Delivering Systemic Change through Innovation for the Global Context



Nikole Allen

Senior Program Manager

Yale Sustainable Health Initiative

April 2021


Board Director Northeast Division, National Peace Corps Association

Health Policy and Management Lecturer, Yale School of Public Health

Program Director, Yale School of Medicine, Liberian Health Workforce Program

MPH, University of Washington, Department of Global Health

BA, Western Oregon University, International Studies and Health

Nikole Allen is a public health professional, lecturer, ecosystem builder, and leader. At present, Nikole is the Senior Program Director at the Yale Institute for Global Health (YIGH) overseeing the Sustainable Health Initiative (SHI) and a lecturer of health policy and management at the Yale School of Public Health. SHI is a home for global health entrepreneurship at Yale. Startups supported by SHI focus on environmental sustainability, access to quality healthcare, maternal and child health outcomes, infectious disease, and health care technology. Previously, Nikole directed the health and hospital management and preclinical education projects under the Yale-Liberia Health Workforce Program and oversaw the design, implementation, and evaluation of projects. She has extensive experience working on global programs with global teams in her career including working with the Ethiopian Hospital Management Initiative at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the World Health Organization Surgical Safety Checklist, the National Health Service in England, the Hospital Management and Leadership Program for public hospitals in China, and USAID Leadership, Management and Governance Project’s Senior Leadership Programs in Africa and Southeast Asia. She shares her thoughts with our Program Manager, Sharon Mwale, about working with entrepreneurs to affect systemic change.

How has your professional and/or academic experience influenced how you approach entrepreneurship, innovation, and leadership? Any specific instances you can share?

I was first introduced to global and public health in high school in a social entrepreneurship course. So, when I ended up at Yale’s Sustainable Health Initiative (SHI), it was like coming full circle from that initial exposure. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, there was a boom of nonprofits and NGOs but each one felt like it was addressing health issues in a piecemeal way focusing on narrow geographic area or very targeted vertical interventions. The organizations were focused on micro-challenges and addressing issues that were a subset of another larger problem and not affecting change on a macro or systematic level. I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur, but what drew me to SHI is the opportunity to problem-solve with a more systematic lens and approach. The programs we have and entrepreneurs I get to work with are building upon research and implementing solutions that can have a longer-term impact on the way systems function and therefore who they benefit. Over time I’ve learned, and I think more people working in public health understand, that global health isn’t about working internationally, it’s about creating solutions that are scalable, replicable, and transnational.


What are some of the key challenges you see entrepreneurs face, specifically the women? Either related to launching, growing, or in terms of how they approach leadership?

We had incredible female founders in our first cohort. We supported six Indian-based companies and I noticed that on average the women entrepreneurs were older, had raised their kids, and had accomplished a lot in their careers already. Additionally, within the cohort, it also seemed that the women entrepreneurs were building solutions that were very personal to them or had been motivated by family health and challenges. I don’t have much insight on why these women waited longer to launch their startup – was it family demands or financial security, or was their desire to pursue a traditional career first? Overall, I think I’m continuously inspired and impressed with all the founders and entrepreneurs that I have had the opportunity to work with. They are creating something new, assuming the risk of following a passion, and overcoming and enduring through long working hours with the goal of health others and affecting positive change.


From your experience, what global innovations have you seen abroad that are ahead of what industrialized nations have been able to achieve?

There are innovative examples of startups that have filled the gap of government health and safety regulation in low and middle income countries in an innovative way that we haven’t seen in the US.  One example is Uganda’s SafeBoda, which ensures that Boda drivers are trained, have spare helmets, and other emergency training for customers. Where the governments have not enforced helmets and other safety protocols, SafeBoda and other startups can leverage customer demand for those safety assurances and use the market to meet a demand while having an impact on traffic safety and reducing accidents and emergencies.


What is your advice to women and what actionable steps can they take as leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs in the health & tech industries?

It is inspiring to see how willing people are to help entrepreneurs with a purpose. People don’t mind being asked their opinion, but we still have this self-conscious tendency or hesitancy to ask for others’ opinions or seeking out their help. I’ve noticed some entrepreneurs would rather wait until they have a specific question or problem to address otherwise, they feel like they are wasting someone’s time. However, it’s in the casual conversations where your idea can become even stronger, or you gain new insight from different perspectives that are shared. I encourage entrepreneurs to seek out advice and get additional input on the hypotheses they are planning to test. Be mindful always of other people’s time, of course. However, many times, people are excited to discuss the real-world applications related to their research or area of expertise. The thing about really impactful innovations is that they are solving a problem people face. Without talking to people outside of your team or validating your assumptions beyond your research, you can’t be certain you are filling a gap that exists or addressing an issue that is a result of a root cause. Your work product will likely improve as a result of just asking more people questions about your strategy and ideas.


Lecky’s Comments:

At the beginning, building a business is exciting. That’s when most people tell you you’re doing the right thing, and all of the forecasts you create show you becoming a millionaire in no time. It’s when the first potential customer says “No way, why would I want that?” that you have to face doubt. Until you have dozens of employees and have been operating for several years, the entrepreneur IS the business. Doubt will kill your personal mental drive, and as a result, it will kill your business. Fight against self-doubt which doesn’t mean you should blindly pursue impossible goals, but don’t allow irrational self-doubt to cloud your quest for success.  So, send that cold email, or make that call.  Don’t let fear and doubt cloud the vision of your entrepreneurship goals.

If you would like to recommend a female entrepreneur in healthcare technology to be featured, we encourage you to contact us.

Contact information:

Sharon Mwale       Program Manager        [email protected]

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