Merel studied political science and international relations and envisaged a diplomatic career at the service of her native Netherlands. But a Colombian man she met at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, the international center operated by the Initiatives of Change team in Switzerland, led her towards another path. He put her in touch with a Dutch businessman working in the field of orthopedics.
Merel immediately saw the point of decentralizing orthopedic care in Colombia, since she had worked there previously: many people don’t have access to proper care because they live too far away from the orthopedic clinics. Now she is living in Colombia where she moved recently to support the opening of her clinics.
The first clinic was opened in early 2020 in Tunja, a city 400 km from Bogota. Two more clinics are on their way. The initiative wasn't all easy. COVID-19 as well as social unrest hindered the operations in the first three months of the new clinic; an important piece of machinery broke down, and materials supplies are short due to the post-COVID logistics crisis. But in between, there were four months of the positive and profitable running of the clinic. So far 350 clients have been gratefully served.
Where opportunity meets optimism
Merel Rumping remains positive and upbeat about the path she has chosen. She is aware that her company delivers an important service to many people with a disability—40 million people worldwide and 500,000 in Colombia. The nation’s healthcare is high quality with the healthcare system ranked 22nd in the world out of 191 countries and 95% of Colombians have health insurance.
However, the country is huge. Its area is comparable to France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined, and many people with a disability live too far away from hospitals delivering good quality prostheses. The need is growing because of the aging population and of the prevalence of diabetes which can also lead to amputation. Rumping hopes that in a matter of seven years they will have opened seven clinics, cared for 40,000 people, and created over 60 jobs.
How will this be achieved? To bring orthopedic care to those who need it, a network of franchised clinics will be set up in every secondary city. With reduced overheads, access to state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and know-how, and with the appropriate support from the head office for sales, HR, finances, and certification, the local clinics will operate with limited costs and at close range to their patients. The model is of course scalable to other countries, provided there is a well-functioning healthcare insurance system in place.
Overcoming challenges to create change
As a social entrepreneur, Merel believes in the power of social entrepreneurship; companies that through their services or product realize social change. They exist purely to solve societal issues, whilst being financially viable. All based on the needs of the client; this drives the quality and service. ‘We believe in a world that works for everyone,’ she said, ‘a world in which each individual can live up to their fullest potential.’
The Zoom participants asked questions about the financing of the company. It had come from social investors plus a small grant from the Dutch government. But otherwise, the company relies on income generated from the paying customers and their insurance companies.
Participants also compared the merits of privately-owned and public, non-profit health services. Private companies operating in the health sector had to be very demanding in their ethics, Rumping commented, and not always try to push more products and services, but really stick to the public’s needs. Additionally, her company puts 10% of profits aside to cater to the poorest, who are unable to foot the bill of care, and/or the associated travel.
Another participant asked about the internal culture of the company, a question that struck a chord with Merel who described with enthusiasm the company’s corporate values and vision, the induction process for new employees, and the team spirit which is reinforced by the staff’s social events.
Confronted by many challenges, Merel keeps in mind a quote by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former Liberian president: ‘The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.’