[Editor's Note: This essay, from Brian Warden, MS3 at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (St. Luke's Campus) receives fourth place in the 2016 WCI Scholarship competition, which is good for a $100 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of The White Coat Investor: A Doctor's Guide to Personal Finance and Investing for each member of Brian's class. (I'm counting on his classmates to ensure he doesn't sell them on the open market instead of giving them to you!) The battle for third place was incredibly close, and actually required a 13th judge to break the tie. One thing I really liked about this essay was that Brian, unlike most applicants, actually told us why he wanted the money and what he would use it for. The other thing I liked is that he's right- business and markets can fix most social problems better than many other solutions. Enjoy!]
A career in medicine was always my dream and business was interesting to me. I went into undergrad thinking, “Well, either I’ll bomb all my pre-med classes and do business or I’ll get into med school and forget the business stuff.” I did well in my pre-med classes and decided to do a business major anyways, and I fell in love with Social Entrepreneurship.
Social Entrepreneurship is solving social issues with business and commerce. One of my favorite examples is VisionSpring. In 2001, Dr. Jordan Kasslow realized that there was a strong correlation between loss in economic productivity and presbyopia, the normal loss of near vision due to aging. Unfortunately, 90% of people with presbyopia live in the developing world without access to reading glasses. Most people would solve this type of problem by first, raising money through charities and government agencies, and then dumping a truck full of reading glasses in a rural African village. They’d drive away thinking, “Problem solved! (High Five!)” Dr. Kassalow did something better. He trained rural African women to fit and sell the glasses for a profit. Why is this a better solution? If I give a person a pair of glasses, then I’ve helped one person. If I sold a person a pair of glasses for profit, I can now buy two pairs of glasses and sell them to two more individuals. Now I’ve helped three people and I’m in a position to help a lot more. The second solution is a sustainable solution. That’s Social Entrepreneurship. (To date, Dr. Kasslow has sold 2.5+ million eyeglasses and provided thousands of jobs for women in developing nations.)
This new passion for Social Entrepreneurship didn’t change my dream to go to medical school. It did however, instill in me a desire to use medical expertise to create sustainable and meaningful impact on the world. I often find myself day-dreaming of an entrepreneurial solution to the world problems that are presented to me in lecture or in clinic. For example, what if Praziquantel was annually sold as candy to kids in Schistosomiasis-laden rural Uganda? Or what if an app helped automatically schedule you for colonoscopies and other vital cancer screenings? Or what if med students could work through virtual case simulators to learn at their own pace and schedule?
In medical school, I was able to flex my entrepreneurial skills by creating “The Perpetual Treat Fund.” During my second year of medical school, 30 classmates and I moved to a satellite campus affiliated with our school. We loved the campus, except we had no vending machine and the hospital cafeteria food gets old really fast. Plus, there wasn’t time between lectures to walk there and back. So I went to Sam’s Club, bought a bunch of healthy snacks (Full disclosure- some snacks were not so healthy, but they did become healthier as it went on) and laid them out for sale in our break room. That was the birth of “The Perpetual Treat Fund”. By charging a slight margin (but still at a great value), the fund grew from a 15-dollar investment into a 200-dollar self-sustaining fund over the course of the year. I thought it was just about snacks, but one of my classmates once hugged me and told me how it made her feel at home in our school and a part of a community. So often, the food I bought would be the fuel that helped us get that extra hour of study in before we went home at night. It was a simple business, but solved a major problem for us.
My next plan is to do a surgical elective next year to Cameroon, Africa. In entrepreneurship, it’s vital to study problems up close. I would like to learn how hospitals function in developing nations and find problems and barriers to health. I’ve made so many attempts to travel on a health trip like this that I was even scammed once. Fortunately, for this trip, I will have so much more knowledge going in than I would have had previously. I plan on using entrepreneurial techniques to find real problems that can later be solved with business solutions.
Talk is cheap. Getting to Africa is expensive. Not to mention that my wife and two kids have to eat (I guess I mentioned it.) In the next few months, I’m going to have to tell my wife that either she can buy a flight to her brother’s wedding or I can go to Cameroon. I don’t think that conversation is going to end well for me and the Cameroon trip. This scholarship would really help me on my way.
I know this goal of creating a business that solves world problems doesn’t become a reality unless I become free from debt. It’s a big reason my family and I have sacrificed a lot to save money. It’s a reason we plan on living FAR below our means for several years after residency. I want to be free from debt as early as possible so, I could take a year or two off and create a medical school in Kenya or sell praziquantel candy bars or whatever amazing opportunity I create. I want to make an impact on the world that will last generations. I believe Social Entrepreneurship has that power.
What do you think? Do you believe in Social Entrepreneurship? Do you agree that developing a sustainable business does more good than giving money or aid? When is it appropriate (and not appropriate) to use to solve problems? Would you like to help send Brian to Cameroon? (I'm sure he can supply a Paypal associated email address in the comments section.) Comment below!