Equalize Health is thrilled to announce that Bindu Ananth, the co-founder and Chair of Dvara Trust, has recently joined our community as a board member.
Bindu is an accomplished and recognized leader across several sectors relating to innovative finance and financial inclusion. She is acclaimed as a co-editor of the book, “Financial Engineering for Low-Income Households,” as well as a publisher in the Economic and Political Weekly, OECD Trade Paper Series, and the Small Enterprise Development Journal; a former member of the Government of India’s High Level Committee on Women, and featured by Forbes as one of India’s top women leaders in 2017.
Bindu brings a valuable perspective to our economic and financial development with her undergraduate degree in Economics from Madras University and masters degrees from the Institute of Rural Management (IRMA) and Harvard University’s John. F. Kennedy School of Government.
Gauri Singh, our Commercial Manager, recently sat down with Bindu to learn more about her career, motivations to join Equalize Health, and what we can learn from her experience.
Gauri: Bindu, I am so excited to speak with you. How would you describe your journey in the developing sector in India?
Bindu: I actually started my career as a banker with ICICI bank in 2001 as part of the Microfinance team. It was the dream first job in terms of the right opportunity at the right time. When I joined I was thinking of financial impact as touching one village at a time, but I was nudged to think much beyond that and impacting millions of customers. So that's really where I cut my teeth.
I took a two-year study break in 2005 to do a Masters in Public Administration in International Development at Harvard Kennedy School. I had done my undergraduate degree in economics and always wanted to expand my learning in the field. The program was wonderful because once you've had some work experience, you can really get a lot more out of education. I was exposed to a lot of new thinking, particularly around development, finance and impact evaluations. I worked closely with my professors and we did a lot of projects together in India. This experience helped me understand the heterogeneity of impact in real life and the difference in the perspective of government and the practitioners.
I returned to India after my masters and had the opportunity to start along with a few other colleagues from ICICI Bank, a new organization that is now called Dvara Trust. It was funded by ICICI Bank. The idea was to build a platform to enable more innovation in financial services, and to go beyond microfinance. We wanted to enable access not just to credit, but also to other important services, savings, and pensions. There was no work happening on this at that time so we took it on as a platform to build the next generation of business models. I have continued to chair that organization for over 10 years now.
Gauri: Your journey is inspiring and I'm sure there were some setbacks as well. Can you talk about the challenges and also the opportunities that you came across?
Bindu: There was no shortage of challenges, that's for sure! In the field of financial inclusion for the last 12 years at Dvara, every 18 months we have had an existential crisis and almost all of it is external.
If you are running an enterprise at the intersection of development and finance, you are challenging the nexus between money lenders and political figures. You need to be prepared for the battle, but that’s what adds to the fun as well. The best bet is to have a strong team and have your ears to the ground, and most importantly, have the trust of customers who will support you. Involving customers and making them a part of the movement you're building has been the key success factor for us.
"If you are running an enterprise at the intersection of development and finance, you are challenging the nexus between money lenders and political figures. You need to be prepared for the battle."
Gauri: We, at Equalize Health, completely agree with keeping customers - in our case patients - at the center of our work. What motivated you to join the Board of Equalize Health?
Bindu: The primary reason is people. During my first meeting with the board and team of Equalize Health, I was blown away by the caliber of the people, as well as the very visible commitment that everybody is bringing to the problem at hand. I'm on a handful of boards, and the primary factor is that it's got to be a passionate team that gets out to change the world, because then it's such a pleasure to have a seat at that table and be part of that.
To me, the other motivation is the mission statement. It has a strong element of equity to say all lives are equal and no matter where you are born or where you live, you have the right to get access to world-class medical treatment. That's a very powerful purpose and mission statement. And of course, the focus on India and developing systems in India, is what I see compelling about Equalize Health. As a board member, I can genuinely bring some of my experiences and put that into insights for Equalize Health, particularly in India. That is what I'm quite excited about!
Gauri: Do you have any suggestions on how the global health innovation sector can best leverage financing options to bridge the affordability gaps many healthcare providers struggle with?
Bindu: The credit constraint in India is very real. Most organizations struggle with enabling more credit for their supply chain. Let’s say a small private clinic in Patna may be interested in a medical product but is not able to finance it. These constraints are mainly due to the limited paying capacity of patients as it’s mostly out-of-pocket. Similarly, a medical device supplier might be credit constrained.
If a health facility has enough traffic and services are well priced, they might want to upgrade their facility, invest in more equipments and hire more people but might not have the capital to achieve this. Global health innovators could partner with a bank or a non-bank financial company, to jointly design a credit offering for customers. In such a scenario, the innovator is not borrowing money directly but enabling borrowing for its partners.
Asset financing is also an option as medical equipment has retail value. If a health facility Innovation companies can help lenders to redeploy the device to other health facilities if required. I work with Niramai on the same issue, as a thermal camera for imaging is required for breast cancer screening which is a huge investment for smaller clinics.
Blended financing opportunities which are a mix of returnable grants and commercial capital can also be explored. We did this successfully in microfinancing. During the early days, no one believed there was a business case. In the late ’90s, the entire sector was supported by donors and now it’s supported 100% by commercial capital. The transition did not happen overnight. From a long-term perspective in healthcare as well, we need to start thinking about how we can use donor money in catalytic ways to crowd in more commercial capital.
Gauri: Bindu you have given us a lot of food for thought and new ideas to take forward. Thank you so much for taking out the time to speak with us.