For the 9 days of Navratri, Team ApeCape has something exciting in store for you. We’ve spoken to 9 special Goddesses – everyday, real, human women who inspire us by word and deed! We bring you their stories every day and hope that you love them as much as we enjoyed writing them for you.
A techie who founded a successful social enterprise – meet Anjali Joshi from iDrishti. It isn’t easy to imagine creating a technological base for rural health, but that’s just what this Goddess has done. From an engineer to an entrepreneur, this is her story which we bring you in her voice!
Education – An Important Foundation
I’m an engineer by education. I grew up in a very middle-class South Indian family, where education was a big deal. Nobody spoke to us about entrepreneurship. Our parents taught us to study well and then to become either a doctor or an engineer.
Actually, if you had told the 18-year-old me about the choices that kids have these days, I’d have loved to do an M.A. in English Literature. I’ve always loved languages. I remember being disappointed that we didn’t get to study languages in our engineering course. Of course, most of my classmates looked at me like I was a little strange. You know, like, what could I possibly need English for in engineering?
But, I have no regrets about doing engineering at all. I like to think of myself as a floater those days. I floated into a set career path. It worked well for me because I was curious about how things worked, so engineering fed me with that knowledge to some extent.
Family And Social Responsibilty
What I really liked about my upbringing was that I had great role models. My grandfather – a freedom fighter and Gandhian – was one of my earliest role models. He lived an exceedingly simple life; he had two sets of clothes – one that he was wearing and the other that was drying on the clothesline. Whatever he earned in his job as a registrar at the PWD was spent on people in need. He would cook for people in the village who couldn’t afford meals once a week.
He always told us that if we were born with everything intact, that meant we were already very fortunate and should thus look at helping people in whatever way we could. I’ve heard so much about his honesty as a public servant in the days of nation-building, and I’ve seen him serve people first-hand. These have been lessons I imbibed as I grew up.
Early in life, I also learnt the importance and value of knowledge. Whenever neighbors mentioned that their kids were struggling with a particular subject, my mom would tell them to send the child over. I would sit with my studies while helping someone a little younger than myself understand concepts. Sometimes, the parents would come home to compensate us for this informal “tuition” class. My mother always refused, and her reason was simple.
First-hand Social Work
I’ve worked with Vishwas, an NGO, where I trained as a counsellor. You see, my mum was a schizophrenic, and growing up, I had seen the taboo around mental health. Luckily for us, my dad was her biggest champion and taught us to be supportive as well. He’d always tell us that just because she had a certain condition did not mean that she loved us any less!
From there, I had to chance to work with children in an Observation Home. This is where they house kids under 18 who have been charged under the IPC but are not adults, and hence the law doesn’t jail them. This made me very aware of our roles in the community and how we could bring about changes and create an impact together.
Why Healthcare – A Basic Divide
My husband and I had decided that when we turned 40, we would go in a new direction and do something to give back to society. We weren’t sure which direction this would take and kept brainstorming. We finally decided on healthcare because we had personally seen how people in rural India struggled with financing their healthcare needs and the access to good quality care.
As engineers, we felt telemedicine was a solution. Back in 2007, I ran a PHC in a village for about 7 months. We harnessed technology and brought doctors and patients together. It didn’t work out, but I learnt so much. Mainly, that social impact isn’t enough; you need a business plan to run a successful social enterprise.
Tech Inspiration & The Birth of iDrishti
Around this time, I came across Arvind on my hunt for telemedicine centres in India. They had this van that went to rural areas for retinal screening. They captured images, which they sent to a central location in Madurai, and they were able to diagnose diabetic retinopathy.
I went to one of these camps to check out their technology, but I was left inspired by the whole setup. The front runners in this industry like Arvind have really been motivating.
I took a look at what Karnataka was doing in those days, saw a gap, and decided we should do something here!
Demons in My Path
On the professional front, I would say acceptance was, and sometimes still is a big hurdle. In some cases, doctors weren’t willing to talk to us as equals or wouldn’t take us seriously because of our lack of specialized knowledge. Of course, this motivated me to study a whole medical field in-dept, so I can’t complain at all!
Also, I’ve encountered this roadblock in rural areas where men in various roles don’t know how to work with me simply because I’m a woman. It doesn’t fit in with a pre-conceived set of roles that patriarchy and conditioning have built in their minds, and it does take them some time to warm up to working with me. Of course, I face this even in urban settings, where people turn to my husband for details about our businesses far more readily than asking me for the information.
On a more personal note, I would say that guilt has also been a demon. I would question my decisions – I have two kids, did I do the right thing when I quit my job? Will I succeed as an entrepreneur? Over time, I learnt to quiet these voices in my head by action and proving them wrong.
The Advantages of Being A Woman in This Field
When we set up our first few hospitals, I made sure to do the counselling for various needs – surgery, eyeglasses, and more. I never got tired of the happiness and satisfaction I feel when patients tell me that they came in for surgery, simply because I asked them to come and reassured them.
Now, I’ve trained women across our hospitals because I’ve seen a particular trend, and data backs my observations. When women work with patients and their families – comforting apprehensions, gauging how they feel, and guiding them towards treatment, it leads to better yields and higher conversions.
Hitting The Reset Button
This is my primary stress response. I’d say books, plants and my kids – that’s what helps me de-stress and come back refreshed. I like to travel as well, exploring both the new as well as the familiar.
I’ve also come to understand the importance of networking. Being a woman entrepreneur can be lonely. I like to talk to women who’ve started small and medium businesses, and I keep learning from all these fantastic people! And I believe this is something that most women entrepreneurs should do – we all need a peer group.
My Advice to Goddesses Out There
Keep updating yourself. There’s no one set goal or one role model – you keep evolving. Bite off more than you can chew; some part of this will work out and help you create something special. If you are starting up, have tenacity and grit; you’ll need it to get your work done even if there is no one to oversee it!
If you want to see the amazing work that iDrishti does, check out their website here, or connect with Anjali. Read about our other Everyday Extraordinary Goddesses – Shravanthi, Bulbul, Smitha and Jacintha.