The “Holy Grail” in health care is the golden promise of being able to eradicate a disease, pronounced Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of The Task Force For Global Heath, based in Decatur, Georgia. As the director of the Task Force’s Center for Global Health Collaboration, he described one effort after another where collaboration served as a key component in successful global health-related achievements during his talk at the 2015 ASAP Global Alliance Summit held at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, Florida, USA. Drawing on his co-authored work “Real Collaboration: What Global Health Needs to Succeed” (University of California Press, 2010) and its “Partnership Pathway,” he outlined the necessary steps to developing large-scale, effective global health projects.
The Task Force’s collaborations are particularly instructive for alliance managers because they involve multiple partners working on massive projects – global and regional agencies, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other nonprofits. In his talk “Fostering Real Collaboration: Lessons from Solving Global Health Problems,” he covered a range of circumstances where large coalitions tackled major health issues – from smallpox and river blindness to pedestrian accidents. The room was still as he described how his own personal experience with a tragic accident in his neighborhood impacted his career a number of years ago.
“A young woman runner had just been hit by a car. She had a tremendous head injury, so I started doing CPR,” he explained. “An ambulance came … [but] she died in my hands there on the street – she had two children waiting for her at home. It turned out she was the most famous runner in Atlanta – she had run 17 marathons.”
Rosenberg sent pictures of the accident scene to a European colleague, who responded, “Your street is designed to kill people.” Rosenberg recounted the conversation with his friend: “There are no speed bumps at intersections. You can’t see those white lines. You also have red lights—red lights kill people. The only collisions that are fatal are high-speed collisions and when the light turns yellow, what do people do? They speed up—and in Atlanta, they speed up when it turns red,” Rosenberg added, cutting the tension of his powerful story. His colleague continued, “That’s what creates fatal crashes. In Sweden, we got rid of all red light intersections and reduced fatalities by 90 percent in road traffic injuries.”
“More than 1.5 million people are killed on roads every year, but we can reduce crashes to zero,” Rosenberg colleague believes. The goal in Sweden today is to eliminate them altogether, and that required a coalition. They recognized it was a multi-faceted problem involving transportation, road building and construction, education, police, and almost every area of the public sector. So they started by involving Volvo, which declared in a campaign that by 2020, no one will be killed by road crashes. The effort grew to such a degree that the European Union adopted a standard to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2050.
The experience led to Rosenberg’s involvement in establishing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. He became its first permanent director in 1994 and also worked with Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias to organize a coalition to address road traffic injuries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
All coalitions undergo a series of steps to become successful, he pointed out. “The most important part of the journey is how you manage the alliance. Make your meetings productive and manage in a way so that there is trust.” The biggest obstacle to success is the failure to do these five things: Define your goal, define your strategy, clarify your structure, your membership, your management, he concluded.