Treat for India, Anyone?

One of the recent episodes on Newslaundry Hafta had an interesting discussion on how over 4,000 doctors from Maharashtra are going to have their registrations cancelled, since they failed to serve in rural areas. The panel then went on to discuss that this would be applicable to only doctors from government colleges and, given the severe shortage of doctors in rural areas, this should be mandatory for doctors from private colleges as well. The point was then extended to all other sectors – all college graduates from other fields should do one or two years of ‘desh sewa’ similar to conscription programs being run by countries like Israel.

Madhu Trehan (the co-founder of Newslaundry) then brought in a different angle by talking about this Delhi based podiatrist who has committed to serve the needy, has resisted temptations and invitations to make it big and is very happy and content with what he is doing. Clearly there is an element of pride and honour in what this podiatrist does and if you contrast his approach with that of the new doctors who have been delinquent on rural service, the incentives and the drivers are very different.

What if we were to change the drivers and approach the problem in a different manner? The first example that comes to mind is the Teach for India model. Designed on the lines of Teach for America, this model attempts to solve another chronic problem– lack of good quality teachers. The purpose driven communication during the launch a few years ago was so compelling that hundreds of people quit well-paying jobs and offered to work with TFI for two years teaching in government schools and low cost private schools.

Today, the Teach for India (or TFI) program has grown from strength to strength, having its presence in several cities across the country. But the big beauty of this program is that it provides a structure of support to all the Fellows who are a part of the program. They meet regularly, talk about their challenges and also share success stories with each other. They prop each other up when they are down and also ensure that the structure of the program keeps evolving to be more effective. No wonder, TFI continues to attract the best talent every year and now has a very supportive and vocal team of ex-Fellows who are the biggest ambassadors of TFI.

Can this model not be adopted by the medical fraternity? I have even thought of a cool name, Treat for India. What would be needed is to create a foundation, raise money, identify a few cities as a part of the first phase and roll out an aggressive campaign to enrol Fellows for two years to work in villages or with the urban poor. There is no reason to believe that people will not respond with the same enthusiasm with which they responded to TFI.

What this approach does is that it completely flips the incentives. Instead of it being compulsory, you are instilling a deep sense of purpose and pride in every volunteer. These would probably be more effective than the stick of the compulsory postings and threat of cancelling registrations.

As far as raising money is concerned, health continues to be a high priority area and there are several foundations that would love to get associated with “Treat for India”. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a name that immediately comes to mind but even otherwise, even if a few of the big pharma companies were to channel their CSR money to this project, money would not be a problem.

What we really need is a leader, an entrepreneur preferably from the medical community who can make Treat for India his or her mission in life. Who we need is another Shaheen Mistri, the way she has so ably guided TFI for all these years.

So here is a call going out to all the entrepreneurs in the health space who were looking for the next big idea, to all the VC funds and foundations looking to support such ideas – let’s Treat for India.

This blog post is authored by Brajesh Mishra, COO of Varthana.