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Social innovators at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis

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Jun 10, 2020

By the Philips Foundation team

Two social entrepreneurs, with support from the Philips Foundation and Ashoka, accelerate their innovative work to provide healthcare for those who are in critical need. Having the ability to access doctor’s advice from a distance or to be able to understand the dangers of the novel coronavirus is not self-evident in developing countries, which can be crucial to counter outbreaks in vulnerable communities.

Kampala, Uganda and New Delhi, India  In many low-resource settings across the globe, many individuals and communities lack access to critical healthcare caused by the spread of COVID-19 and its devastating effects. The lack of much-needed quality healthcare is strengthened by multiple factors, such as the remoteness of their community, lack of means to pay for healthcare support, by culture or conflict.


Recognizing the need to increase healthcare access for disadvantaged communities in these unprecedented times, two social entrepreneurs have found ways to implement their new, visionary solutions and services aimed at providing care to the ones in critical need.


Joost van Engen, Founder of Healthy Entrepreneurs


As someone who believes vulnerable communities can be lifted by providing them with the tools and framework to become an independent healthcare entrepreneur themselves, Joost van Engen, Founder of Healthy Entrepreneurs, sees access to basic health in remote areas as an important key to self-reliance. A crucial factor in being able to protect against the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic.


In their Doctors at Distance approach, in collaboration with Philips Foundation and Ashoka, Healthy Entrepreneurs provides screening services and consultations by health experts at a distance. Their application on health education and consultations now also includes a ‘COVID-19 Response’, converted into a nationwide telehealth solution linked with an extensive network of trained physicians, starting in Uganda. The goal is to eventually provide the COVID-19 response service to more than 4,500 health workers in remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. In addition, Healthy Entrepreneurs intends to disseminate life-saving information about COVID-19 in the wider districts of affiliated health workers through local communication channels.


Hilmi Quraishi, Co-Founder of ZMQ


At ZMQ, stepping into battling against health issues in vulnerable communities, is seen as a long-term objective. Through the creation and spread of digital visual stories using talking comics, they build awareness among women in rural India on healthcare issues and empower communities by providing timely information and connecting them with life-saving services. With the help of Philips India and Philips volunteers in our collaborative program on addressing childhood pneumonia, ZMQ has been able to translate their digital stories into five different languages, providing access to information to even more people.


With COVID-19 at the forefront, priorities have changed. That is why, through the partnership of Ashoka and the Philips Foundation, ZMQ is working on matching stories that provide access to life-saving information on COVID-19 for the illiterate within their local context. Since COVID-19 messages are primarily targeted at affluent people (how to wash hands without running water or soap?), it is vital to tackle the immediate challenges by providing them with information that resonates with people living in low-resource settings.


As a result, based on their experience fighting tuberculosis in Uganda, ZMQ launched its ‘Freedom COVID-19’ program. The campaign addresses the needs of remote communities with diagnosis, case finding, tracking, referral, treatment, and prevention—all with the help of community health workers associated with ZMQ on the ground. Due to restrictions caused by the pandemic, ZMQ provides remote training and consultation from India with the aim re-adapt the system to the local context of communities in Rwanda and Uganda.




On May 20th, 1500 people joined Ashoka’s largest online gathering introducing the 20 social entrepreneurs taking part in the Changemakers United Program. The  program is a collective effort to support social innovators at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis covering different topics such as healthcare, vulnerable groups, learning ecosystems and how to guarantee reliable information in times of crisis.

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