With Not Impossible selected as part of TEDMED's The Hive 2014 in San Francisco, we took the opportunity to touch base with other innovators who inspire us. Samahope crowdfunds for doctors who are performing life-changing medical treatments for people who cannot afford their services. It taps the power of the crowd to directly fund selected doctors, renewing their patients’ hopes and gifting life. We spoke with co-founder Shivani Garg Patel.
Not Impossible Now: What’s the significance of the name of the company?
Shivani: "Sama" actually means "equal" in Sanskrit. And we're all about providing equal hope and dignity to people around the world by providing them access to healthcare.
And how are you seeking to achieve that goal?
At Samahope we basically crowd-fund for pretty amazing doctors who are working to provide critical medical care to women and children in poor communities around the world. These patients wouldn't be able to provide care for themselves and are suffering from debilitating health conditions that require surgical care.
The doctors we spotlight on our website are trying to bridge the gap that exists for access to care. We've found that [these doctors] actually all have the capacity to treat more patients but just lack the funding to do so. So we said, "Why not use power of the crowd, the power of crowd-funding, the power of the internet and really create a channel of funds by pooling donations from donors all over the world to support their work, and also bring awareness to the conditions that they're treating, which often are neglected."
In a practical sense, for the doctors who are part of your network, do you raise the funds and then approach doctors in certain areas and say, "Look we can pay you instead of the patients having to pay you." Or, are these doctors coming to you and saying, "I would love to be able to do this work but I can't afford it."
We first find the medical partners in these communities, which are often really rural and remote. These are charity clinics and hospitals that are the equivalent to a 501(c)(3) non-profit here in the US - because they cater to the poorest of the poor in those areas.
We do diligence on these partners, we make sure they're really credible, that they're doing the work that our donors can feel confident in providing contributions towards. Once we've understood what their needs are and built a relationship with them, we say, "Okay, where do you actually have the biggest challenge? Where do you have the biggest demand when it comes to medical treatments? And what are you not able to fund right now?" Because, what we're trying to do is not duplicate existing funding sources, we're trying to add to their resources, so that we can increase their capacity to serve poor people.
Do the patients know that their doctors are being subsidized by samahope?
The patients do know that Samahope is a source of funding for these doctors, but what we're funding are the treatments. So we'll find out from our partners, "What are those treatments that you have a challenge funding? For example, it could be a birth injury, or burn repair surgery. Many of our doctors are reconstructive surgeons, and they treat patients who suffer from really severe burns that lead to disabilities. We look at the cost holistically. It could cost $300 or $500 dollars to perform that surgery, a really low cost, but then there's pre-care, post-care, housing the patients, and transferring patients to the site.
Have you received emails or any correspondence from patients who've benefited from Samahope?
Yeah, we have. It's pretty phenomenal to hear the stories of impact that these doctors have had on these peoples' lives. Every donor who supports a doctor's work gets a monthly report of the patients who were treated as a result of their support, and a story from a patient articulating the impact that its had on their lives.
What's one of the stories that has touched you most over the course of samahope's operations?
I went to Nepal to visit one of our doctors who does reconstructive surgeries, primarily for burns. And I met a two-year-old, Bishal, who comes from a fairly rural area, the hills and mountains of Nepal where it gets really cold (as you can imagine) in the winter months.
One of those nights, the boy actually crawled into the fire that the family uses as a source of warmth and light, because they don't have access to a reliable electricity source and, unfortunately, Bishal suffered multiple burns on his face and his arms that were very significant. He lost use of his hands as a result of his burns as it made the skin fuse at contact.
Bishal's mother is the sole caretaker for this little boy and his siblings. She works in a brick factory and she knew that without treatment, he was destined to a life where he wouldn't go to school, a shortened lifespan and this is not the future she envisioned for her son. She was determined to get care. And, somehow she found out about Dr. Rai, who was in Kathmandu, and he does these surgeries, he's dedicated to using his skill set to treating patients exactly like Bishal. She actually had to sell part of her family's farm just for transportation from her village to Kathmandu to seek care for Bishal. And, what stood out to me is that once Bishal luckily got connected to Dr. Rai, he was able to treat Bishal and now he has movement in his hands, and he's on a path to recovery where he will go to school, and now he will be able to live a productive life that otherwise he wouldn't be able to. And Dr. Rai told me, "I see patients like Bishal everyday, and I could treat 100 more of these patients if I just had the funds on an annual basis." And that's really reinforcing the work that we do at Samahope and makes it all worth it.
That's really cool. Are you able to commit to Samahope on a full time basis?
Yeah. This is my full time gig. I came from a pretty traditional career path and was always searching for a way to match my skill set with my desire for social change; using technology for good. Samahope is really the culmination of my background and my personal dream.
Did you leave a job to start samahope? Or did you start the company, and then wait for it first to reach a certain level-
I was actually a strategy consultant. And I got to a period where I said, "I just need to get off this path and really go pursue my passion for social enterprise." So, I quit without having anything else, which was kind of scary for someone who's always known what's next. But I knew I had to do it if I was gonna make the move. I had to cut these ties. I took on some part time advisory work with the Grameen Foundation and was able to get really immersed in the space, but also get some money in the interim. And, in that period, I met my co-founder, Leila Janah, and she and I started samahope. This became my full time gig within a few months of us having started it.
That's great. How many countries are you currently operating in?
We're in 10 countries right now, across sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and parts of Latin America.
Do you have plans already to expand? Or are you trying to consolidate where you are for the moment?
For us, expansion from a geographic standpoint is driven more by finding amazing partners and doctors to support, versus the desire to go to some geographic region. We'll go wherever we find amazing doctors who we know we could best help support with samahope.
When we started Samahope, I thought maybe finding these doctors would be a challenge to scale, but the opposite is the case. We get requests from people telling us what organization they work with, or from the doctors themselves, or from the people who work at these different partner clinics, asking to participate with samahope's platform. That, to me, is validation that we're solving a need that's real.
We have profiles of every single doctor on our site, and these profiles are pretty in-depth. They talk about the credentials of these doctors from a medical standpoint, as well as the impact they've had over the course of their career, a little bit about their personal journey and their motivations for serving the population that they do.
We also spotlight them with videos, so it's a multimedia profile that enables donors to really connect to who these doctors are. We want the donors to be able to build a relationship with these doctors over time.
If you could solve a problem outside of what you're currently doing, and make something else that was impossible, possible-
You know, that's really difficult to answer because I've made this transition to something that I'm so passionate about and really believe in. As an entrepreneur, this is everything I've been wanting to do over the course of my own personal journey.