Summer Internship with ACCESS International

Life has taken me back 12 years. It was in year 2000 when a few years after having graduated as an engineer and working as a software developer I landed in Hyderabad (India). Part of a start-up dreaming to make it big during the dot com boom. From the moment I was here, I fell in love with the city. The coconut palms, the southern breeze and great work. After a few months and having exhausted all avenues of keeping myself busy and entertained on weekends, I ended up in a hamlet right behind Golconda fort. I was looking to volunteer, and the community here – especially women – were looking for support. After a few conversations, we settled on a long-term action plan. I would give the women the money to buy raw material and the tools, and the women would do what they were best at – Hand embroidery, weaving and knitting. That’s how Fateh (meaning victory) was born. The size of the group grew and so did our confidence. Now I was convinced that projects helping the poor were possible, and you needed no charity for that. With the Fateh women on their own, I moved back to Delhi where my family was. It took me some time but finally everyone gave in to my plans of starting a non-profit. So in the fall of 2001, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation (V.V.F) came into being. The grassroots organization is chugging along, having touched more than 10,000 lives in its 11 years.

In 2006, I gave up my Program Director’s job in V.V.F, though I am still on the Board. It is always heartwarming to see how much good V.V.F is doing in its community, but there is still something missing. There are many V.V.F’s in India, all working tirelessly and incessantly to make the lives of those around them better. But what we are able to do is only a miniscule part of what the country really needs. How much difference can grassroots organizations like V.V.F make without changing the system? For a few years I went around working with other non-profits, talking to thinkers, doers and academicians. Slowly, the idea of going to school took root. I learned about the graduate programs in public policy in various schools in the United States, and one of them had me hooked. Its tag line said – What happens here changes the world. That’s how I came to LBJ.

In the first year of the MPAff program, I struggled – trying to always apply what I am learning in the context of my country and in the rest of the developing world. Without ever planning, my interests and my work drifted towards the field of health care and health care policy. It was fitting since health care has become the biggest challenge not just in developing countries but also in the most developed ones. When looking for my internship, I knew I had to be in an organization working in the developing world with a focus on health care.

ACCESS Health International is everything I was looking for. It is closely working with the government of India, state governments, the World Bank in India and other international development organizations like Results for Development. It is actively working on building a knowledge base that will bring to the foreground various innovations happening in the health sector in India and the rest of the world. At the same time, it is working to build a community of practice that will bring together different stakeholders in the sector to share their resources and expertise. Most importantly, it is building up as an interface to government at different levels, and becoming the government’s go-to for finding data on different aspects of health care access and delivery.

In my 10 weeks here, I am studying specific for-profit models in primary care that have a scope for adoption by the public sector. We will also be studying the scope of public-private partnerships (PPP) in health care that can be based on these models, as is or with some modification. In a team lunch, Sofi Bergkvist, executive director of AHI, shared her experience from a conference she had been to. There were participants from Brazil­ and South Africa. They were talking about PPP’s being implemented in their countries over the last few years and the structural framework they have built to implement and support these partnerships. India has had PPP’s for over a decade now, we are still lacking however a standard institutional and structural framework in the field. It’s about time we shift our focus from grassroots innovations and work to build a policy framework that will take the best of these innovations and reach the whole country. That’s the mission AHI is following, and I am lucky to be part of this crusade.


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