DHAN Foundation, based in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, was a non-government organization with a difference. It was neither a philanthropic organization nor a service organization but a development organization focused on grassroots development aided by professional management.
This series of cases focuses on DHAN’s journey in the realm of healthcare, tracing the genesis and evolution of its community health efforts, particularly during the first decade of its existence (1997 to 2007), and describing the challenges the Foundation faced along the way and its responses to those challenges.
Case A describes the story of an unusual project undertaken by DHAN and several partners to take state-of-the-art medical diagnostic services to the doorsteps of villagers in a remote part of Tamil Nadu. The project was a collaborative effort involving Philips, a leader in electronics, healthcare and lighting; Apollo Hospitals, a major corporate hospital chain in India; Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a high technology research center; and DHAN, a key player in the development sector. The project, anchored by Philips, came to an abrupt halt at the end of 2006 when Philips announced its withdrawal from the venture as the volumes it had anticipated had not materialized and the high overheads associated with the project were proving to be uneconomical. Apollo, also disappointed that it had not reaped the expected benefits from the project, followed suit. With these key collaborators opting out, the technology support of ISRO had little relevance. M. P. Vasimalai (Vasi), the Executive Director of DHAN, reeling from the unexpected termination of an important project that would benefit the community, was faced with a dilemma: Should he follow the lead of Philips and Apollo and abandon the project or find some way to take it forward?
• Delineating the difference between innovation in designing new products and services as against innovation in creating new delivery systems for those products and services.
• Highlighting the far-reaching impact of the latter type of innovations on providing equitable access to services in general and to essential services like healthcare in particular, to large rural masses, whose paying capacity is much lower than the standard market rates.
• Driving home the power of frugal engineering and cross-disciplinary innovations in achieving cost reduction and large volumes of service.