“We are obligated to the battle but not entitled to the fruits.”
Dr. Duncan Maru sent this Bhagavad Gita quote to Mark Arnoldy when he saw Mark struggle to bring in funding in the early days of our organization.
For Mark, it’s his guiding piece of wisdom when confronted with failure, and a constant reminder to keep the ego at bay.
“The work isn’t about any single person or what goes in someone’s bio,” he says. “It’s about solving problems for our patients.”
The quote from the Gita also strikes a chord with the wider social entrepreneurial community. Social entrepreneurs are commonly defined as people who find innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. Their qualities include ambition, persistence, and grit, as they offer new ideas for wide-scale change.
In other words, they commit to an ambitious, altruistic purpose:
transforming the lives of others.
Mark and Duncan are both honored to be named Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of 2015. Together, they will collaborate with a global network of social entrepreneurs to tackle challenges in dire need of solutions — like how to deliver high-quality, low-cost healthcare to some of the world’s poorest people.
As part of this award, we wanted to go deeper — to learn more about their story, working relationship, and how the Schwab social entrepreneur community will further enable Possible to deliver dignified healthcare to the world’s poor.
How did you first get involved with Possible?
Duncan: Growing up, I was interested in the nature of human consciousness and I somehow stumbled into medicine. My father was a community psychologist, and our lives were always interwoven with my father’s patients and his musings about them. Throughout my teenage years, my father and I would read and talk for hours on philosophy, spirituality, alternative medicine, and the nature of consciousness. Much of those discussions centered around human potential and how we could unlock it in ourselves and others.
Somewhere along the way, I realized I was less interested in the human mind and more interested in the human condition. I was pulled to South Asia by my future-wife, whose family was originally from Gujarat. I spent some time during medical school at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and then received a note from Jason Andrews, a fellow medical student at Yale, who was traveling through rural Nepal:
“…While I was staying there, I literally had 10 women a night knocking on my door asking for medical help for themselves or their children. There are no medical services available to them beyond the most basic primary care (and that is often geographically and financially inaccessible)…”
Soon after we (along with Sanjay Bas and Bibhav Acharya) co-founded Possible. And since receiving Jason’s email, I have been preoccupied with a singular question: how to deliver dignified, effective healthcare in some of the globe’s most isolated, marginalized, and impoverished communities.
Mark: I was a Fulbright Scholar in Nepal, working closely with a Nepali social entrepreneur to create an innovative way to treat malnourished children. I heard about Possible’s work in Achham District and went to see it for myself. Eventually, I asked Duncan to accept me as a summer intern.
Now I’m his “boss” — I’ve never used that word in our relationship, and it feels very awkward to even consider such a thing when working with such a wise and gifted teammate.
But I met Duncan the way many people do — as he was brilliantly juggling the chaos of being a father to young twin boys, a physician at one of the world’s leading teaching hospitals, and a dedicated social entrepreneur with big ideas. Anand and Umed (his boys) were quite literally crawling on his back the first time we spoke.
As leaders, you work closely together. What are some of the most interesting dynamics of your professional relationship?
Duncan: We have a deep trust in each other, and leverage that to push each other and demand excellence. We both bring enough confidence in who we are and humility in the uncertainties of healthcare and entrepreneurship to respond to each other’s brutal honesty in a mature way. And then we try to coach the rest of our young team members to operate similarly.
Mark: We actually spend a lot of our time working remotely. But what I find remarkable is we are almost always aligned. It works because it’s one of those relationships where we can say very little and communicate an extraordinary amount. And what I value most deeply is that we’ve learned how to give and receive feedback to each other with our egos completely removed. If we can’t model the idea of putting our patients first, we can’t ask others on the team to do the same. So it’s a relationship that constantly feeds personal and professional growth.
What do you believe is one another’s most unique value-add to Possible and its role in global innovation?
Duncan: Mark’s clarity in vision for good design and lean management systems, and the directness, assuredness, and openness with which he communicates that vision.
Mark: Duncan’s ability to be a visionary in seeing how healthcare systems need to evolve at the societal level, while simultaneously be deeply engaged in the lives of individual people in an extremely thoughtful and caring way. I suppose that’s the outcome of being an epidemiologist and physician.
In your own words, how does social entrepreneurship fuel impactful change?
Duncan: By identifying problems, finding social and political and financial constraints to those problems, and innovating around ways to create movements, systems, and structures to rectify the problems.
Mark: I love this definition of hope from Maimonides, who said “Hope is belief in the plausibility of the possible, as opposed to the necessity of the probable.” Entrepreneurs create a lot of attention, and I’d like to think that social entrepreneurs create a lot of hope.
So how does this reward and joining the Schwab network of entrepreneurs affect your role and Possible’s work in healthcare delivery?
Duncan: Simple: This will enable me to develop crucial skills in leadership and communication.
Mark: I can’t even begin to imagine the brilliant folks we will be able to learn from. That’s the most important piece — a deep curiosity and hunger to learn.
Okay, so as a social entrepreneur, how are you influencing broader systemic change?
Duncan: Our entire model is premised on the idea that the government must invest in funding and regulating nonprofit companies to deliver essential healthcare. As such, I personally invest a large amount of my time in creating relationships throughout the government.
Mark: Well, the service model is number one. If we can’t do that, it’s equivalent to Google not having AdWords. So I spend most of my time focused on that, and I typically set somewhat arbitrary goal posts on when would be a great time for us to invest more seriously in broader systemic change efforts. My ideal is just to be an execution leader and let the work talk. But we’ve set ourselves up to leverage government for large-scale replication after we execute on our 3-year expansion to a population of over 250,000 people.
Final question: What gets you out of the bed every morning? What is your purpose in life?
Duncan: My purpose is to live life full of compassion, and to create systems that make compassion a way of life. Every day my patients, physician trainees, colleagues, and family provide me with a rich yet painful mirror to reflect where I bring compassion and where I fail. More specifically with respect to my work as a physician, scientist, and entrepreneur, I am trying to be part of the movement to bring primum non nocere (first do no harm) back to medicine. It is only then we can truly design and deliver care systems truly with the patient’s interests, fears, and vulnerability fully in mind.
Mark: My purpose is to go where people thought high-quality, low-cost healthcare was impossible. Work like crazy to prove them wrong. Repeat.
It's that cycle — and only through that cycle of actual execution and accomplishment against the odds — that I think we prove possibility.
Meet the 31 other entrepreneurs, and join us in congratulating Mark and Duncan as Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of 2015!