FF Daily #487: The risk-taking funnel

September 29, 2021: How to deal with pandemic induced ‘learning loss’; Understanding resilience; Bite the Apple

Founding Fuel

[Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash]

Good morning,

In Choose Possibility, tech executive and entrepreneur Sukhinder Singh Cassidy tells the story of Mathai Mammen, the global R&D head of Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s pharma division.   

Cassidy writes that throughout his career, “Mathai has focused on producing breakthrough outcomes by taking a variety of risks, big and small. As he told me, the lengthy process of developing new drugs entails proceeding down a risk-taking funnel. At first, you take a larger number of small, inexpensive bets on ideas or technologies that are relatively unlikely to succeed but that will yield life-changing medicines if they do. From there, you progressively take fewer but bigger risks. By the end of the funnel, when you’re deciding which drug candidate to submit for regulatory approval (with all of the expensive testing that requires), you bet a great deal on a single medicine.”

Cassidy asked Mathai his secret of staying happy and fulfilled even as he pursued these long gestation projects, which could take years to complete. 

“A big part of it, he said, had to do with remembering the ultimate purpose: helping keep people alive, healthier, and happier. ‘You know every day that the destination you’re aiming for is really important. When you alleviate a disease burden, you help not only the patient, but also the family and community. The impact is huge and that helps you stay in the game.’ Mathai also emphasized the importance of working toward milestones along the way and celebrating them when you reach them. ‘We have to celebrate heartily the little wins along the way to the big win.’ These milestones might include understanding the mechanism by which a disease unfolds in the body, discover a drug agent to address that mechanism, and validate that the drug actually works in real patients.”

In this issue,

  • How to deal with pandemic induced ‘learning loss’
  • Understanding resilience
  • Bite the Apple

How to deal with pandemic induced ‘learning loss’

Dr Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham Education Foundation, has won this year’s Yidan Prize, ‘one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in the field of education’. In an essay recently, Banerji teamed up with Wilima Wadhwa, the head of Pratham’s Aser centre, to share their learnings from a study of school children in Karnataka earlier this year. The findings are depressing, and highlights why it would be wrong to imagine that back to school would be anywhere close to back to normal.  

They write, “It is important to highlight the situation of the youngest children (those currently in Std I and II). These cohorts have had no prior schooling experience and most likely not much exposure to pre-schooling either. Once schools open, for these children, starting with Std I or II curriculum or textbooks will be a big mistake. In fact, they need to spend the rest of the year engaged in readiness activities. It will be essential to enable them to build a breadth of skills in cognitive and socio-emotional domains with structured exposure to and participation in language acquisition and pre-math activities.”

Interestingly, some of the initiatives that Karnataka took earlier might come to help. “In pre-Covid times, and in fact well before the NEP was announced, several states, including Karnataka, carried out large statewide learning improvement programmes to build foundational skills of children.

“Implemented for several years, the ‘Odu Karnataka’ programme was based on the well-known ‘teaching-at-the-right-level approach’—a homegrown response developed by Pratham for helping children to ‘catch up’. In the 2019-20 school year, over half a million children in Std IV and V gained between 20-30 percentage points in basic reading and math in a short period of 60 days of Odu Karnataka implementation.”

Dig deeper

Understanding resilience

An opinion piece in The New York Times by Peter Coy on resilience had our attention. “An oak is strong. A reed is weak. But in a terrible storm, the oak is uprooted and the reed survives. Markus Brunnermeier, an economics professor at Princeton University, takes that metaphor from the French poet Jean de La Fontaine as the theme of his new book, The Resilient Society. His message: Like the reed, we must bend, not break.”

The teacher has Coy’s attention because he is at work to place things in perspective for students in the post pandemic world. “Covid-19 has been a spur to experimentation. To stimulate its economy, the Chinese city of Hangzhou sent digital coupons to residents’ phones that could be used only for consumption and had an expiration date. Indonesia focused its vaccination on the working-age population early on. Germany preserved workers’ ties to their employers during the Covid-19 recession through its traditional Kurzarbeit, or ‘short-time work’.

“Brunnermeier doesn’t necessarily endorse any of these initiatives. Kurzarbeit, for example, could stall the needed reallocation of workers from dying industries into growing ones, he says. His point is that there’s strength in the diversity of approaches.”

Dig deeper

Bite the Apple

(Vikram Varma Via WhatsApp)

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Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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