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How to get a social enterprise off the ground: Making an idea for social change become a reality

   /   May 12th, 2011India, International, News

So you’ve got the next Great Idea to solve a social or environmental problem; or the beginnings of the next Great Idea — where do you go from here? How do you manifest your idea into something tangible, an organization, enterprise or product?

In this series we follow a young social entrepreneur traveling through India and exploring these questions, hoping to set the groundwork for her own organization. We’ll track her progress in weekly updates as she takes part in a national immunization day on polio and consults experts and health workers on how best to incorporate mobile phones into the operation.  She saw a need: those who already had polio were seeking – and not finding – help. Her solution: develop a program that allows health workers to transmit basic information via mobile phone to doctors in nearby cities who would be able to offer free-of-cost corrective surgery.

Three years back, I got to experience how massive health campaigns immunize thousands, if not millions, of children.  They’re chaotic, difficult, culturally-sensitive, and large-scale operations requiring the manpower of thousands. I received the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship and with it, a chance to get a glimpse of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. I traveled into Uttar Pradesh to see how dollars transformed into medicine.   What I saw was astounding: dozens of health workers, employed by the government, WHO, or UNICEF, scoured through the narrow alleys of polio-rife cities, trying to vaccinate every child under five.

While vaccinating children, I met several families who had been afflicted by polio.  I knew that we were to trying to avoid future cases but what about those who already had the disease?  What about all those who were already suffering from it?

After several years of working on the polio effort.  I decided to return this year to India on my own to see how we could try to help those who already had the disease.  I had seen the power (and prevalence) of mobile phones in India – everyone has one. I figured we could try to connect the health workers in the field to doctors in the city who offered polio-corrective surgery.

One such doctor is Dr. Varghese at St. Stephen’s Hospital in Delhi, one of the oldest hospitals in the city.  He’s managed to convince the hospital to set aside eight beds for polio patients.  And with the help of funds from charitable organizations as well as some cost-shifting in the hospital, he’s able to offer polio-corrective surgery free of cost to these patients from neighboring states.

So, my first meeting was with Dr. Varghese to see if it would even be possible to pursue this venture.  What’s critical to establish is: If there’s a need, and If there’s support to help fill that need.

He convinced me that both are true.

But the challenge won’t be a shortage of funds or creating a sustainable model but rather partnerships: convincing other hospitals to follow Dr. Varghese’s lead and set aside a number of beds specifically for polio patients.  Generally, most patients are emergency cases in these hospitals, hurt by an accident or experiencing severe pain.  Polio is a life-long condition and thus, of secondary importance.

When Dr. Varghese mentioned this, I realized that while we as social entrepreneurs want to tackle problems on our own, in many cases, it’s necessary to get the support and assistance of other partners.  That’s probably why in India we’re seeing so many public-private partnerships. Starting an initiative without the security of government support can be challenging.

So, after understanding the issues from Dr. Varghese, I have now been talking to the other partners – WHO, PolioPlus, UNICEF, and more to see if there is a scope for developing this telemedicine approach to polio.  Since they are already so vested in this project, it would be best to garner their consent before going forward.

6 Responses

  1. Geri Stengel says:

    Interesting how new eyes see a problem in a different way … and a solution. I am impressed that you are reaching across sectors to bring together the resources and support your project needs. Social enterprises and NGOs need to do more of that. People do not live with just one problem; they have intersecting problems that required co-ordinated solutions.

  2. [...] In this series we follow a young social entrepreneur traveling through India and exploring these questions, hoping to set the groundwork for her own organization. We’ll track her progress in weekly updates as she takes part in a national immunization day on polio and consults experts and health workers on how best to incorporate mobile phones into the operation.  She saw a need: those who already had polio were seeking – and not finding – help. Her solution: develop a program that allows health workers to transmit basic information via mobile phone to doctors in nearby cities who would be able to offer free-of-cost corrective surgery. Read the first installment here. [...]

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