Transforming healthcare by empowering women: doctHERs wins Young Entrepreneur Award

May 2016: Dr Sara Saeed, 29, co-founder of doctHERs, wins the HRH The Prince of Wales Young Sustainability Entrepreneur Prize, awarded by Unilever and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

The co-founder of an innovative project which connects communities in Pakistan with quality healthcare by creating opportunities for female doctors to rejoin the workforce has won our annual Young Entrepreneurs competition.

Empowering female doctors to serve communities

As one of three founders of the doctHERs project, Dr Sara Saeed is creating a network of clinics in Pakistan where people with limited or non-existent access to primary and secondary healthcare can now have consultations with qualified doctors. The project’s key innovation is using technology to draw on the large number of qualified female doctors who currently do not practise, largely because of socio-cultural barriers.

“The majority of people in Pakistan live in rural areas and many have no access to qualified medical services,” explained Dr Saeed following the awards. “But there are many, many trained female doctors in Pakistan, of whom for cultural reasons only around 30% remain in practice.

“Our insight was this – why not link these doctors to patients through technology, particularly through video consultation and the use of mobile apps?”

Aiming to reach 1.2 million patients by 2020

Dr Saeed, from Karachi, is a qualified general practitioner. When she became pregnant with her daughter and was unable to continue radiology training, she began working with a micro-health insurance business – and says she was struck by the fact that although at least 50% of medical students in Pakistan are women, many do not work after becoming mothers.

“I realised that a lot of women doctors simply don’t get the opportunity to do the work they have trained for,” she said. Since its launch, she added, doctHERs has received large numbers of applications from female doctors. That allows doctHERs to assess doctors against strict eligibility criteria before assigning them to a specific clinic, where they will be one of a small team that patients can get to know.

“Each of our clinics is therefore a one-stop shop for primary and secondary healthcare, staffed by a nurse, with a pharmacy and collection laboratory as well as a telescreen for consultations,” Dr Saeed said. The fourth clinic opened by doctHERS specialised in mental health and was described by Dr Saeed as a “very successful pilot in an area that is very under-resourced in Pakistan”.

So far, doctHERs has directly impacted 15,000 lives through clinical services and reached 100,000 people through community outreach. It now employs 15 doctors, five nurses and five specialists, and aims to reach 1.2 million people by 2020 by expanding its nurse-assisted video consultation programme to more than 500 clinics. Fees for patients begin at $1 (€0.9) and are limited to a maximum of $5 (€4.4) for each consultation.

Supporting entrepreneurs to create a brighter future

Dr Saeed was one of seven finalists of the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, run in partnership with the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and in collaboration with Ashoka.

This year, 927 young entrepreneurs from 99 countries applied for the awards, which celebrate and support people under the age of 35 who are working on a unique product, service or application that will help create a brighter future.

The seven finalists received a total of more than €200,000 in financial support, and mentoring from Unilever and the CISL.

“I’m honoured to have received this award and delighted that the work of doctHERs has been recognised,” Dr Saeed said. “The experience of taking part, and the high-quality mentoring and support I have received have been extremely valuable. It has been a time of real personal growth for me, as well as a time to look at the way that we have brought doctHERs from an idea to reality. The prize is also very important – it will help us launch 20 more clinics in Pakistan.”

Backing the Global Goals

The 2016 Awards categories were designed to support eight of the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development and built on our belief that the ingenuity and determination of young entrepreneurs can help identify sustainable solutions to what are often seen as impossible problems.

CEO Paul Polman said: “I am incredibly impressed by Dr Saeed’s passion and determination. Her work and that of the other finalists shows that momentum is building behind the Sustainable Development Goals, but we still need new ideas, new energy, new business models – particularly from the young and the entrepreneurial. They need our help and support to realise their initiatives and change the world to create a bright future.”

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If you would like to stay informed about news from the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Network, including confirmation of the competition dates for 2016/17, please register your interest here.

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