_Social Starters spoke to Ciara, a health professional from Ireland, about her consultancy experience in India.  She joined us in the role of Social Enterprise Consultant and went to Hyderabad in May.

Tell me about the social enterprise you worked with.

vRemind is a mHealth non-profit organisation. vRemind provides a free SMS vaccine reminder service for parents and caregivers. It’s a by parents for parents service, just shy of one year old. The founders are two parents who experienced first-hand the problem of not knowing when their children’s vaccinations were due. They are IT specialists who saw a problem and had the technical expertise to do something about it. vRemind has the potential to impact the wider community, in particular the 3 million people who die of vaccine preventable diseases each year.

OK great. This obviously resonates with you working in pharmacy, and broadly speaking, the public health sector. Did you feel you could provide value to the clients?

Absolutely! As I say, the founders had backgrounds in tech and had no sector specific knowledge within healthcare/immunisation. At the macro-level, I had experience of working with the UN and EU government, so I knew a fair bit about the relevant international bodies. They were very direct at the start in that they wished to use my expertise and knowledge of the sector, with a focus of mapping out potential partners, sources for funding and general business development.

How did you find those objectives?

Great – varying, broad and very interesting! My experience of securing funding with international bodies was fairly minimal, but I was proficient in explaining the public health sector in detail to the clients. I delivered workshops that distinguished between the private, public and social sectors. We identified where vRemind could fit at a regional, national and international level, within this tri-sector.

Early on I felt like I was able to make a tangible difference to the company. Business development wise via brainstorming workshops that identified potential competitors/partners and funding streams. Creating a financial model and formalising a Lean canvas business model, were new and useful experiences for both myself and vRemind.

I also used my expertise in demonstrating how best to source and frame the data that the company used – so the healthcare statistics relating to the impact of immunisations, or lack thereof. This was vital to enhance the credibility of the company from a healthcare perspective, and in substantiating grant and funding proposals.

It seems that you enjoyed using your sector-specific knowledge?

Very much so. I think the most enjoyable part of the experience was delivering workshops building up awareness and expertise in the sector. For example, something that struck a chord with the founders was framing the business using a ‘human rights based approach’. This meant you take a notion inherent to human rights, so here: ‘right to health’, and aligning the business with the core objectives within ‘right to health’. This translated into addressing the issues of accessibility, availability, quality and contextualising whether the concept/business is also acceptable from a cultural, user and medical ethics viewpoint. We quickly realised that Vremind needed to be specific about their target market: immunisation may be a global problem, but any start-up needs to walk before it can run.

Sounds sensible enough. Was this an easy point to get across?

To be clear, this didn’t really change the product or service itself, more just reframing it in a different, clearer way. The clients loved this approach. They appreciated it was useful not only as a way of clearly describing their business, but also in improving their credibility in pitching to international bodies.

The clients were great to work with. They knew I came from within the sector in which they were operating and so they were very open to my opinions and ideas. They encouraged feedback and criticism, especially when it came to something as crucial as identifying their strengths, weaknesses and future strategy.

Where does the company go from here?

I think vRemind are in a great position and I’m sure that they will build on their business model. They’ve recently partnered with local hospitals, which I think will be integral to their success. In doing so they can build up the proof of concept, evidence it with trials and then use it to lobby regional public/private departments or enterprises. Measurement and Evaluation is essential. Using their analytics will be key in providing quantifiable metrics to who uses the service, why, and the impact on immunisation coverage.

On a personal note, what will you take home from the experience?

I loved this cross-functional approach of using different skills to brainstorm, develop and formalise ideas, which is something I’ve never really done to this extent before. I have experience within pharmacy, human rights and public health, business, and tech – and so using it all for a young social enterprise was very stimulating and rewarding. Finally, despite the brevity of the experience I found it very useful, albeit challenging, to remain focused on our agreed objectives. Working within a start-up meant a breadth of area’s and inputs to consider, and iterate; clear communication, prioritisation and pragmatism were key when working within a short time frame!

Thanks Ciara!

Everyone can make a difference like Ciara! If you’d like to #JoinUs in India on our next Immersion Programme in the role of Social Enterprise Consultant (forthcoming intakes: 22nd August & 24th October) we have a few places left but hurry, don’t delay! Send us your CV and a cover letter to info@socialstarters.org or find out more HERE. Closing date 1st July for August programme and 1st August for October programme 2015. You can find out more about our programmes and dates on our website www.socialstarters.org #JoinUs