Neeti Kailas: Crafting Affordable Health Care Through Design
Monday, February 16, 2015
Call it providence. Twelve years ago, Neeti Kailas happened to walk the corridors of Ahmedabad’s Vikram Sarabhai Hospital. She was a student of product design then, at the National Institute of Design (NID) and was trying to ascertain potential project ideas—design problems she could find solutions to. That walk turned out to be a game changer. All around her, she could see things that needed fixing. Kailas decided that she was the woman for the job.
The young designer is now co-founder and director at Sohum Innovation Lab, an initiative that thrives on high-impact, affordable health care projects. Prominent among her design solutions has been a non-invasive, portable diagnostic device to facilitate routine screening of newborn babies for hearing loss. This product, created in 2014, has the potential to help children at the fundamental stages of development. It earned her the prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise last year.
“Problem-solving for me is exciting. What we should be designing rather than how we should be designing it is a bigger concern for me,” says Kailas. It is important to ask “why are we doing it? Is it profitable for the business? Is it coming from a social standpoint?”
Her keenness for problem-solving through design has spread its wings beyond the Sohum project. She also serves as a design strategist at Nestle, St Louis, USA, accelerating innovation and integrating design thinking into the business, end-to-end.
But her pet project is the innovation lab in India. She begins each day with a concall with her team here, discussing ongoing projects and those in the pipeline. No stone is left unturned to make the venture socially and financially sustainable. And, thus far, accolades have poured in plenty. The project has received coveted grants, including the Grand Challenges Canada (which supports bold ideas with a big impact on global health.)
There is, however, the matter of scalability. Kailas and her partner/co-founder Nitin Sisodia are now scouting for strategic tie-ups. “We are looking at investments by people whose objectives are aligned with ours. So far we have been working on grants and savings,” says Kailas.