Kevin Starr demands impact

When Kevin Starr talks about philanthropy and his work with the Mulago Foundation, he keeps it simple and straight-forward. As the foundation’s director, Starr is looking to fund the best scalable solutions to the biggest problems in the poorest places. No fancy mission statements or long grant proposals are necessary. As he described during his PopTech talk, he’s seen too much money wasted on too many big problems to get swayed by the newest, flashiest, overhyped projects (One Laptop per Child, LifeStraw, and PlayPumps, for starters). In investigating potential grantees he wants to know whether they 1) know their mission, 2) measure the right thing and 3) measure it well.

Prior to his work at Mulago, Starr had been practicing medicine. When his friend and mentor, Rainer Arnhold, passed away suddenly while they were both working in Bolivia, the course of Starr’s life shifted. In 1994, Arnhold’s family asked Starr to maintain Rainer’s life’s work focusing on health, poverty, and conservation in the world’s poorest places.

For over 15 years Starr has carried out Arnhold’s wish, funding initiatives that focus on four elements of a lasting, better life – livelihood, health, education and conservation – in the places that need them the most. In addition, the Mulago Foundation’s Rainer Arnhold Fellows program was established to give people with good ideas for social change a chance to design for scalable impact. PopTech’s own Social Innovation Fellows Leila Janah of Samasource, Josh Nesbit of Medic Mobile and Abby Falik of Global Citizen Year are also Rainer Arnhold Fellows.

In fact, numerous synergies exist between PopTech and Kevin Starr, who is a core faculty member to PopTech’s Social Innovation Fellows as well as a member of our Accelerator’s Advisory Board. Starr explains, “Mulago and PopTech are both focused on audacious solutions and the remarkable people who can deliver them. We are working toward the same big goals and sharing more and more of the same approaches.”

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