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Innovation in Healthcare in Asia

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The countries comprising the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) region (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives) commonly known as South Asia face serious healthcare affordability and accessibility challenges. According to World Bank national estimates, South Asian countries houses more than 390 million poor people and a very significant percentage of total population lies below national poverty line (Figure 1). This large number of population is quite unlikely to afford private healthcare services and heavily dependent on the public healthcare facilities.

Figure 1: % of population below nationally determined poverty line

Figure 1: % of population below nationally determined poverty line

Source: World Bank

Apart from just high poverty levels, the availability of doctors is another critical challenge. As per World Bank data except Maldives, every SAARC country has less than 1:1000 doctor to population ratio which is an area of concern (Figure 2). The availability of qualified doctors in the rural areas is dismal and people often tend to self-medicate or take treatment from self-proclaimed doctors who often have no formal education in practicing medicine. It is also important to note that more than 50% South Asian population amounts to approximately 1.17 billion lives in rural areas that often has to travel to cities to access secondary and tertiary care raising tough accessibility barriers.

The high cost of travel to urban health centers coupled with a lack of awareness make the situation worse. Hence, it can be argued that the basic health care demography for these South Asian countries is reasonably identical, and the problem of health care can also therefore be looked at from a regional level rather than in the context of an individual country.

Figure 2: Number of doctors (physicians) per 1000 people

Figure 2: Number of doctors (physicians) per 1000 people

Source: World Health Organization

These severe affordability and accessibility barriers to universal quality healthcare demands for innovation in the way care in being delivered both to the poor and people living in rural areas. To understand innovation in South Asia, things need to be put into right perspective. Innovation in health care is not only about technological innovation or new systems of health care financing or upcoming health care delivery models targeting a vulnerable population. Health care innovation is a mix of all the abovementioned elements, which covers all aspects from diagnosis to delivery of service to the end customer, which is the patient in this case.

Often, the misconception is that technological innovation is confined to the sophisticated labs of developed nations. The increasing adoption of frugal innovation by many technological firms has changed this notion dramatically in the past few years especially in the area of health care diagnosis. Intel in India launched a device in 2015 called Lifephoneplus, which enable people to take an ECG and monitor glucose levels by themselves. This device uses the existing bluetooth and wireless network to transfer the health information record by phone, from which it can then be sent to the doctor directly.

Since 2007, GE Healthcare, one of the biggest providers of health care systems, has been developing portable and battery-operated ECG systems out of India’s labs, and these are already being used in rural areas in the developing world. The company has recently claimed to launch the first CT scanner made out of its India facility in 2015 for the developing market, keeping in mind the twin big challenges of affordability and accessibility. The challenges of the developing world are very unique and therefore the technological innovation needs to be tinkered in a way that it takes care of local needs and challenges.

South Asian countries have witnessed nearly a wind of various telemedicine initiatives and, of late, mobile apps operating at different levels and scale. Some examples include Apollo Telemedicine and iClinics in India, mPower in Bangladesh, and Aman Telehealth in Pakistan, among many others. The telemedicine-based business models leverage the information and communication technologies to act as a bridge connecting rural patients with qualified doctors in the urban areas and could be effective in improving the outcomes especially in primary care. What is more interesting is the acceptance that telemedicine seems to have generated among the governments of the South Asian countries. India has recently announced that an e-Health authority will be set up in 2015, while the Maldives and Nepal and have national telemedicine helplines in place since 2011. But Telemedicine alone has limited capacity to address the vast healthcare needs in South Asia. There is certainly a need for fostering effective partnerships to increase the geographical reach, impact and service offerings.

So what are the prospects for health care innovation in South Asia? One possibility is that the next wave of innovation in health care will be defined by increasing partnerships, such as those being implemented on a PPP model, where PPP stands for public, private, and people. For instance, the coupling of telemedicine and other innovative health care delivery models with public insurance schemes could be very effective in addressing the huge unmet need of quality rural health care in developing nations. The pairing of the low-cost surgery center, Narayana Health, with state government–supported micro insurance schemes in which poor people pay a premium of only $4–$6 annually in India is one such great success story.

The immediate need is not only for stand-alone frugal innovations or new delivery mechanisms, but devising a way to better integrate the various actors across the health care delivery value chain. The governments in South Asian countries need to upgrade their role from being merely a support provider to that of being a key enabler to bring all stakeholders on a single platform. If low-cost medical devices and technology-based frugal innovation are not being implemented in public health care systems then the potential impact of these advancements will be very limited.

The health care delivery services could also be contracted to the innovative and effective private health care providers by the different governments so that the much-needed quality primary care services are provided in the rural areas. The public insurance schemes supported by the government can be used as payment for these services. The health care innovation driven by the private sector brings in expertise and ideas but the scalability can only be achieved from active government participation in it, and not merely support. Therefore, this may be the right time for both the government and the private sector to reconsider the current innovation ecosystem in the health care sector in South Asia from the lens of active collaboration and setting the clear standards for service delivery.

Given that both of the challenges and solutions to healthcare look similar for South Asian countries, it may also be a good idea to form a regional cooperation model to foster innovation in healthcare. Different countries can both share and learn from each other experiences in adopting innovative healthcare delivery practices. The lessons learned from the establishment of SAARC as a regional multilateral institution could also be leveraged in this regard.

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About the Author

This article was written by Anshul Pachouri of Asia Pathways. Asia Pathways is the blog of the Asian Development Bank Institute which was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, to help build capacity, skills, and knowledge related to poverty reduction and other areas that support long-term growth and competitiveness in developing economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Anshul is currently working on strategy practice at a global consulting firm based in India.

Entrepreneurship

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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