Social innovation in healthcare for South Africa



Social innovation, as described by François Bonnici, refers to creative ideas, activities and services that are motivated by the goal of meeting a social need and that extend and strengthen civil society. When faced by challenges, how do we balance competing interests – finding not only the best or most efficient solutions, but also the most appropriate solutions for problems both large and small?

Large scale funding and massive interdisciplinary research teams may be an essential approach to tackling critical healthcare problems, but in some instances a local, no-tech invention can also be effective. Design thinking and consciously cultivating innovation may be the only way we can make sure that we are doing what we humans can do best – being creative.

Submitted by Vanessa Carter, ePatient (Facial Difference and MRSA) and moderator of #hcsmSA on

For this assignment, because I moderate the geographic South African TweetChat called #hcsmSA, I thought it was appropriate.

In 2013 I was advocating online to promote better technology, facial disfigurement acceptance and multi-disciplinary teams in South Africa for craniofacial patients. I had just completed a facial reconstruction which stretched over a period of ten years and these issues were related to the time I had lost and complications I suffered. I was in design and it worried me that I had the power to build awareness, so I did.

After some time, I made a few international connections and they convinced me to try Twitter. I was then invited to a TweetChat called #hcldr. The acronym represented “Health Care Leader”, it was a weekly chat held at 20:30 EST, which converted to 2.30am in South Africa, I was so intrigued that I set my alarm every week and I made sure I didn’t miss a chat for a year. The chat brought together about 20-40 people from diverse backgrounds in health to discuss different topics. I was completely mind-blown, because I couldn’t believe that some of the participants were from an executive level in hospitals like the Mayo Clinic and Dell Healthcare. The most significant part was that they included patients. I was finally able to share my view and learn from some of the most influencial leaders in the world. (Wow!)

The purpose of the Tweetchat was to provide a virtual place for diverse minds to collaborate, because let’s face it, logistically, how is that possible without spending vast amounts of money and time? The chats were recorded on transcript by Even when that hour was over, members would share articles on the hashtag with the community because it encouraged learning, teamwork and networking. As time went by, I came to realise that not many other social platforms could offer these unique tools which Twitter could to achieve this.

I believe this is an example of an ultimate social innovation, because it didn’t cost anything but time, dedication and support from members. I have flourished with the knowledge I gained from Tweetchats like #hcldr. I’ve embraced the opportunity to physically meet some of the people I have connected with and although I fear public speaking profusely, I proudly attend events as an ePatient on behalf of South Africa. This innovation resonates the message which public health in South Africa is in dire need of resurrecting and that is in Charlotte Maxeke’s own words “This work we do, is not for ourselves…”, We need to look beyond our labels, beyond our hierarchy societal systems, respect each others views subjectively, be that from experience, IQ, talent, education, status or “whatever” and innovate equally as human beings for change. Bacteria won’t stop evolving, neither should we.

This innovation deserved a Champions of Change award which you can read more about here:

As you mention in the assignment brief to research innovative crowdfunding platforms like MedStartr, I felt it was valuable to mention that because of #hcldr, I met the founder, Alex Fair. He generously allowed me to make use of the platform for my first crowdfunding video to attend an overseas conference called Doctors 2.0 and You –