In 2005, I took a strategic decision. Much as I loved surgery, I shifted my focus to Tuberculosis, (TB). While I faced criticism and jeers from my colleagues and other NGOs, I quickly realized my next challenge. In order to deliver crucial, life changing services – TB or otherwise – one has to work with the government.
It started with data!
In 2007-08, an evaluation by Catalyst Management Services of a tribal livelihoods initiative for the State Planning Commission of Madhya Pradesh showed that agriculture as a livelihoods option was unproductive and for small tribal farmers; leaving them without a profitable livelihood option. But it wasn’t because of prices, or barriers to entry. Instead, it was because crucial services and government schemes were not reaching those who needed them most.
According to the data, only 10-12% of small producers were able to access vital extension schemes and a mere 7-8% of other government schemes. The evaluation found that large farms were crowding out the smaller farmers from accessing key subsidies and benefits. So the State Planning Commission posed a challenge: find a way to reach these marginalized tribal farmers in Madhya Pradesh.
Fostering partnerships, relationships and collaboration is crucial to “opening the door” to scaling innovative solutions from social entrepreneurs that help people around the globe pull themselves out of poverty. This was the resounding message that came out of the 2015 Sankalp Africa Summit, held in Nairobi, Kenya on February 5 and 6.
During the course of the two days, nearly 700 participants from 30 countries came together in Nairobi for learning sessions, networking opportunities, and idea sharing all to help end extreme poverty.
Over the years, the World Bank Group’s Development Marketplace has worked with hundreds of social entrepreneurs around the globe. Through our multifaceted process, we have surfaced and supported hundreds of social entrepreneurs, however, we have come to realize that while financial and capacity support and learning opportunities are crucial in helping these social businesses thrive, it is equally important to support and foster networking and public private dialogue opportunities among relevant actors. The challenges in poverty reduction are difficult to say the least. But, when we come together, we can solve the challenges ahead of us.
The Sankalp Africa Summit or similar learning and networking conferences/events allow social entrepreneurs, the World Bank Group, impact investors, foundations, government officials and other players to come together to share concerns, ideas, and joint solutions to the most important development challenges. During one of the sessions led by the Development Marketplace, I was able to sit on a panel with Tim Chambers, co-Founder of Enterprise Projects Ventures Limited. Speaking to and presenting with Tim, I was inspired by his innovation, but more importantly he taught me through a real life example how partnerships and collaboration are a must in scaling innovations. Let me share a bit of Tim’s story with you:
I graduated from the Government Medical College in Guwahati (Assam) in the summer of 2007 as an ophthalmologist. I was confident that I would start a successful eye care practice in Upper Assam, in my hometown Jorhat. But, starting an eye care practice requires considerable investment, so I opted to start in a corporate hospital at first. The patients were rich, could afford anything, and my paycheck was not something to complain about.
It was not long, before I realized that treating high profile patients was not always a piece of cake. Many times, you not only treat the patient, but also their egos. It was during this realization that I began to hear stories of my fellow Assamese that were nothing like my wealthy patients. Stories like that of Bonti.
My father was a pharmacist in Giza, Egypt, with a number of pharmacies dotted throughout the city. Growing up, he engaged me in discussions on public and current affairs and encouraged me to argue my opinions on what was happening in our community. He frequently took me to historical places around Egypt - recounting heroic and brave stories of our past - and ingrained in me pride in our country: a deep unwavering love for Egypt.
Afsar Ali and the five members of his family live in a cramped two bedroom apartment in Patna, the largest city in India’s poorest region of Bihar. Each day, he drives his taxi for hours on end, all to make a meager 200 Rupees. After a long shift of driving around the tightly packed city, he comes home and places whatever savings he has, underneath his mattress for safe keeping. This is his savings account.
Afsar is not alone in keeping what money he can in mattresses, cupboards, or even, depending on the community, in a lock box shared by the entire village. For approximately 2.5 billion people in the world, access to basic financial services like savings and checking accounts are a luxury beyond their reach. Many banks tend to turn clients such as Afsar away because they are considered risky lenders or what little they can put into savings, does not come close to the deposit base banks require.
This bag belongs to Rinki. Rinki doesn’t need it anymore. She was thrown out school when she got tuberculosis. So this is tuberculosis or TB, as it’s commonly known. Though fully curable disease, it has now become a global pandemic. There are nine million new cases in the world annually. 1.3 million deaths. Ten million children have been orphaned because of it. Today itself, 5,000 people will die of TB. And TB is curable.
Let’s talk about technology. eCompliance is a low cost solution to tracking the progress of TB treatment. A tablet with a fingerprint reader attached, a patient gives their fingerprint on each visit to the treatment center. If the fingerprint is messed, an immediate alert goes to the health worker, who visits the patient’s house to give the medicine and takes the fingerprint as proof of visit. This ensures that every dose is taken and prevents drug resistant TB. The World Bank Group’s India Development Marketplace played a crucial role in scaling our eCompliance system and upgrading it to a zero text application. The zero text application is being used by illiterate health workers across the world with ease and accuracy.
Back in the 1970s, I was a medical student ready to take on the world. We had a student exchange program, where students from across the world would come to India to visit and learn. One year, there was a group of young doctors from the UK who were excited to be somewhere they could observe ‘rare diseases.’ Seeing the packed hospitals on rounds, they eagerly asked the Professor of Internal Medicine, “May we see a patient with tuberculosis?” The Professor, uncertain of their excitement, replied frankly, “Of course. We don’t just have one, we have wards and wards full!” Tuberculosis (TB) – the infectious disease that primarily targets the lungs - was, and continues to be, anything but a rare disease in India.
Meeting Sister Rosie, I quickly realized she is a force. Her infectious smile, empathetic eyes, and fierce determination makes her presence known to everyone when she walks into a room – by visitors, by her peers, and by the poor in rural Meghalaya she has been working with for the past two years. However welcoming her physical presence is, it is her unwavering dedication to the social mission of the North East Diocesan Social Service Society (NEDSSS) that commands the utmost respect from the community.