Hult Prize: Reporting from Team Rene

By Rene Forjanic, Global MBA student 2013-2014, Slovenia

Contrary to popular belief, urban slums do have access to general healthcare and treatment, limited as the latter might be. There are number of healthcare providers, both NGOs and for-profit, that are providing affordable (often free) healthcare solutions tailored specifically to the needs of urban slum dwellers. Another group with great potential are community health workers – these “community champions” are very much seen as trustworthy and honest by the local population and can, with some additional training, act for example as mediators between slum residents and us.

The real issue that prevents the majority of residents in urban slums from obtaining adequate health care or treatment, however, is the lack of profitability of the various business models in place today. While the aforementioned “local champions” care for up to 100,000 patients per year, their operations – good as they may be – simply cannot be scaled up. Both the NGOs and community champions face the same problem: due to financial constraints, they are only able to provide quality service to a handful of patients (compared to the total slum population in need of medical assistance), while their expertise could be used to help so many more.

One solution is a two-tier project that makes use of both non-profit and for-profit business models. The real question for any type of endeavor, particularly social, is how to make it self-sustainable (profitable)? The model we are developing is a solution capable of diagnosing slum residents for some of the most widespread chronic diseases. Furthermore, at the core of our solution, there is the option to generate a patient’s medical chart to be used by healthcare professionals or to compile statistics for interested parties.

Since the priorities of urban slum residents are focused more on immediate survival needs, convincing them to get diagnosed for diseases that could impact their lives in the mid- to long-run, if at all, is a challenge in and of itself. To be completely honest, this is something we are still struggling with – how do we provide incentives to urban slum residents to get tested for diseases that might not even impact them? Do we dare ask hardworking men and women who are struggling for survival to pay for something so trivial?

Our idea for working around this barrier is to diagnose people when they are attending in one of their short-term needs. By designing our solution in a simple and flexible way, we may be able to offer added value in the form of increased service to the patients, perhaps even free of charge, and at the same time collaborate with other organizations. In any case, we’re still some time away from our presentation in Dubai and we are putting in every possible effort to make our solution as solid as possible. See you there!

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