The Business of Delivering Primary Healthcare in Rural Rwanda: One Family Health

A Bascom Ventures Q&A with Whitney Sogol, Interim COO at One Family Health

Whitney Sogol, interim COO at One Family Health

Whitney Sogol is the interim COO at One Family Health, a social franchise changing the way quality, affordable primary healthcare is delivered in some of the hardest-to-reach places on earth.

Whitney Sogol’s Badger pride goes back generations. Her grandfather — despite being less than 5’6” — played on the UW-Madison junior varsity basketball team. Just days before Whitney’s birth, her mother was completing her MA at the School of Social Work and her father was finishing his PhD in the School of Pharmacy. And a handful of aunts, uncles, and cousins have spent a significant amount of time with their heads down, studying in the cages of Memorial Library.

Wisconsin gave Whitney the foundation — in education and community — that she has needed to do everything she does today. That includes being interim COO at One Family Health, a social enterprise changing the way primary healthcare is delivered in low resource settings. Using a nurse-led franchise model, and by collaborating with the Ministry of Health through a formal public-private partnership, OFH improves access to life-saving medicines and healthcare.

Bascom Ventures caught up with Whitney to ask about her role at OFH, her work in social innovation, and her path as an entrepreneur.

How does the franchise model work at OFH?

OFH nurse franchisees are trained in principles of entrepreneurship and quality care, and work in the most remote areas of Rwanda. They provide treatment and care​ ​to address the common illnesses in their community, such as malaria and respiratory infections.

What personally led you into becoming an entrepreneur?

It may sound strange, but growing up as a professional dancer, I had to hone my ability to improvise. Once I began my professional career, my improvisational skills morphed into an interest in finding new ways of solving problems, doing business, and improving the world we share.

I also love learning. When you’re an entrepreneur, you need to learn fast — and all the time. Being an entrepreneur means working in uncharted territory. There is no map. You draw the map while you drive on the road. These types of puzzles and adventures excite me.

What is a day in the life of a COO?

My responsibilities include everything from process and policy audits to strategic planning to business development, marketing, partner and investor relations, logistics management, fixing leaky ceilings, and improving network connectivity in the rolling green hills of Rwanda. I am also responsible for helping transition OFH from a startup to a sustainable social franchise, which is the most exciting and most difficult part of my current work.

Beyond this task list, my role is to listen, learn, and support the OFH team to create something new — to find ways to say, “yes, and here is how,” where others have said “no, it is not possible.”

What kind of impact is One Family Health making?

In the words of One Family Health’s Country Director, Maggie Chirwa, “We are creating something new. This thing has never been done.”

One Family Health is the first-ever public-private partnership with the Ministry of Health in Rwanda. ​Our ultimate proof of concept is to show that applying private sector principles to delivering entry-level primary care can expand access to life-saving care in rural areas of developing countries, which are often the most vulnerable communities in the world.

We’ve served over 2 million patients, and are reaching over 8% of the population. We’ve also reduced travel times to a health post from 74 to 14 minutes, opened 106 health posts, and created over 300 jobs.

OFH’s Musanze Health Post

The real credit for impact goes to One Family Health’s nurse franchisees. These nurses are more than healthcare providers. They are mothers, fathers, business owners, and community leaders. They are the ones saving lives every day, and that is where the real impact happens.

What’s new at One Family Health? Recently, their work was highlighted as one of the top 23 innovators in the world in a case study soon to be published by TDR, a program by the World Health Organization. Their goal was to raise awareness of the meaningful and impactful work done by social innovators around the world like One Health.

These key insights are a reminder about how important social innovation is in improving the health care systems in lower- to middle-income countries.

The full TDR case study is below.

What is next for One Family Health?

I’ve been honored and lucky to join the team at a time of growth and transition. One Family Health is on a path to scale up, within and eventually beyond Rwanda. We are in the process of securing essential capital to scale to 500 clinics, at which point we will hit sustainability and profitability.

While I’d like to say I know all the answers, I don’t. The vision of One Family Health is to create a new way of delivering healthcare in the hardest-to-reach communities. Credit for this vision, OFH’s achievements, and the path forward goes to the company’s Founder and CEO Gunther Faber, our Country Director Maggie Chirwa, and the local team.

If I had to say what’s next for One Family Health, I’d say we will keep doing what we are doing — and keep seeking innovative ways of improving our business model and health outcomes in the communities we serve.

To learn more about One Family Health, or learn how you can get involved, visit our website or contact Whitney Sogol at wsogol.ofh@gmail.com.

To learn more about Bascom Ventures, or investing alongside Wisconsin alumni, follow the link.