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  • Nova Scotia Expat: Solving Health Care Gaps the World Over

Nova Scotia Expat: Solving Health Care Gaps the World Over

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nova Scotia is a prime place for innovative minds to develop and grow. The area is rife with learning institutions, business startups, green initiatives and breakthroughs of all kinds. This is the environment that fostered one of Nova Scotia's most active and progressive media magnets, Krista Donaldson.

Donaldson, a Nova Scotia native, has earned substantial recognition for her work in engineering and product development. Many of the accolades she's earned have been based on her unique vision and innovative ideas in medical devices and global health. Her work has been praised by public media outlets and garnished with a variety of awards from establishments located all over the globe.

Building ideas
Her start came years ago during her time at Queen Elizabeth High School in Halifax; she later went on to study engineering at Vanderbilt University and then Stanford University after her family moved to the US the summer before she started grade 12. Halifax's vibrant academic community and culture prepared her well for tackling diverse issues in nontraditional areas of product development.  She notes that her background in Nova Scotia – and Maritime's resiliency –  is part of the success she's seeing today as the CEO of D-Rev (short for Design Revolution), a nonprofit product development company based in San Francisco, California.

D-Rev focuses on developing products that improve the lives of people living on less than $4 per day – either by increasing their incomes, or improving their health. D-Rev teams have designed products – to help amputees walk, and babies to thrive – that are more effective yet radically more affordable than anything currently on the market. However, her work and experiences go far beyond the lab environment. Donaldson has worked all over the world, meeting and learning from people – from this came D-Rev's business model which is to leverage markets to delivery products, rather than relying on donations or heavy subsidies. "Using the market to reach our target customers, holds us, the designers, accountable to them. This runs counter to traditional approaches with foreign aid." While much of the high-end engineering design happens at D-Rev, Donaldson is clear that D-Rev cannot succeed without its partners; its first product Brilliance is manufactured, distributed and sold through India-based Phoenix Medical Systems.

She's spent time on the ground in Iraq during the midst of warfare, seeing the need for integrated systems rather than one-off technology solutions. She's also spent time focusing on how people in under-resourced communities can strengthen their own economies; she taught at Kenyatta University in Kenya and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. She notes that while she taught, she was as much a student. Her body of work has earned the attention of the opportunity to speak on a number of stages, including TED Women and the Clinton Global Initiative. She's been honored by the World Economic Forum, Fast Company Co. and was a US Department of State American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow. But at the end of the day, her heart goes back to her work, finding new models to empower people to lift themselves out of poverty.

Solving major challenges
Donaldson understands that people in remote areas are no different than those in the densest cities – they want access to good healthcare for themselves and their children. Furthermore, products alone won't address the gaps in many of the world's low-income areas . "We thought if you design a good product, it will scale on its own," Donaldson told the New York Times. "That works in efficient markets, but most developing communities don't have efficient markets."

Donaldson is one of the industry leaders pushing "design thinking," an ethos around product development that focuses on problem-solving and user empathy. D-Rev's Brilliance was launched in late 2012 and has treated over 16,000 babies to date. Approximately 1 in 6 babies in the developing world need to be treated for severe jaundice – without it, they risk brain damage or even death. Beyond the product development itself, however, D-Rev advocates for greater price transparency in the sector, as well as elevating overlooked conditions to policymakers.

As part of the company's overarching dedication to understanding the challenges faced by people living on less than $4 per day, personnel often visit medical facilities around the world. Since opening its doors in 2007, D-Rev employees, including Donaldson, have worked to understand not just local, but large-scale constraints that result in lack of opportunities and access to medical care. Krista Donaldson has made huge strides in showing how resilient and resourceful Nova Scotia natives can be and continues to set a positive example for those seeking to get involved in engineering, world affairs and social welfare.

Since leaving the province years ago, Donaldson has returned home every summer to spend quality time at her family cottage in Pictou.


Krista Donaldson is a member of the ConnectNS network which includes proud Nova Scotians, alumni and expats from over 40 countries. Get involved.