Through mobile phone technology, Josh Nesbit is enabling community health workers to improve the range, scope and efficiency of care in more than 10 countries.
Nesbit, executive director and co-founder of FrontlineSMS:Medic, first saw his vision implemented in Malawi, where a locally owned and operated phone system bridged the 40-mile gap between patients and their nearest clinic.
“Time and lives are saved, and that’s the model we’ve been replicating around the world,” he said.
Nesbit is currently working to better track tuberculosis patients in South Africa, monitor child health in Mali, and assist land mine victims in Colombia, among other projects. By employing technology to confront challenges around the world, FrontlineSMS:Medic is also facilitating data collection — “real-time and real-space knowledge of what’s working and what isn’t” — and opportunities to engage people “from 13-year-old kids in the U.S. to policymakers in Geneva.”
But the open-source tools that FrontlineSMS:Medic creates are not in and of themselves solutions to local problems, Nesbit noted.
“Those tools solve problems when they’re used by people on the ground,” he argued. “It’s not about the technology.”
He continued: “A mentor recently told me, ‘If you define your mission by ’how,’ then you’ve stopped your thinking.’ Our mission is to improve the health of people in difficult settings, and that’s our focus.”
Sean McDonald, executive director of FrontlineSMS:Legal, said his colleague’s leadership style arises from a “tireless and passionate” dedication to prioritizing the needs of local actors.
“I wish there were more people in this field like him,” McDonald said. “But that’s why they’re the top 40, right?”
Profile by Josh Miller