Alumni Innovators: Susie Kitchens

As 2020 draws near, we’re continuing our year of celebrations for LSHTM’s 120th Anniversary with a series of blog posts about some of our alumni innovators. Here’s the latest.

Susie Kitchens is the UK Government’s Deputy High Commissioner and Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN Habitat based at the British High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya. She gained an MSc Health Promotion Sciences from LSHTM in 1997 and has worked as a Diplomat since 2002.

What does innovation mean to you?

To me, innovation means recognising that the important problems we need to solve go beyond the solutions we currently have available to us. Innovators are always looking out for how to pick up on what works and how to run further and faster with that, not getting stuck with what has always been done, or what we are used to. Thinking differently about problems and solutions; taking risks in trying something else; testing out new technologies, ideas, evidence and anaylsis. When we put resources, knowledge, political will and collaborations behind that mindset, we can innovate.

How can innovation solve challenges in global health?

While human biology might not change much, the social and physical conditions humans must thrive in are changing rapidly. Innovations in global health are helping us get better at identifying the causes of issues impacting global health – mental health, impacts of pollution, drug resistance etc – and the most appropriate (sustainable, affordable, fewest side-effects) responses to those issues. Finding solutions that ‘cure’ health issues are vital and require the pointy-end of innovation in scientific research. But equally important, we need innovations in how to communicate, assess and share information, last-mile distribution, scale of solutions and affordability, behavioural insights to optimise uptake and joined-up solutions with non-health determinants of the environments we live in.

How do you use innovation at work?

My work gives me the chance to think about innovation at a big-scale national policy level, but also at institutional, project and individual levels. Finding new ways of bringing cross-disciplinary teams together in the office is an innovation: it’s not going to cure cancer, but it might spark an idea for a new collaboration that can unlock better ways of doing things. I think it is important to challenge how things are done regularly: not change for the sake of it – and certainly not to disregard experience and history – but because every time the ingredients change (people in the team, data sets, available tools) it’s possible that a new outcome can emerge.

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