Nachiket Mor: The Crossover Leader
Image: Raju Patil for Forbes India
Award: The Crossover Leader
Why He Won: For successfully making the transition from a thriving career in the corporate world to working for the social sector and for serving as an inspiration and role model for others.
His Trigger: To make a substantial difference, to find a solution to poverty.
His Mission: Make financial services and health care accessible to everyone.
His Action Plan: Create institutions, design scalable models that recognise the role of the market.
His Next Move: Demonstrate that the models in financial services and health care are viable; convince the market to adopt them and scale up.
If you want to see a place that represents the average India—that’s neither too big nor too small, neither too rich, nor too poor, possessing nothing unique, except perhaps history—visit Thanjavur.
If you rank the districts in India according to economic and social indicators, Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu will be right in the middle. And within Thanjavur, the distinction of being in the centre would go to a village called Alakuddi.
It is set amidst acres of paddy fed by tributaries of the Cauvery. You will find women washing clothes at the river ghats and children plunging into its waters. At the village railway station, empty benches wait under trees that sway in the breeze. It could well be RK Narayan’s Malgudi.
On every weekday morning, Uma Priyadarshini arrives at this station and takes a dusty road to a clinic, called SughaVazhvu Health Centre, in the village centre. She receives about 30 patients every day, treats them herself or refers them to a government hospital. The clinic is clean, with a few benches, some medical and diagnostic equipment, and two computers.
For help, Uma has a nurse who does the initial screening, and who collects information about patients and feeds it into a computer. But what is of greater help to Uma is a software that guides her in examining patients. On a recent afternoon, there were three or four women waiting in the foyer, holding cards with barcodes. With these codes, Uma can access their medical history and treat a range of conditions: Screen patients for cervical cancer, fill a bad tooth, test eyesight and help patients with chronic ailments like diabetes.
Interestingly, Uma does not hold an MBBS degree. She studied ayurveda at a college in Kerala, and also underwent a year-long training in pharmacology, dental procedures and emergency care—subjects not covered by her syllabus but required for this job.
Doctors with MBBS degrees seldom go to rural areas. There is an acute shortage of doctors in India; the government estimates we need at least 7 lakh more. The Alakuddi clinic, one of seven in the district, demonstrates how physicians with degrees in alternative medicine can fill this gap in primary health care.
Zeena Johar, president, IKP Centre for Technologies in Public Health, which runs the chain of clinics, says there are more than 7.5 lakh practitioners of alternative medicine in India and 70 percent of them are in legally permitted categories. There’s an 80 percent overlap between their course material and that of an MBBS degree.
The gap in education can be bridged with a combination of technology and training, as is the case with Uma. Dr Devi Shetty, who runs Narayana Hrudayalaya in Bangalore, believes this is the way forward in addressing India’s primary health care problems. “This will become the norm. The country has no other option,” he says.
Not far from the SughaVazhvu Health Centre is another well-appointed building: Brightly painted, the office within has a scale to weigh gold and silver items, a webcam to photograph customers, a burglar alarm and a safe. A board reads Pudhuaaru KGFS (Kshetriya Grameen Financial Services). KGFS is trying to solve a different problem—that of financial access.
On busy days, people wait to meet officials, get loans or insurance, and deposit their savings in a bank. The centre has been around longer than SughaVazhvu and is a part of a bigger network that includes five business units, three in Tamil Nadu, and one each in Orissa and Uttarakhand. KGFS has more than 100 branches and 2 lakh customers, and grew at a time when the government was struggling to find ways to implement financial inclusion—over 40 percent of India’s population does not have bank accounts—and the limitations of microfinance were becoming apparent.
KGFS steps away from many risks that are inherent in other models, and it can scale up. It has a very different business model, says Ganesh Rengaswamy of Lok Capital, one of its investors. It is based on branches, and on a complete understanding of its customers.
Despite all its ordinariness, Alakkudi could well be at the top of a list of places that point to the future, thanks to these two ventures.
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