Operation ASHA is on a mission to expand access to services and products of a high quality at affordable prices to disadvantaged communities worldwide with a focus on delivery of health services. They do this by providing the last mile connectivity, i.e. service delivery at the doorsteps of the under-served. Its vision is of a healthy society, where preventable diseases and infant and maternal mortality have been significantly decreased, and healthy lifespan extended to all by curtailment of disease. i-genius spoke with Operation ASHA’s President, Dr. Shelly Batra to find out more.
i-genius: Why did you start Operation ASHA?
Dr. Shelly Batra: I started Operation ASHA to serve the poorest of the poor. I want to put an end to the TB epidemic. After all, the disease is fully curable, and why should the world suffer so much, with 8 million new cases of TB each year? We have made matters worse by creating Drug-resistant TB, which happens when patients leave their treatment halfway. I want to ensure every dose taken to prevent Drug-resistant TB. I want to tell every TB patient, “Come on guys, be brave! have your medicine regularly!”
i-genius: In a nutshell, what is T and why is it important to raise awareness of it?
Dr. Batra: TB is a bacterial infection, a 5000 year old disease. It has existed since the time of the Pharoahs. It is fully curable, and treatment is there for free, but in 5000 years we haven’t succeeded in getting rid of it. We have eradicated small pox and the plague, (for which there was no cure!), but things have gone from bad to worse in TB, for not only are the numbers increasing (9 million NEW cases each year) but also the disease is back with a vengeance in a more deadly avatar, that of Drug-resistant TB.
i-genius: What are good candidates for a company President?
Dr. Batra: A good candidate for Prez? Well, he or she must be strong willed but not obstinate, determined but willing to take things easy when the going gets tough, also firm and flexible at the same time, one who makes the team adhere to rules but is willing to break rules to motivate, encourage and push forward.
i-genius: Who has been your inspiration?
Dr. Batra: Mrs Maclure. My English teacher, decades ago, when I was studying in La Martiniere Girls’ school Lucknow. Alas, she is no more, but I remember her with so much love, for she loved English literature and she enthused me with the same love for books and poetry. By sheer perseverance, she succeeded in dinning the rudiments of English grammer into reluctant heads. When I feel I cannot go on anymore, I just think of her, and say to myself, by golly! if she could do it, so can I!
i-genius: How does Operation ASHA make money?
Dr. Batra: OpASHA is a like a business which doesn’t make money. I have a CEO and COO and a strong middle management, and field staff. I believe in best business practices. But the biz is treating TB, which does not generate revenue, (rather it guzzles up money), and the biz provides a social good, and gives an incredible SROI ie Social Return on Investment of 3217%. As I tell the donors, tell me, which investment can give you this kind of return? Of course, the returns go to the patient, but that’s another story.
i-genius: What difficulties did you experience in setting up OpASHA?
Dr. Batra: Only three difficulties – funds, funds and more funds. When i started OpASHA, nobody knew about TB, nobody cared. so there were no funds. I used up my savings, an incredibly stupid thing to do, according to my friends, who alternately kept ridiculing me or pitying me, depending upon the mood. Then I would borrow money to pay salaries. I spent 3 years of my life living one jump ahead of the creditors and constant fear of the law catching up with me.
i-genius: What are the most crucial things you have done to grow OpASHA?
Dr. Batra: For 9 years, I have been continuously talking, till I am hoarse. I am still talking! Never a minute’s rest to the poor overworked vocal cords! Why? To raise awareness about TB, to raise funds, to explain the program, to gives lectures across the world, to create collaborations, to do advocacy for policy change, you name it, I have done it. And still doing.
i-genius: OpASHA does work in Cambodia and India. Why these two countries?
Dr. Batra: India is my country. I am proud to be in an Indian. But I am ashamed to announce that India has the highest TB burden in the world, with numbers far exceeding second ranking China. TB is the biggest health crisis that India is facing, with 2 million new cases and 400,000 deaths annually. Operation ASHA started work in Delhi and has now replicated across 9 states. it is working in urban slums, villages, hard to reach tribal areas, and conflict ridden zones. In 2010 we started work in Cambodia. One of our board members who was teaching law in Pnom penh, was shocked at the magnitude of the problem, and he put in the seed money and raised funds to start the work.
i-genius: What are OpASHA’S future plans?
Dr. Batra: To go to scale. Replicate in all high burden countries. Replicate wherever the need is. Help others replicate. Become a resource centre to train other NGOs and governments to replicate our model. Train health workers. Carry out research. Upgrade technology for other diseases.
i-genius: Do you have a favourite motto?
Dr. Batra: my motto – If at once you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again.
i-genius: What’s the worse business advice you have received?
Dr. Batra: Worst business advice – take a big salary as President, you deserve it. Had I done that, we would have sunk without a trace.
This interview was conducted as part of the i-genius Getting Started interview series. If you would like to learn how to get started in your social business, then why not take our ‘Getting Started – Social Business Start Up’ online course with i-genius Academy. To find out more, click here!