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Identify. Champion. Change: Taking Stock of Our Work on Innovation

22 January 2021


“The innovations that are coming out of low income countries are particularly exciting because they have been doing more with less for longer, and for more people.”- Dr Matt Harris, Global Health Innovations: Bias, Barriers and Breakthroughs

As a virus that thrives on inequality, COVID-19 has placed unparalleled demands on health systems across the world. Despite this, the Health Partnership community has vividly demonstrated its resilience and ability to innovate rapidly, from manufacturing alcohol hand rub to producing face masks from spare surgical drapes. As we move into 2021, we have no doubt that Health Partnerships will continue to rise to the challenges presented both by the pandemic and the economic fallout from its spread, adopting innovation as a force for good to build equitable, inclusive and high-quality health services in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) and the UK.

At THET we believe that investing in innovation – finding new ways to solve problems – is crucial to solving the health problems we face globally and that Health Partnerships are excellent conduits for the kind of learning exchanges which stimulate innovation. Since 2019 we have been working with our partners to identify and support innovators from across the Health Partnership community. Having worked with over 200 Health Partnerships in 31 countries since 2010 we have seen first-hand how our community learn from one another. In order to better document this, we launched the first large-scale inquiry into innovation within Health Partnerships. In collaboration with Dr Matthew Harris at the Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, the inquiry culminated in the development of the Health Innovation Platform (HIP) which seeks to support health professionals to foster and develop their innovative ideas. The platform now houses 30 examples of Health Partnerships harnessing the power of innovation.

Beyond the platform we knew that more could be done to support the flow of innovations and so developed our Innovation Toolkit for Health Partnerships. The toolkit highlights the barriers and biases that exist to learning in LMIC contexts by high income country (HIC) healthcare professionals and proposes strategies to overcome them.

Together, these initiatives aim to support health professionals to foster and develop innovative ideas. Since their launch, we have continued to champion outstanding ideas, tools and techniques which we believe have the potential to transform health systems in both low resource settings and in the UK.

One such example is the THET-supported training programme developed with the National Resuscitation Council of Kenya that was used to train frontline staff at Torbay NHS Trust in March 2020. In October we also launched a briefing note with NHS Confederation which looks at how the NHS can use the Toolkit to support staff to get the most out of overseas volunteering by identifying and adopting innovations back into the NHS.

To make the most out of learning opportunities, it is necessary to recognise and challenge the unconscious biases that hold innovations back. For example, the unconscious bias that high income partners have little to learn from their low-income partners, and valued innovations come from high-income countries. In fact, the inverse is often true: many low-income partners have been doing more with less for a long time.

Throughout 2020 our organisational understanding of conscious and unconscious bias continued to develop, not least because of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. The movement catalysed the action being taken to address racism, privilege and their attendant biases in the UK and across the world. The steps THET is taking in response have enriched our approach to innovation and Health Partnerships more broadly.

As we move into 2021, this is set to continue. We have launched an inquiry into the contribution that NHS staff who identify as belonging to a diaspora make to global health through Health Partnerships. Building on our research into how the NHS can learn more from Africa and Asia, this new area of work aims to raise the status of the contribution being made by NHS diaspora staff.

Over the coming weeks we will also launch a £3.3 million small grants stream focussed on innovation as part of the recently announced UK Partnerships for Health Systems Programme. This will allow Health Partnerships operating in any LMIC to apply for funding of up to £50,000 to implement projects with an innovative focus area within climate change, gender equality and social inclusion, or digital/remote learning. Partnerships can also apply for funding to implement new ways of working to solve problems and effect change, including the scale-up of an innovation from an LMIC to a UK-context, an exciting opportunity for the NHS.

We look forward to updating you on this work.


We are inviting the submission of innovative ideas that were conceived in a low- or middle-income country (LMIC) by a Health Partnership or individual involved in a volunteer placement (including remote/virtual volunteering) which have been or could be beneficial to LMICs and/or the UK  at an individual health worker, institutional or health-system level.

For more information and to enter a submission, please click here.

“True to its ethos of ‘Working in partnership to support health workers across the world’, THET has embarked on an examination of the very important and topical issue of NHS diaspora staff. The examination will shine a light on an area that has not been systematically explored before: the contribution they make to global health through Health Partnerships. As a diaspora health professional, I am delighted to chair a steering group of eminent members, and look forward to the results and culmination of what will be a vitally important report.”

Frances Day-Stirk - THET Trustee

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This post was written by:

Graeme Chisholm - Policy and Learning Manager


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