Balancing Passion and Purpose

“Ding! Buzz! Ping! Tweet!” goes the marching band that is now my smartphone on any given day.
For voracious consumers of information like myself, admittedly these are sounds that make up the soundtrack of my everyday life. Digital white noise, if you will, and it doesn’t help that the very means that we attain particular goods and services has gone radically digital as well (and has added another symphony of notifications).
SAM_1064Earlier this month, Uber has made the news once again. Whether you hate or love the concept or the brand itself, Uber represents a growing trend among Millennial consumers: the desire to share goods, services, commodities, or information itself to reduce costs, offer convenience, and at times provide access to services in communities that didn’t previously have certain amenities. Cue what some economists have called the “Sharing Economy”, and it’s a marketplace fueled by information technology and massive amounts of data.
While Uber, Yelp, and Airbnb have leveraged data to produce apps and services that are ingrained in many Millennials’ lifestyles, one social enterprise and soon-to-be-launched technology platform, Tulalens, is riding this wave of information to transform the way pregnant women find reproductive health care services in India. Earlier this year, I interviewed the founder and CEO Priya Iyer. Her story and her responsible, innovative use of technology to address a specific, locally-sourced need (Hello, best practice!) caught my attention.
Iyer and Tulalens’ story begins in the “middle of Kansas”, where her family “grew up, starting in the mid-eighties, as immigrants.” As a child, she had noticed the ways her family had tried to provide new economic opportunities for her and how her family tried to foster the concept of dignity.
“It taught me from a very young age that you need to have a combination of both [economic opportunities and a sense of dignity] to have quality of life. In my work, I kept trying to pursue that, even though I didn’t really know that, ” Iyer says. “I kept trying to put two and two together later as I was older and [as] I was able to grapple with that more.”
Over time, Iyer began to see these lessons that her family had imparted in her own work in international development.

When I did start in international development work after my MPH, I saw in Guyana, which is where my first job was, and again in different parts of Africa that, a lot of times, the organizations I was working with… weren’t actually interacting with users. They were designing products and services for them but really had no idea how to gather feedback from. I don’t think it was a bad intention. I think they were like, ‘Well, this is very expensive. We can’t reach [users]. How do we make sense of any of this feedback?'”

Drawing from this frustration in her work and inspiration from her own background, Iyer says, “I kept seeing this over and over again, and it was so frustrating because these [users] know so much more about their experiences of these products and services that you or I can assume. Why aren’t we using their knowledge more to help them? It was a combination of those two things that led me to Tulalens.” Today, Tulalens is a Yelp-like “system for some of the world’s poorest communities in emerging markets – people without internet access – to share feedback and retrieve crowdsourced information on organizations that provide them with health care and other critical needs.” In Iyer’s own words, “Tula means ‘balanced’ in Sanskrit. Our name reflects our aim, which is to balance the lens, or create actionable insights by listening to the needs of low-income communities.” SAM_1064Beyond the image of women carrying and balancing water on their heads that is on the home page of the Tulalens website, this concept of tula, or balanced, permeates the organization’s structure itself. Iyer has worked with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT and its affiliates, as well as private sector organizations, to identify, collect, and manage the most pertinent data that relates to creating accessible, quality maternity care. She says, “We feel that the combination of different sectors is necessary to tackle a problem like this.” To date, much of the work Tulalens has done has been with pregnant women in Hyderabad, India because the city has a mix of socially conscious organizations and incubators that have functioned like a support network for Tulalens’ objectives. More than this conducive business environment, however, is a demonstrated need among pregnant women in the local community. “Many pregnant women we work with believe they can access only one prenatal care facility near their home,” Iyer says. “Even when they are treated poorly or forced to pay bribes, they continue going to that facility.” Crowdsourcing, however, is starting to change the way these women view access to quality health care services. “By sharing crowdsourced data on fees, quality of the provider, wait time, bribes paid and more, women now have critical information that will allow them to make informed decisions on which of several facilities to attend,” Iyer says. To date, Tulalens has reached 600 women who have needed reproductive health care services in the three largest slums of Hyderabad, and it is Iyer’s hope, by end of 2015, to “develop a prototype technology that would allow communities to exchange information over a basic mobile phone thereby allowing us to expand our reach more quickly.”

So what can you do to help? 

As an organization, Everyday Ambassador is committed to highlighting initiatives that practice our core values of empathy, focus, patience, and humility, and we believe that Tulalens fits the bill. If you’d like to support this Everyday Ambassador partner, consider sharing your expertisedonating to this cause, or spreading the word.

“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador’s Director of Brand Strategy Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.
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