catalyze all the impacts and outcomes we’ve discussed. It was great to see that they developed a shared language in a short period of time so that they could work in different areas of expertise and include students from other Rwandan schools such as Kepler and the African Leadership University (ALU).

“I was also impressed by how much value they got from our example of design thinking—that they followed and acted on the core theme of reaching stakeholders. The winning team did it best. They called seven stakeholders to ask and get their input.

“Finally, it’s worth mentioning how great it is to see the trajectories of teams and their ideas through a hackathon: that the seed of an idea is not how it ends up.” We see how important it is to let it grow. For example, one team only had the idea “make a more efficient healthcare system” on Friday night. But within 24-48 hours, they had a fleshed out idea that was concrete: a digitized referral system.

“It will now be exciting to see, after 6-12 months of incubation, if and how any of their top three ideas will be deployed to serve the ultimate goal of alleviating suffering and saving and improving lives.”

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