Skip to Main Content

Public health innovator Kaakpema Yelpaala appointed senior fellow and lecturer at YSPH

September 19, 2023
by Colin Poitras

Public health innovator and global entrepreneur Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala has joined the Yale School of Public Health as a senior fellow and lecturer in the Department of Health Policy and Management.

Yelpaala, a YSPH alum who received his MPH in global health in 2006, brings a deep understanding of global digital health and health care innovation to his new post along with 20 years of experience working across public and private sectors in the United States, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Caribbean.

Yelpaala also serves as the faculty director of InnovateHealth Yale (IHY).

A longtime public health practitioner, Yelpaala co-founded InOn Health in 2018. The company improved access to care in the United States using digital communication channels and consumer insights to better connect multicultural populations to health care services.

Prior to InOn Health, Yelpaala founded International. was a global digital health company that developed solutions to improve access to health information and services in 13 African countries.

“KP has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to creating sustainable innovations and leveraging data to address global health inequities and improve public health,” YSPH Dean Dr. Megan L. Ranney, MD, said. “He is a true leader in this important area, and we are excited that he will be sharing his insights and expertise with our faculty and students.”

As a YSPH student and after his graduation, Yelpaala was an employee of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). As a part of his role at CHAI, he assisted former YSPH Professor Elizabeth “Betsy” Bradley in founding a program to improve hospital management systems in Ethiopia. In 2007, he was the recipient of the Yale University Eric W. Mood New Professionals in Public Health Alumni Award for leadership and innovation in global health. Earlier this year, he was recognized as a “Luminary” in Rock Health’s list of the Top 50 leaders in Digital Health for his work in advancing novel ideas and new approaches that improve health for humanity.

“It is an honor to be appointed a senior fellow and lecturer at the Yale School of Public Health by Dr. Ranney,” Yelpaala said. “Her four core pillars for the future of public health resonate deeply with me given my background as an entrepreneur and digital health leader working in the U.S. and globally. I am really enthusiastic about how YSPH can support the next generation of public health innovators and social entrepreneurs, so this is exciting and a bit of a homecoming for me 20 years after I first set foot on this campus to start my career in public health.”

In his new role at YSPH, Yelpaala will serve as a lecturer in the Executive MPH program, sharing his insights on innovation, entrepreneurship, and the use of data in public health with other health professionals. Innovation and entrepreneurship and data-driven leadership are two of the four core pillars that Dean Ranney has identified as being essential to the future of public health. The other two pillars are inclusion and community and communication.

As public health practitioners, we must balance best practices in public health and science with what communities identify as their pressing priorities. We should anchor ourselves in community-driven public health models.

Kaakpema “KP” Yelpaala

Yelpaala will provide mentorship and support to YSPH faculty and students interested in health equity, digital health, and global health. He also will assist in the development of innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives at YSPH in collaboration with other programs across Yale.

Lastly, Yelpaala will develop case studies focused on health equity and innovation in both the nonprofit and for-profit sectors that can be used as case-based learning models.

During a recent visit to campus, Yelpaala said it was exciting to see students and faculty enthusiastic about public health innovation and entrepreneurship.

“I’ve met with so many students who are enthusiastic about these themes,” Yelpaala said. “And I want to emphasize that I’ll be talking about both nonprofit and for-profit models. What I'm hoping to do is expose people to the pros and cons of each approach. Whatever pathway they choose, I'm hoping that I can give them some guidance on what to expect and how they can be impactful.”

Yelpaala currently holds several health equity and digital inclusion advisory roles. He was recently appointed a member of the External Equity and Innovation Advisory Board for the American Medical Association. In early 2021, Colorado Governor Jared Polis appointed him to serve on the Colorado eHealth Commission. He is now the chair of the commission, which governs all health IT for the state of Colorado, with a focus on equitable innovation that serves all Coloradans.

When asked what advice he gives people stepping into the innovation space, Yelpaala offered three insights:

  1. Never lose sight of what communities identify as their needs. “As public health practitioners, we must balance best practices in public health and science with what communities identify as their pressing priorities,” he said. “We should anchor ourselves in community-driven public health models.”
  2. Center equity in everything you do from the beginning as opposed to thinking about equity as something to address after achieving initial success and scale. This will help ensure that you work towards equitable outcomes and not just equal access.
  3. No matter how great our intentions may be, if we can’t build sustainable financial models, we cannot sustain the work. We need to figure out ways to finance the important work we do and that will look different in nonprofit models versus private sector, for-profit models.

Always an active and engaged YSPH alumnus, Yelpaala served for eight years (2014-2021) on the Yale School of Public Health Leadership Council and chaired its Strategy Committee. Prior to Yale, he received a Bachelor of Arts with Honors in Economics Public Health from Brown University in 2002. Yelpaala lives in Denver with his partner, Sara (Shamos) Yelpaala, a 2007 graduate of YSPH, their children, Desmond (13) and Eliana (10), and their 2 dogs, Aika and Oakley. Sara Yelpaala is a health strategy and communications expert with 20 years of experience in digital health, complex client program delivery, and global public health.

Submitted by Colin Poitras on September 19, 2023