After studying law I vectored towards journalism by accident and it's the only job I've done since. It's a job that has taken me on a private jet to Jaisalmer - where I wrote India's first feature on fractional ownership of business jets - to the badlands of west UP where India's sugar economy is inextricably now tied to politics. I'm a big fan of new business models and crafty entrepreneurs. Fortunately for me, there are plenty of those in Asia at the moment.
Rekha Koita and Rizwan Koita of Koita Foundation Image: Bajirao Pawar for Forbes India
Use technology and a lot of problems can be solved. It was this unflinching belief that led the husband-and-wife team of Rizwan and Rekha Koita to start working with non-profits. They’d spent their working lives as a startup founder and a management consultant, respectively, but both ended up leaving successful careers and put their skills to use in philanthropy.
First off the block was Rekha, 53. In 2016, she knew she wanted to spend time in the non-profit space and began a broadbased exploration with Dasra to see what she could do. She would spend time with non-profits to understand the issues they faced and see where she could help. A clear area where they needed support was the use of technology to improve outcomes. “All organisations have problems that can be solved through technology,” she explains. And that was the niche Rekha decided to focus on at the Koita Foundation. Eventually, it resulted in her moving full-time to assist non-profits.
Rizwan, 54, had in his earlier career set up CitiusTech, that had emerged as a leading provider of services and solutions. He’d had the distinction of being the first non-MBA recruit by McKinsey before he turned entrepreneur and set up CitiusTech. The company had grown to 9,000 professionals and ₹4,000 crore in revenue.
While in the health care space, he’d seen how businesses could use technology to enhance outcomes. “We saw that organisations were doing well but they needed help to improve delivery,” says Rizwan. At CitiusTech, he’d worked with companies to improve delivery. Now he decided to improve the scale of what he does through the Koita Foundation that the couple set up in 2016.
In 2021, the Koita Foundation set up the Koita Centre For Digital Health at IIT-Mumbai. As Rizwan explains, the aim was to drive research and academic programmes in the field of digital health. They’d like to train professionals in the science of managing hospitals and doing research on health care. In India, as over the world, health care delivery remains highly disaggregated. Hospitals chains are few and standards are often not set out clearly. Doctors also often don’t follow laid-down guidelines. The Centre aims to being in curriculum to train the next generation of health care providers in India.
Rizwan explains that his main aim is to get young professionals “excited about a career in health care”. He’d think of his mission a success if 10-15 other leading engineering colleges and health care institutes take inspiration from the Centre and start offering similar courses. Koita Foundation’s total commitment to this cause is ₹25 crore.
Similar work is being done at the Tata Memorial Centre where the Koita Centre for Digital Oncology has been set up to help cancer hospitals adopt digital health tools. With improved patient management and research, Koita feels the quality, affordability and outcomes of cancer care can be improved. Often simple things like maintaining Electronic Medical Records continues to be a challenge for hospitals and only 15 percent of them maintain them. The Centre works with getting vendors on board for this task. To this Centre also the Koita Foundation has committed ₹25 crore.
In addition, Rizwan is on the board of the National Accreditation Board for Hospitals (NABH) and has worked on helping them work with hospitals in the digital health space. “We work with 20,000 hospitals and, in the digital health space, we have partnered with 111 hospitals,” says Dr Atul Kochhar, CEO of NABH. NABH’s main objective is to develop a framework and get hospitals to adopt them. While NABH declined to take names, it mentioned the framework has been used by leading hospital chains in the country. Also read: I regret not doing philanthropy earlier: Kris Gopalakrishnan
Last, there is a tie-up with the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences. All government hospitals come under this and the University is training doctors, frontline workers and medical professionals in the adoption of digital health initiatives. Rizwan says all courses are open-source and hopes they are adopted by other states eventually.
In the NGO transformation space, where Rekha works, the endeavour is to monitor performance, get technology systems in place to take data-driven decisions. A key part of her role is to define the problem before investing time and resources in solving for it.
Take, for instance, the work the Foundation did with the Foundation for Mother and Child Health (FMCH), which works in the area of maternal health. They monitor the health of the mother and child for the first 1,000 days.
Here the problem to be solved was that field workers had to follow specific workflows during each visit and ensure they conveyed timely information. As Rekha explains, each worker was assigned 200 families that they had to visit at specific intervals. “We had to ensure that what the worker says during, say, the three-, six- and nine-month period was consistent across workers and families.” Visits had to be scheduled and problem cases identified in advance.
This was done through the development of NuTree, an app that allows field officers to input data and get as an output decision tree to help them with counselling. Shruthi Iyer, CEO of FMCH, says for their organisation, the app has proved to be instrumental in lifting the productivity of field staff. This removed an element of subjectivity or took care of a worker forgetting to do something. It also allowed workers to plan their routes in advance. It is interventions like this that go a long way in allowing smaller NGOs to scale as often, as Iyer explains, they may not have access to the right technology vendors to develop such apps.
In the NGO transformation space, the Koita Foundation works with several NGOs— MagicBus, SNEHA, Vipla Foundation—to help them scale.
While the operations are still small—they declined to disclose how much has been put into the Foundation—what’s clear is that Rekha and Rizwan see this as a good fit for the next stage of their lives. As Rizwan says, “There is an ocean of work to do. And we do it out of pure interest.”