Kara Palamountain ’04
Kellogg and graduate Kara Palamountain are fighting AIDS through better business design
By Adrienne Murrill
Ed. note: The following profile is based on previous interviews conducted by the Kellogg School Marketing and Communications team.
Kara Palamountain '04 isn’t a doctor; in fact, seeing blood makes her squirm. Still, she has been fighting the AIDS crisis in Africa for several years.
She is executive director of the Global Health Initiatives (GHI) program – a rare partnership between industry, academia and donors to develop medical products for underserved, underdeveloped countries. A division of the Ford Motor Company Center for Corporate Global Citizenship, GHI is a collaboration among the Kellogg School, Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering, and industry partners Abbott, Inverness and IDEO. Together, their aim is to develop and produce affordable diagnostic devices for infectious diseases.
The Kellogg component of this project, led by Daniel Diermeier, the IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice, involves researching the market dynamics, government issues and distribution channels in the developing world. Of the billions of dollars spent annually on medical research, it has been estimated that only 10 percent of these dollars are devoted to the diseases that cause 90 percent of the global illness and death. Palamountain has been integral in this effort to narrow the funding gap for medical research since being a student at Kellogg.
Palamountain's sister, a physician, first opened the Kellogg grad’s eyes to the severity of the African AIDS crisis through her work at a pediatric AIDS hospital in Botswana. While at Kellogg, Palamountain participated in a Global Initiatives in Management (GIM) trip to Africa, during which participants studied pharmaceutical companies' response to the AIDS crisis in South Africa. There she had a chance to see how the disease had ravaged the continent: At one hospital she visited, doctors struggled to care for more than 4,000 patients, with little in the way of staff or resources.
After her first year in the MBA program, Palamountain interned at Abbott, where she created awareness in Africa about two Abbott-made products — an antiretroviral treatment called Kaletra and a test for HIV frequently used in programs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.
“One day a professor from the McCormick School, Dave Kelso, stopped by our office to talk about an idea he had for redesigning Abbott products for use in developing countries, particularly those hardest hit by the HIV crisis,” she remembers. “It sounded interesting so I immediately volunteered to help link him with Kellogg.” During her second year, Palamountain and classmate Aparna Saha ’04 worked on the Kellogg portion of a four-year, $4.9 million grant that Northwestern would be awarded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006.
After graduation, Palamountain returned to Deloitte & Touche, where she worked prior to Kellogg. “While Deloitte has quite a presence in the U.S. healthcare market, I wanted my career to shift focus towards healthcare in the developing world,” she says. Palamountain was already considering various career options when she reconnected with Diermeier, who coincidentally was looking for someone to lead the Kellogg School’s participation in GHI.
"Existing HIV diagnostics often require a central lab with electricity, refrigeration, trained phlebotomists and lab technicians," Palamountain says. GHI adjusts these technologies for success in developing countries. “The goal of our work is to make HIV testing more affordable and accessible to patients and healthcare providers in resource-limited settings. We think we have some products under way that will really revolutionize HIV care in these settings.”
Palamountain, who was awarded the American Society for Public Administration’s (ASPA) award by the Greater Chicago Chapter in 2008 for her efforts, has helped more than 200 Kellogg students and faculty volunteer on GHI projects in 17 countries. She has led several groups to rural and urban clinics in Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia to observe how their healthcare delivery systems work. Once in-country, participants conduct field research, meeting with stakeholders, some of whom set or implement healthcare policies.
The project has helped to redefine the way Kellogg integrates classroom learning to meet real-world problems. "Not only are we developing processes and best practices for discovering what healthcare providers and people in developing countries need," Palamountain says, "but we are exposing future business leaders to issues facing the developing world."
Posted October 2008