PATH honored with prestigious humanitarian prize
Seattle-based PATH has won the world's largest humanitarian award, the $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, for creating effective...
Seattle Times business reporter
Seattle-based PATH has won the world's largest humanitarian award, the $1.5 million Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, for creating effective health technologies for the developing world, the nonprofit announced Tuesday.
Hilton Foundation Chief Executive Steven M. Hilton, who introduced the award at a news conference, said PATH's work developing dozens of technologies, along with its commitment to sharing ideas and making sure products are sold at affordable prices, has had a profound impact on alleviating human suffering.
The award is one of the most generous monetary prizes — about equal to the Nobel Prize. Previous winners include BRAC, a Bangladeshi group that helps poor rural women with microfinance, Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders.
The prestigious prize is well-deserved recognition for the long-term efforts of its staff, who often work years before seeing the results, said Dr. Christopher Elias, PATH chief executive. PATH now has 850 employees working in 20 countries.
Its headquarters near the base of the Ballard Bridge buzzed with excitement as the news was announced Tuesday morning.
PATH has been developing innovative health solutions for the past three decades, from vial monitors that indicate when vaccine is spoiled, to single-use disposable syringes, to an initiative to produce the world's first malaria vaccine. Its work has helped make Seattle a global health powerhouse.
Most recently, PATH scientists developed methods that protect hepatitis B vaccine from heat and freezing damage, particularly important in parts of the world without proper refrigeration.
The award "will open many doors" to help future goals, Elias said, adding that PATH will capitalize on the recognition to expand its partnerships around the world.
PATH plans to use the $1.5 million in prize money to seed an innovation fund aimed at investing in new technology and health interventions, he said. PATH will begin a five-year drive aimed at raising $25 million for the innovation fund.
The nonprofit has an annual budget of $250 million, 65 percent from foundations, 30 percent from governments, and 5 percent from global organizations. Only a small percentage of the contributions are unrestricted, a portion Elias calls "innovation capital."
Through the innovation fund, Elias aims to raise the amount of flexible capital from about 3 to about 10 percent of PATH's budget.
PATH has used such capital in the past to set up an office in South Africa, which could then begin applying for grants and offering programs to address health problems. Five years after opening, the South Africa office has grown to one of PATH's largest, with a staff of more than 30 people.
"Innovation capital can respond to emerging needs and opportunities," he said.
One goal of the fund is to take technology innovations that come from 21st century scientific discoveries, such as new diagnostic tools, and apply them to affordable products for the developing world, he said.
The fund will also support ramping up PATH's existing health products and expanding its field presence, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Elias said.
A new focus for PATH is clean water, which 15 percent of the world's population lacks. Hilton said he was impressed by the initiative because safe water is also a top priority for the Hilton Foundation.
PATH has been evaluating low-cost technology solutions for household water treatment and storage.
Funding for the work has come from one of its biggest supporters, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has given PATH a total of $1.2 billion over the years in 58 grants.
"It's a stellar player," said William H. Gates Sr., co-chair of the Gates Foundation. The award is not only "a big lift for PATH's future works," Gates said, "it's going to shine a light on the global health movement."
Asked at the news conference how to measure the success of PATH's efforts and investments, Gates chimed in that it was simple. "We start with these horrific numbers, the numbers of people who die prematurely," Gates said. "The question is will you change those numbers? We are changing them."
The Hilton Foundation will present the award to PATH formally at a Sept. 21 ceremony in Washington, D.C., with keynote speaker Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel laureate, founder of the Grameen Bank, and former Hilton Prize juror.
PATH, which had been nominated for the Hilton award in the past, was the winner this year among about 200 nominees.
The Hilton Foundation, established by hotel entrepreneur Conrad N. Hilton, has awarded more than $800 million in grants.
The annual humanitarian prize seeks to call attention to worldwide needs and encourage others to contribute support.
Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or email@example.com
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