PATH Wins $1.5M Hilton Prize, World’s Biggest Award for Humanitarian Work

8/18/09Follow @xconomy

PATH, the Seattle-based nonprofit that works to improve health in poor countries, said today it has won the closest thing the humanitarian field has to the Nobel Prize—the $1.5 million cash award known as the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

The news was delivered at an exuberant press conference this morning with PATH president Christopher Elias, Bill Gates Sr. of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and officials of the Hilton Foundation. The prize, given annually since 1996, has gone to other big-name health nonprofits in the past like Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders. The story first appeared on The Seattle Times.

PATH, as I explained in this profile back in February, has such a broad portfolio of projects that it sometimes struggles to explain what it does in a sound bite. But essentially it seeks out clever, affordable technologies, and partnerships with clever entrepreneurs and government agencies, to help improve the health of have-nots around the world. It has developed or played a role in co-developing 85 different technologies being used to improve global health, such as needles designed to curb the spread of infectious diseases, simple diagnostic tests for common diseases, and stickers on vaccine vials that can tell whether the immunization has gone bad. We’ve written a lot about PATH in the past year, including its work to improve the nutritional value of rice, fix broken bones, purify water, and develop new vaccines that can withstand hot and cold temperatures.

“We were absolutely thrilled when we heard,” Elias said during a brief conversation after the press conference. “We’ve been nominated in prior years, but haven’t won.”

The award may not sound like a lot of cash for an organization with 800 employees and a $240 million annual budget, but Elias made it sound like he plans to get major bang for the buck. PATH plans to use the money to expand its field operations in Africa, to scale up big production of existing global health technologies, and to provide seed funding for new technologies.

He gave an example of what he means when he talks about leveraging resources. Five years ago, PATH wanted to compete for grants to improve health in South Africa, but couldn’t be a serious … Next Page »

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  • Mindy

    Thanks for writing about these very important issues. Another great piece.

  • Valerie Hansen

    I always find your articles interesting and significant and elegantly written. This time the quote from Bill Gates brought a lump to my throat.