Philanthropic Ventures Foundation

 March 2013  


a newsletter for our donors and colleagues  


Josh Nesbit:  

A Champion of Grassroots Innovation    

  by James Higa, Executive Director, PVF   


Medic Mobile's COO, Mainul Islam, & CEO, Josh Nesbit. 

I first met Josh Nesbit when he was an international health and bioethics undergrad at Stanford.  He had just returned from Malawi. What he saw and created there astounded me.  


In rural Malawi, 2 doctors served 250,000 people.  Some patients were walking 60-80 miles just to stay on top of the strict regimen required to treat diseases like TB and HIV.  Volunteer village health workers were keeping records in paper notebooks and making round trips to the clinic every few days just to get this notebook stamped by a nurse. But here at the end of the earth, Josh noticed that he had 5 bars on his cell phone.  There was better cell phone coverage than in many parts of the Bay Area.

This was his 'aha' moment.  Instead of increasing the number of doctors and nurses, rural patients could receive better health care simply by improving communications.  It drove him to create an SMS (text)-based electronic medical record system that ran on one notebook computer and the simplest of cell phones.  Now, health workers can instantly send data to a clinic, and the remotest of villages in Malawi has an electronic medical record system on a par with Palo Alto.


When the earthquake in Haiti struck, Josh sent out the Twitter message heard around the world. "Reaching out to @FrontlineSMS users in #Haiti with hopes of establishing local SMS gateway for".  Using the same technology built in Malawi, people in Haiti could send a text message to report injuries or survivors trapped in the rubble, have it translated from Creole to English via crowdsourcing by organizations like Samasource, and have this message broadcast over the emergency worker frequencies within minutes.

A few years later Josh returned to the Bay Area to start Medic Mobile, and we asked him whether he had any local projects in mind. He replied with a "yes, we've been thinking about an SMS-based app that will automatically remind patients of their upcoming diabetes health education and medical appointments and request they confirm or reschedule upcoming visits."  We funded Josh's idea within 48 hours.


This tool is currently being tested in a 6-month randomized-controlled trial at the Willow and Fair Oaks Clinics in San Mateo County in collaboration with San Mateo Medical Center (SMMC), one of the largest safety net healthcare providers for the uninsured in the Bay Area, to help diabetic patients manage their care.


Josh Nesbit encapsulates all that we believe in at PVF.  

We are about finding good people and funding them.  45% of grants made by the top 1,200 foundations are under $10,000 and require 20+ hours to apply.  We've known Josh and his work for years.  Why would we have him labor through a process like that?  


We believe in trust, not paper.  We believe the philanthropic dollar should be the entrepreneurial dollar.  We believe the right amount of funding without delay is what counts.  We believe innovation cannot happen absent a spirit of adventure and being willing to risk a failure. 

Medic Mobile is about creating simple yet powerful te
chnologies, lowering the barriers to entry, and developing solutions that can be championed by anyone. Josh Nesbit believes in grassroots scalability.  PVF believes in the very same things, and we believe in Josh.

About PVF 


PVF is a demonstration foundation practicing unique forms of grantmaking and conducting innovative philanthropy. Our primary interest is in the creative and significant use of the philanthropic dollar.


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About the Editors
James Higa
James Higa, Executive Director
James Higa brings 28 years of executive experience from Silicon Valley to PVF, working alongside Steve Jobs to change the face of technology. He was at the birth of the personal computer revolution as a member of the original Macintosh team and was deeply involved in the creation of many breakthrough products and services at Apple over the last three decades. James has a long history of public service as a board member of Stanford's Haas Center and in grassroots relief efforts during the 2011 Tohoku and 1995 Kobe Earthquakes in Japan.

Bill Somerville, President & CEO
Bill Somerville has been in non-profit and philanthropic work for 50 years. He was the director of a community foundation for 17 years, and in 1991 founded Philanthropic Ventures Foundation where he serves as President. Bill has consulted at over 400 community foundations in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., on creative grantmaking and foundation operations. Bill is the author of Grassroots Philanthropy: Field Notes of a Maverick Grantmaker.
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