Interview with Shivani Garg Patel, Samahope’s program manager

Samahope, an organisation focused on sourcing for donations for the needy to meet life-saving surgery expenses, is set to launch its new site to scale up its donations and expand its impact in Africa and globally.

To speed up its efforts and meet its expenses, the firm launched a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding site, which raised over US$11,000 within the first week.

HumanIPO caught up with Shivani Garg Patel, Samahope’s program manager, to find out what they have been up to and why they believe in the power of the Internet.

What is Samahope?
Sama means “equal” in Sanskrit and reflects the Samahope team’s desire to provide equal access to basic medical care to low-income people.

Millions of people suffer from treatable medical conditions and lack the funds to undergo corrective surgery,Samahope lets you change a person’s life for just a few dollars by funding his or her procedure. Samahope wants to close the gap in funding for women who can’t afford to treat painful conditions arising from giving birth, and for children who are disfigured from burns or cleft palate.

What inspired you to think of such a project?
Four years ago, Leila Janah, a social entrepreneur, founded Samasource. On a trip to Sierra Leone last year, she met Dr. Maggi, a retired Texan OB/GYN who was performing 200 volunteer surgeries each year and fundraising on his own. When she returned home, she called Shawn Graft, who had recently visited Sierra Leone and assisted Dr. Maggi with website and database work.

Together, the two came up with the idea for Samahope. They soon roped in Shivani Garg Patel, an experienced program manager who had just quit her job at McKinsey, to help scale the site and launch it. Along the way, we convinced Jessica Jackley, co-founder of Kiva, to sign on as an advisor. To ignite the operation, one of Leila’s board members to cover a portion of our startup costs provided an initial donation of $25,000.

How much have you raised so far and how are you raising it?
To increase our impact dramatically, we are raising $50,000 via a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. In the first week of the campaign, we’ve raised over $11K.

What problem do you want to solve when you are done with the crowd sourcing?
With $50,000, we plan to scale by adding new partners organizations providing surgical care, adding 1,000 more surgeries to fund on our site, marketing the site widely to potential donors and bring on a full-time staff member to manage and lead these tasks and operations.

If this campaign exceeds our wildest dreams and raises over $100,000, we’ll be able to invest in a larger team that can do so much more. We can improve the user experience on the Samahope site for both donors and our partners, create stronger profiles of patients with videos and post-surgery information and we’ll be able to add 5,000 more surgeries to the site.

Why crowdfund?
At Samahope, we believe in the power of the Internet to change lives. Crowdfunding has radically changed the funding landscape for startups, medical innovation, creative projects, nonprofits, and even schools.

What is your scope?
We cover surgical care in countries where our partners work. Our initial partners are working to close the gap of surgical care in Sierra Leone and Zambia.

In rural Sierra Leone, one in eight women die in childbirth, while few women give birth in hospitals with any kind of maternal care. Across Africa, skilled medical personnel attend only 42 percent of births, resulting in serious injury, disability or maternal and infant deaths as a result of complications, which are preventable or treatable in developed nations.

Do you have a business model? Any partnerships?
First, we choose great partners. We vet local clinics and hospitals in poor communities with a track record of excellence using a combination of interviews, analysis of the clinic’s financial information, publicly available reviews on leading charity watchdog sites, and on-site visits.

Second, users fund real patients.Approved partners post profiles of real patients who have recently received or are awaiting a surgery. Visitors to Samahope choose patients they’d like to fund and donate via PayPal or credit card. Each month, we collect donations for each patient and send them to the partner performing the surgery.

Lastly, we ensure donors’ money is well spent. We conduct frequent site and patient audits using a combination of staff and volunteer field visits to guarantee all information on the site is accurate, to the best of our knowledge.

Who else is doing related work?
According to the WHO, close to 2 billion people have no access to surgical care and out of all the surgeries done worldwide,a third of the poorest only get 3.5 percent of these surgeries. Our partners work to change these stats every day. Immunization, medical treatments and R&D for neglected diseases (e.g., HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB) are already receiving a lot of attention in the global health world such as Gates Foundation,The Global Fund.

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