A Business Perspective on Scaling Impact at Healing Fields Foundation

Healing Fields Foundation
Source: Healing Fields Foundation

For Healing Fields Foundation (HFF), hosting an Executive in Residence was a new experience that opened our minds to an international business environment and allowed us to look at our work from a strategic growth perspective.  We are now better able to approach our work in terms of how to optimize the efficiencies of our resources without compromising on the impact—an issue we struggled with as we faced the necessity of scaling our operation.

We at Healing Fields have a three-step approach to addressing the prevalence of preventable illnesses and the lack of healthcare financing and affordable healthcare products and services across India. First, we identify women to be Community Health Facilitators in rural communities, most of whom are members of partner microfinance institutions, and we train them on practical ways to prevent illness and promote wellness.  After six months of training, the facilitators form health savings groups through which their local communities can access loans to pay for discounted medical consultations, diagnostic services and medicine at networked hospitals.  Finally, HFF guides the facilitators on ways to generate income by providing preventive health products and services in their communities.

After the success of our initial pilot program, we needed to expand our operations.  We feared, however, that as we scaled up, the impact of the program would diminish.  When Boehringer Ingelheim and Ashoka approached us with a chance to work with Rajeev Sukumaran via the Executive in Residence program, we jumped at the chance.  Working with us full-time for three months provided Rajeev an opportunity to learn about our work, assess the challenges we faced and find solutions.  More importantly, Rajeev left his mark on the organization by showing us how to approach our work systematically and objectively to achieve our goals. 

Rajeev’s management skills enabled him to identify and focus on areas that we could feasibly scale and monitor while creating maximum impact.  Specifically, he taught our team the importance of process flow and of growing methodically while maintaining accountability.  Rajeev stressed the need to formalize our processes, generating a road map to scale and instituting a method to track key performance indicators—areas which many of us in the social sector overlook and struggle with due to resource constraints.  We have since implemented a monitoring and evaluation process to assess impact and identify problems in the field. We’ve also created a transparent work flow and task management process so our team members know what is expected of them.

The above work fed into the development of a mobile application, which the team now uses to collect information about the status of community members’ health.  This new application equips HFF’s field staff with actionable data that leads to better execution in the field.  Eventually, HFF plans to extend this platform to our Community Health Facilitators with knowledge about how to deal with sickness, track seasonal illnesses, and keep key stakeholders informed about possible epidemics and how to prevent or mitigate them.

These internal improvements have standardized day-to-day operations and generated concrete results for HFF’s Community Health Facilitators and their communities.  We’ve now trained over 1,200 facilitators in six states, each of whom reaches out to about 250 families in over 1,000 villages.  About 70% of the trained CHFs have health-based livelihoods, and altogether they have built about 5,000 toilets and sold sanitary napkins to more than 25,000 women. Through the first-aid programme and health savings groups, many women and their families have gained access to quality healthcare and their numbers keep growing on a daily basis.

As we grow as an organization and scale our impact, we look back at the wonderful job Rajeev did of facilitating and encouraging the Healing Fields team to find internal solutions to our challenges. This was one of the best gifts from Rajeev’s Executive in Residence placement with HFF, which provided a great learning experience for all of us and has become the cornerstone of our scaling efforts.  We would love more executives like Rajeev and companies like Boehringer Ingelheim to place senior executives in the social sector to facilitate mutual learning and growth.