Friday, July 11, 2014

Ziqitza Healthcare Limited through eyes our investor Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz

When we first invested in ZHL, the company had 9 ambulances with a purely private business model based on a sliding scale pricing structure. Over the past 7 years, partnership with government has driven the company’s growth. Scale and sustainability are possible – and so is a commitment to ethics. At the nexus of both is the constancy of moral leadership.

Before ZHL, a state like Odisha, India’s fourth poorest, provided little in the way of emergency services.  On my recent visit to Bhubaneswar, the state’s capital, I met numerous people who shared horror stories of trying to get loved ones to hospitals using rickshaws, taxis, even bullock carts. Now, by dialing 108, any person with an emergency can expect a quick pick-up and delivery to a public hospital. What is most surprising to users is that the 108 services are actually effective. Average delivery times are less than 25 minutes, despite the fact that 80% of users live in rural, underserved areas with inadequate infrastructure. Prashant, a fish farmer who lost an uncle while trying desperately to get to hospital said that this new ambulance company was like “the gods coming to help the poor people.”

If free, quality services are a surprise, so too is the absence of corruption: bribes are not tolerated.  To ensure this, a quality team is tasked with calling users regularly to inquire: 1) whether the driver has asked them to pay; 2) whether they’ve paid something, even voluntarily; and 3) how they would rate the quality and speed of service. The group also monitors daily calls, currently coming in at 10,000 a day. By year’s end, ZHL in Odisha alone will transport more than a million people to hospitals, proving the potential of a public-private venture to serve the very poor.

The company’s leaders focus vigilantly on re-enforcing its values-based culture.  Sumit Basu, Regional Head for East India, tells the story of the Emergency Medical Technician, Pratap Kumar Sethi, who noticed a wallet containing 21,000 rupees (about $350) beside a roadside accident’s unconscious victim. The driver insisted on bringing the wallet to the hospital and holding it until the man regained consciousness, not trusting doctors to be honest. ZHL ensured the local newspaper covered this act of integrity. The driver earned respect. The idea that good service is possible was reinforced. Everyone gained in dignity. If scaled and buttressed by transparency and ethics, a single company can impact an industry.

This is the idea: patient capital is vital for early-stage investing when the company must confront significant challenges to disrupt an industry. At this stage, few other than philanthropy-based patient capital will take the financial risk the company needs for experimentation. As new standards and practices are established over time, the company serves as a model for others. If all goes well, it moves to profitability and sustainability, so that the company can raise more traditional capital. The poor thus have greater access to freedom, to dignity. How this translates into lives impacted is something we are studying along with the Grameen Foundation, so stay tuned

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A death trap called Indian Roads

It’s a fact that, as humans, stories move us more than statistics. What experiences an individual goes through in his lifetime make it easier to relate than analysing how many individuals go through the same experience. 

That’s the reason despite the various statistics released by officials  on road accidents  (over 2 lakh road accident deaths in 2012, 15 road accidents happen in India every hour), it has only now come into public awareness and concern due to the sudden demise of Mr. Gopinath Munde, BJP leader, in a road accident.

Though hypothetical scenarios are being played out on what the outcome would have been had Mr. Munde been wearing a seat-belt or if the driver would have followed basic traffic rules, the fact remains that thousands of such cases go unnoticed every week. It’s a possibility that a road accident has happened somewhere in India as you are reading this.

It doesn’t mean that we downplay what Mr. Gopinath Munde went through. Every loss of life is irreplaceable and so is Mr. Munde’s. But the fact remains that if, as a society, it’s the stories that make us move, we should learn our lessons from this tragic outcome and appeal for a stringent law in spirit and action so that our roads become safer for us and our future generations.

Lets strive together as a society to bring an end to this mayhem that has engrained itself into our daily commute.