Apr 4, 2016

Medtronic employees assist victims following historic storm

In the right place at the right time, a Global Innovation Fellows team steps into disaster relief role in Fiji.

A team of Medtronic employees in Fiji had a front-row view to one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the country.

“It was a Level 5 cyclone,” recalls Mark Copps. “It was the strongest storm ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.”

In February, Copps and four other employees visited Suva, Fiji for a three-week Global Innovation Fellows project. The team was partnering with Ramakrishnan Health Service, a nonprofit organization, and their goal was to assess the use of digital health solutions to help combat a growing noncommunicable disease problem.

But in the middle of their trip, the storm hit.

“Thankfully, we were in a brick structure with a generator,” says Copps. “It was a scary time, but we were never in harm’s way.”

Cyclone Winston left tens of thousands homeless and, according to Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office, left 42 dead. A country-wide curfew was enacted which allowed emergency management officials to assist with basic needs.

“We were eager to help,” says Copps. “Our time came a bit later.”

Eventually, the team was able to put their consulting work on hold and travel to some of the hardest-hit areas to assist storm victims.

“We saw villages that were impacted,” says Grace Zhou, another Medtronic employee. “There were roofs that were torn off and a school completely cut in half.”

Aid from surrounding countries and nonprofit organizations began pouring into Fiji including fruit and vegetable seeds for communities where farm fields had been wiped out. The bags of seeds not only represented sustainable food, but a source of income, too.

“We went door-to-door to disseminate these seeds,” recalls Zhou. “The people were so happy despite the devastation around them.”

Zhou says that passing out these seeds “was equally important” to their original plan that brought them to Fiji.

It was the first time a Global Innovation Fellows team departed from their consulting work to assist in immediate disaster relief needs.

“It was one of the most touching parts of the trip,” says Copps. “We went in thinking we’d be pushing a healthcare issue forward, but when the storm came, we assisted in a different way.”

While the Global Innovation Fellows program exists to address healthcare needs, organizers say this was a situation where these Fellows saw an urgent community need, and the flexibility of the program allowed them to respond quickly in order to make an immediate impact.