When President Obama declared North Carolina the countrys newest innovation hub, it came as a surprise to many.
Many in the U.S. dont know were a wellspring of technical start-ups and biomedical breakthroughs. Or that our Triangle area inspires an unlikely passion for entrepreneurship and progress. And even those who live here may not know that were also a hotbed of global health and international development activity.
Most such work is in New York, Washington and Seattle. But it makes perfect sense that we have a thriving global community here.
The Triangles universities, nonprofits and biomedical industries have produced innovation after innovation, incubating solutions to some of the worlds biggest challenges. After 50 years of global development efforts, people are living longer. Fewer women are dying in childbirth. And were getting close to solving huge problems such as malaria, polio and even HIV.
Global health has done its share for the Triangle, too. In 2007, according to a study by Duke University, global health economic activity in North Carolina accounted for more than 7,000 jobs, generated $1.7 billion for the states economy and provided $18.24 million in tax revenue. The field attracts talent to the state, boosts our economy, and heightens North Carolinas reputation across the globe.
In global health, we often find solutions where we least expect them. Last year in Argentina, for instance, a car mechanic dreamed up a simple apparatus to help ease the way for a baby stuck in the birth canal. As innovations go, the Odón Device is inexpensive and low-tech, but it has the potential to save countless babies lives and reduce C-sections around the world.
And it didnt come from the health sector. It came from a garage.
So today, were changing the way we work. Were emerging from our silos in global health and throwing open our gates to get experts and creative novices from across industries working together, merging good ideas and concepts to create great ones.
North Carolina is the perfect place for this. Were known for our work in technology, health care, pharmaceuticals, clean energy, agriculture, water and sanitation, research, academia we have all the expertise we need right here to improve lives around the world.
But for the Triangle to remain a vital part of the global conversation, we must nurture the international development community we have. Otherwise, the local expertise weve so carefully cultivated could easily be siphoned away to big cities in other states. We need opportunities to gather with various industries and innovate together.
And that is precisely the spirit of SwitchPoint.
SwitchPoint is an annual two-day gathering hosted by IntraHealth International. Its held, appropriately, in Saxapahaw a part of the Triangle thats re-creating itself as well. For the third year in a row, creative minds from around the world will gather to create unlikely partnerships and find unusual solutions to all kinds of development issues. Well see entrepreneurs and experts from the fields of technology, business, health care, media, international development, global health, the arts, and more.
Together, well find ways to improve health and well-being around the world.
We hope more locals will join the global conversation at SwitchPoint because we want to make progress faster. We want to save lives and eradicate poverty. We want to create productive, prosperous communities around the world where every person has access to health care, clean water, safe housing, education and more. And we dont want to wait another 50 years to do it.
So lets mobilize to show the world why North Carolina deserves this recognition as a hub for innovation. Lets harness the creativity and energy and spirit concentrated in our state. Lets create switchpoints and solve big problems.
Because if we dont, we risk losing out to a place that will.
Pape Gaye is president and CEO of IntraHealth International, a global nonprofit based in Chapel Hill.