by Dr Faheem Ahmed, MBA 2020 and SARI Scholar
On the last day of July, half awake after my final hospital night shift, I found myself lumbering through Heathrow airport with an overweight suitcase. Packing my laptop was wishful thinking. I convinced myself that I could complete my pre-courses on the plane but the on-board entertainment was too enticing. Admittedly, I should have spent my first two-week break in over two years recharging in preparation for the MBA ahead. While hindsight is truly a wonderful thing, I wouldn’t have done anything differently.
I relish every opportunity to travel with my charity, Selfless, and this was no exception. Since my first trip to Bangladesh ten years ago, we have trained over 200 volunteers to support projects providing free healthcare to more than 30,000 of the world’s poorest people. It was a privilege to lead our team of 30 enthusiastic changemakers, boasting as much diversity as my MBA cohort from Italian medics to American management consultants. Our two-week global health leadership programme aims to provide a snapshot of Bangladesh’s most pressing health challenges and a deeper insight into Selfless’ innovative solutions to help address inequalities in the region.
One of the principal purposes of the programme is to immerse volunteers into the inner workings of one of the most disparate health systems in the world. We listened to various perspectives, ranging from patients and providers at overwhelmed public hospitals to state-of-the-art private hospital chains. We also met with influential policymakers from Ministry of Health and BRAC, the world’s largest NGO. In a country where Universal Health Coverage is a distant dream, we delivered community care camps and clinics across the most remote regions in Bangladesh, seeing and treating thousands of patients.
This year, we launched our latest enterprise – ‘Upahar’ (or ‘gift’ in Bengali) for pregnant mothers. Each locally handmade, reusable cotton tote-bags contains WHO-recommended cost-effective interventions such as folic acid tablets and post-partum sanitary pads. Applying the ‘one-for-one’ business model, expectant mothers in the UK can buy a gift card for discounts at participating high-street retailers whilst sponsoring an ‘Upahar’ for a pregnant mother on the other side of the hemisphere.
It seems the fruits of LBS have already begun to bear. Through his luxury sleepwear company, my fellow MBA 2020 classmate Daniel Yu sponsored Upahar’s malarial nets as part of Satosense’s #sleepinsecurity campaign. LBS alumnus Nick Hughes (co-founder of M-PESA) introduced me to Bangladesh’s largest telecom provider, B-Kash, helping to monitor each pregnancy with monthly calls and text messages. Sajid Rahman, CEO of Telenor Health and LBS alumnus, hosted our team in Dhaka, giving us the opportunity to experience first-hand the capital’s exponential technology hub and its role in transforming healthcare.
One Upahar beneficiary’s story was particularly sobering. 19-year old Aisha wept as she feared she would share a similar fate to her mother who died during childbirth, leaving her as an orphan. She cried tears of joy when she received an Upahar at the start of her pregnancy. “Why did my mother have to die then?”, she asked. The simple answer is that her death, like so many other mothers, could have been prevented. Sadly, reality is not as straightforward.
A myriad of factors prevent access to quality antenatal care including the number of facilities, lack of skilled clinicians and the costs incurred. Addressing these challenges will require the brightest minds across public health and business to think in innovative ways. Generously supported by the Wheeler Institute, I am co-designing the new ‘Global Development Impact’ elective, bringing together my colleagues from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and peers at LBS. At a business school that prides itself in creating social impact, if the MBA helps me to someday solve just one of our world’s many problems, then I will consider the next two years a tremendous success.