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Pratyush Kumar: Putting social media and technology to good use

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-10-2017 Sonal Nerurkar

It was a single ping—“Girl from Ranchi requires heart surgery, needs to see a specialist in Delhi”—on WhatsApp that set the ball rolling for Pratyush Kumar, founder and chief executive officer of New Delhi Children’s Hospital and Research Centre (NDCHRC), a healthcare non-profit.

In September, Kumar reached out to Dr Dinesh Chandra, associate consultant at Medanta-The Medicity Hospital in Gurugram, who provided the 20-year-old tribal girl (name withheld) pro bono treatment that included waiving the echo test charges. Kumar is thankful for Dr Chandra’s quick response, especially considering they had only interacted on LinkedIn.

Today, Kumar simply conducts a search on LinkedIn or pings one of his WhatsApp groups and finds help at hand. The 40-year-old financial tech professional from Delhi is amazed at how willing people are to step forward. “Everyone is hungry for change. All they need is for someone to take the initiative and they’re happy to participate,” he says.

Intent on effecting sustainable change, Kumar used his managerial skills to draw up a phased plan to revamp children’s healthcare. It starts small, with online consultations and health camps, which is where they are at now. Eventually, Kumar intends to set up of a full-fledged paediatric hospital.

As a non-medical professional with virtually no contacts in the fraternity, setting up a pro bono healthcare system ought to have been an uphill task. But Kumar’s expertise gave him an advantage. In April 2016, he kicked off a campaign to solicit volunteers on his Facebook page. Within a week, 50 people had signed up. “None of them were doctors,” he says. Soon after, NDCHRC was registered as a trust and its social media pages and WhatsApp group were set up.

These digital platforms remain a primary interface. “Of the 250 people who work with us today, only three-four were known to me personally. Rest all came on board via social media,” says Kumar of the volunteers, aged between 25 and 44.

Nameesha Verma, a 44-year-old Gurugram resident and former teacher, read about NDCHRC on Facebook. “As an educator, the betterment of children is a cause close to my heart. I’ve been collecting toys and books for NDCHRC for a year now,” she says.

After organizing a few mobile health camps, Kumar and his team set up a children’s clinic in Vasant Kunj, Delhi, in April. It is run on a nominal (and optional) Rs100 charge and is manned, on rotation, by about 20 doctors. To reach out to doctors, Kumar began building the NDCHRC brand on LinkedIn, publishing blogs and sharing relevant articles.

“I sent out LinkedIn invites on a case-to-case basis,” he says. Today he has a WhatsApp group of 50 medical professionals, including about 30 doctors in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. Over the last year, Kumar says NDCHRC has helped around 2,000 children.

While social media has made it easier to enlist help, technology plays an even bigger role in enhancing NDCHRC’s operations. For instance, data gathered at mobile camps is analysed to determine locality-specific problems. “After one camp, we realized that half the children are malnourished so now we have a nutritionist visiting our clinic every Sunday,” says Kumar.

They are also crowdsourcing funds for high-cost treatments. Naval officer Lieutenant Commander Mukesh Bhandari, 35, heard about NDCHRC through a WhatsApp forward and contacted Kumar for his neighbour’s son’s cancer treatment. “NDCHRC shared the story on crowdfunding site Milaap and we raised the money within 15-20 days,” says Bhandari.

Lessons to make giving more engaging

“Compared to Western countries, we’re not that forward about making donations, unless it’s for a religious cause,” says Kumar, who believes there needs to be an attitudinal change.

Also, giving back shouldn’t be restricted to the underprivileged. “Our initiative is not restricted to poor patients; I want everyone to experience the benefits of our services because that will encourage them to donate,” he says.

Lastly, we need to build a culture of giving back within our corporate culture. “When organizations start looking at how you are contributing to CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives or what social work you’ve done in school or college, people will automatically get on board because it adds value to their personal brand,” he explains.

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