How can you resolve social problems with business? In an episode of the Hoffmann Institute’s Mission to Change podcast, Executive Director Katell Le Goulven speaks to Dr Rasha Rady on her entrepreneurial journey of helping chronic patients get access to their medicines. Here are three takeaways from their conversation.
Noncommunicable diseases, otherwise known as NCDs account for 71% of all global deaths. NCDs are non-transmissible chronic illnesses such as heart attacks, cancers and diabetes, and are closely tied to and affect those in poverty the most severely. Treatment for NCDs is often expensive and lifelong and can easily deplete household resources; meaning many individuals cannot commit to NCD treatment programmes. In order to progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and addressing the SDG target of one-third reduction in premature deaths, it is vital to ensure accessible treatment for noncommunicable diseases.
Cairo University Pediatric doctor, Dr Rasha Rady, co-founded a tech platform called Chefaa that has revolutionized access to pharmaceuticals in Egypt; the Arab world’s most populous nation where NCDs account for 82% of all deaths and a 12% loss in GDP. As Dr. Rasha Rady shares more, we extract three takeaways from her entrepreneurial journey.
1. Social problems need business solutions
Chefaa shows how a vast social problem can be alleviated through a simple business solution. Dr Rady’s goal was to ensure that her patients, suffering from chronic illnesses, had stable access to medication. Many patients Dr Rady saw in her practice were prescribed medicines they could not access due to pharmaceutical shortages. Dr Rady’s patients often travelled for up to three days to reach a pharmacy, all without guarantees of whether their medicines were in stock, with many other patients resorting to Facebook groups to enquire about possible access and supplies.
Chefaa was developed as an AI-powered, GPS-enabled digital platform to help chronic patients order, schedule, and refill recurring prescriptions regardless of location or income. This vital service has now partnered with more than 800 pharmacies, fulfilled more than one million orders, and has more than 1.8 million monthly users. Chefaa demonstrates the need for simple businesses to be built around social problems, not the other way around.
2. Fall in love with the problem, not the solution
“Focus on the problem, and not the solution,” is the advice from Dr Rady. She initially thought the solution to this medication supply issue was to involve everyone in the healthcare system. However, she realised instead of looking for a solution, she needed to fall in love with the problem and that the solution will follow after.
In 2017 Chefaa co-founder, Doaa Aref, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. It was this event that made Dr Rady looked at problem differently. When Aref was quarantining for her radiotherapy, she called Dr Rady and said, “I have only my phone and laptop, I can literally order anything I want, except the medication I will need for rest of my life.” Dr Rady realised this was the crux of the problem, and Chefaa was built around this.
3. Keep Evolving
It might have seemed foolish to set Chefaa up as an online platform when online payments in Egypt were made only 4-6% of the Egyptian population. However, the determined choice and foresight to use an online platform was smart, as online shopping increased by 940% in Egypt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chefaa continues to evolve to tailor its services to the demand, and now offers online pharmaceutical consultations managed by licensed pharmacists 24/7 in MENA countries.
Bonus business takeaway: Failure is your friend
Dr Rady initially believed if you tried improving a system and failed, the entire efficacy of the system would be compromised. This mindset was challenged when, the first applications to develop Chefaa were turned down by developers. It was the lessons learned here, in how to focus the aims and target audience of the platform that created the app that we know today.
To listen to the full conversation, visit Mission to Change, and explore more of our episodes about the journeys of changemakers.