Brendan O’Donghue: The Private Sector

It took a second for the Brendan O’Donghue’s face to appear on the monitor, and when it did, we couldn’t hear him for a minute. The whole class was sitting in the Economics Collaboration room, eating Jimmy John’s and eagerly awaiting our conversation with O’Donghue, who was skyping with us from Nigeria. In a few minutes, the internet connection became stronger and O’Donghue’s face and voice game through.

A friend of Neal’s from Afghanistan, O’Donghue was online today to talk to us about development work through the private sector. O’Donghue works for a company called Zipline, which is based in Silicon Valley. Zipline has technology to operate drones that deliver life-saving medication in hard to reach places. The algorithm, which takes into account speed and ease of delivery, operates with incredible speed and accuracy. The drones get life saving medication to the person in need within 15 minutes of being requested, and drops the medication via parachute within two parking spot spaces of the exact GPS location. Right now, Zipline has operations all over Africa and Southeast Asia. It contracts directly with the government, under the assumption that the partnership will save the government money by decreasing health care costs. Right now, it takes the company about three months to set up an operation, but O’Donghue spoke of the companies goal to set up in a day or two. At that rate, Zipline’s technology could be crucial in combatting the effects of natural disasters.

O’Donghue’s professional background is interesting. After graduating from Hamilton College, O’Donghue had experience working on Wall Street, for government, and in the non-profit world before transitioning to the private sector. This diversity of experience gave him the ability to discuss the pros and cons of each sector. While Wall Street provided financial stability, O’Donghue felt like he wasn’t making a difference. He transitioned to the non-profit sector and government, but found both to be corrupt. Governments were especially frustrating, as the high-stakes of governmental decisions make them very risk-averse, which make it hard to get anything done. O’Donghue has had a positive experience in the private sector so far, especially in a Silicon Valley company. The company is risk-loving, which means he can work with speed and flexibility, make mistakes, and still be a success. Zipline is also a socially conscious for-profit company that hires almost entirely local staff in order to be sustainable. For a class of people who are interested in rebuilding economies after conflict, hearing his lived experience in each sector was really helpful.

Zipline has come out with really exciting technology. While they are currently limited to emergency medical supplies, they hope to expand that. Who knows? Maybe one day a Zipline drone will drop your to-go food order on your doorstep.

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