Better Business, Better Healthcare: Ross Students Work to Save Lives in Remote Villages

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Imagine you’re a consultant, tasked with helping a small medical clinic expand its services. You’d probably gather data on things like patient volume, revenue, and expenditures. Now imagine that the clinic is in a remote location with unreliable access to water and electricity, let alone sanitary equipment, and a disease is threatening the health and livelihood of half the population. Expanding its services isn’t just a desire  it’s a vital task. Would you be up for the challenge?

Students in BA 685, Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets, tackle complex problems like this head-on. They consult for healthcare providers in developing countries such as Rwanda, Sri Lanka, and India, not just for a grade in the class, but to help meet the organization’s most pressing needs, and to fulfill the Michigan Ross mission of delivering positive impact on the world through the disciplines of business.

The class includes data collection during Spring Break week, when students travel to their organization to learn about it in real time.

“Students see some very creative solutions and ways to approach big problems, while still managing to deliver health care,” said Paul Clyde, who teaches the course. Clyde is the president of the William Davidson Institute (WDI), an independent, nonprofit research and educational organization at U-M that’s provided private-sector solutions in emerging markets for 25 years. WDI partners with Michigan Ross in offering the Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets course.

“The experience was truly amazing,” Marissa Smith, MBA ‘17, said after visiting CURE India, an NGO that treats children with clubfoot. If left untreated, the disease prevents children from walking, going to school, and living a productive life. The organization wants to triple the number of children treated, and has asked Ross students to identify opportunities and challenges for that process.

“The organization set up many interviews for us to have an opportunity to learn from different stakeholders of the organization,” Smith said. “And in addition to that, they also made sure we had a chance to learn about Indian culture and visit important sites. This experience taught me about how passionate the employees of the organization are, despite having to work with extremely limited resources to help their patients.”

In one case the recommendation of the team ended up being rolled out to hospitals all over the country because a government official observed it and chose to expand it.

Learning from the stakeholders involved is an important part of ensuring students produce useful, actionable recommendations, Clyde said. “They can’t enter this experience with some preconceived notion of what the answer is  they really have to try to get a good understanding of what the challenges are there.”

Sarah Haroon, MBA ‘17, is working with a team of students for Sri Lanka’s Grace Care Center, a diabetes healthcare clinic, which is also hoping to expand its locations and services while making the most of doctors’ time with patients.

The team is exploring the possibility of implementing an electronic triage system. “We want to help the physician by allocating his fixed time well and allowing him to spend more time with those patients that need the extra time and attention,” Haroon said. “Finding a model that optimizes and aligns both stakeholders’ interests is the big goal.”

Now that the students have returned, they’re working to create a realistic set of recommendations, which they will present to their clients.

“There are business opportunities in some of these low-resource environments, but it requires thinking about it differently,” Clyde said. “But fundamentally the same kind of business processes they’ve learned in their core courses and elsewhere are applicable here as well. They just have to be — just like with anything — open to understanding the setting and the culture.”

The course, which began in 2010, has provided several organizations with recommendations each winter semester. Some organizations, such as Ruli Hospital and the Ihangane Project in Rwanda, have worked with students from this course and WDI over several years. WDI often sends its summer interns abroad to these organizations to implement the plans crafted by the BA 685 teams.

“The most exciting thing is seeing the enormous impact of the students’ work, especially with the organizations that we help over years,” Clyde said. “In one case the recommendation of the team ended up being rolled out to hospitals all over the country because a government official observed it and chose to expand it.”

The semester is wrapping up, and students are presenting their recommendations to their clients this month. They are also sharing their work at an event Monday, April 17, from 5:00-6:00pm in R2210. In addition to Sri Lanka’s Grace Care Center and CURE India, students are also working for:

  • LiveWell on market entry analysis for a stroke rehabilitation facility in Hyderabad, India

  • Ruli District Hospital in Rwanda, developing an administrative staff retreat

  • KenyaRelief to design a new governance structure for its Kenya Relief Medical Center in the city of Migori

Learn more about Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets