Blog

This is the blog of Urban Care, a social company in Ha Noi where we discuss about everything regarding the creation, grow, set up and activities of the company, social entrepreneurship, and hot news from the health & aid sector.

It is alive!

We made it.

Conztellation is now real and breathing. You can visit our new product here. It looks superb, and we already have some of our old clients really eager to move to the system, which is a nice achievement after 6 months of designing the system, 4 months of coding, and now already 2 months of beta-testing.

But what is it all about?

Well, imagine a system, accessible anytime and anywhere, that would give you all the information you need on your portfolio of activities, from performance analysis, to  cost-effectiveness dynamic , while gathering for you the most important pieces of literature on your area of work, and concentrating your most important documents under a simple Knowledge Management system. It is all there.

It is really an advanced tool, powered by human beings instead of machines. So, yes, it is highly customizable, flexible, reactive. You just have nothing to do. We do it all for you. Great service. Soon, we’ll let you know even more about it.

We are a bit proud,

Vincent

Conztellation is moving on…

Some news on the development of our new service: Conztellation, with a z

Conztellation V0.1 would be available for our current clients on the 5th of December 2011 for a first round of beta testing, with a V1.0 ready to hit the market late January 2012.

We have finalized the system’s wireframe and its general architecture… and now our dearest IT manager, Mr Hien, has started to code the system, while Vinaganda assists in the general design of the web interface.

The program is moving on steadily…. Soon, we will introduce some details on the extensive analytic and knowledge management functions of the Conztellation system.

stay tuned…

 

Constellation V0.1 is on the way

Well, there it goes! we have started to develop Constellation after a full year of brain-storming.

The architecture is now ready (more than 7 interlinked databases… for now), as well as the general web lay-out. We are about to recruit a new team member, obviously by the end of next week, to code it all and put online a beta version of the system in November 2011.

Can’t wait to show you the excellent features of the system… a real breakthrough in term of program analysis and information management for any portfolio manager… stay tuned.

 

 

Urban Care is recruiting a database designer

Urban Care continues its development… we are now looking for a database designer located in Hanoi.

This person would work on the development of our new project, Constellation. We would like to have someone speaking and writing: English, MySQL and PHP.

Please send your resume to: tran.le.mai@urbancare.org

We will first shortlist candidates, who will then receive the blueprint of the service before the interview process. The selected person would work firstly on a short-term mission contract, with the possibility to engage in a long-term professional relationship, to be adapted to our company’s needs and the professional’s career development objectives.

Closing date: 25th of September 2011.

Thanks!

Website revision

Do you know a perfect website? We don’t. So we revise ours every 6 months or so to make it more accessible for our clients.

This iteration would be the third, to be uploaded at the end of September, with some new features, including the publication of our advisory board, the presentation of our key team members (with pictures, although we still need to get them…), a slice of our portfolio, and a resource section dedicated to our clients… and really, really soon – November 2011 – the landing of the Beta of our new service – Constellation .

And many thanks to Fred from Vinaganda by the way, that is one web-designer.

To fellow social entrepreneurs

As our reputation is slowly growing up, I am getting more and more questions from social-entrepreneurs-to-be and friends from the NGO and the private sectors on the implications of operating a social enterprise, on how we can factor in primary business rules and our objectives. Hence, I would like to start sharing a bit of what I had to learn since I created our company. And I’d like to start with the concept of values, because, well, you know, we are a SOCIAL enterprise. So values are somehow important, right? Yes, but mere pragmatism too.

Urban Care is, indeed, a social enterprise. What does that mean practically? That we are at the crossroads between classic business management and an “NGO-orientated” way of thinking in term of values and objectives. And this requires a fair dose of flexibility and pragmatism, especially as our primary market, Vietnam and South-East Asia, is now subject to consequent macro-economic pressures… The current inflation rate in Vietnam is close to 21% on an annual rate, with little evidence it would slow down the next few months. The national Vietnamese debt is rated at junk level with 5-year CDS soaring way above 300 points, international investment is plummeting in the region, and business creation is down 50% from its 2010 level in the country. And now even China is promised by some analysts a hard-landing within 3 years… let alone the current situation in Europe and in the US… it’s all good.

So what does it mean for our operations here? What does it mean to a young company like ours? Would our values shield us from the bad weather? Do values give us business? Is that scary out there? How does it feel just right now?

Oddly enough, it feels good. Real good. Yet, may be not the way one might expect. And I trust it all lies within a strange mix of values and business thinking.

Because this environment pushes us to be fit and flexible, to pay an even greater attention to our clients and our internal functioning. It is the best remedy for self-leniency, and it teaches you the hard way that having “nice values” is just not enough to build a sustainable and efficient structure.

Unlike for most INGOs, our “funding” cycles are short. Whereas a development program sponsored by an international donor would typically be funded for a 3-year period, we mostly rely on short-term contracts – with an average duration of 4 months – although we are luckily moving into developing long-term relations with our biggest clients. Hence we have to be cost-effective. Always. And you can be sure that we are our first customers in term of allocation-resources optimization.

I guess this is the most challenging aspect of running a social enterprise. You have to be consistent, and analyze your environment very pragmatically as a private, for-profit business would. There are excellent lessons to draw from the private sector. I guess it relates to self-reliance, paying real attention to the needs of your clients, and having a strong and adaptive business-model. The bottom line there? Core values. But too often well-intended organizations might fail because of a lack of realism.

As a matter of fact, we are driven by an ideology. To make it short, I would say “earning a decent salary doing a decent job”. Obviously, decent is the operative word here. Yet, what you quickly realize is that your clients simply expect a service, a good service. They need a return on their investment. And your values are just not what they are buying. They might not even pay attention to your greater plan, whether it is making health care more accessible, or clean water, or education. Of course, they might share your values. And practically, all our clients do. Yet, when they contract you to perform a task, they just want your company to deliver something they need. And do not expect any indulgence from them because at some point you trust you are Mr Nice Guy. They need professionals, because they are.

Initially, when setting up our company, I was expecting our values would give us a hedge in term of publicity. I was even considering they could be a component of our marketing plan. And you know what? We have clients because we offer a suit of advanced analysis and M&E services we are the only ones to provide. And we do it well. I quickly realized that, at best, our model was anecdotical to our clients. What they appreciated was the analysis we provided them with. So, we dropped entirely the idea to market our values.

Values are your driving force, they make your ethos concrete. Values translates into the way your team is operating, values infuse into the quality of your work. And this is fair enough. If you uphold those values and put them at work, if your team share them, why would you need any further endorsements from others?

I strongly believe in the development of alternative forms of capitalism. I trust there is out there a place for companies like ours, companies for which the community they live in is the objective, not the mean. Yet, if we want this movement of social companies, coop, and non-for-profit businesses to gather speed and gains for itself a fair place in our greater social system, we have at some point to accept the inner darwinian nature of our daily environment, and be fit.

And let’s rejoice, our values can make us the fittest.

Urban Care is recruiting

As mentioned in our last post, Urban Care is expanding. And we are now actively looking for motivated professionals to join in.

We are currently looking for Senior Associates Consultants to work with our team. The field we want to cover are : HIV/AIDS, TB, mental health, and maternal & child health. If you feel you have the profile, please look at our announcement 20110627 ASC recruitment and contact us (tran.le.mai@urbancare.org)

Just a precision. We are not trying to build another consultants database. We will propose a real and long-term partnership to qualified persons sharing our values and work ethic. For this round, we expect to identify from 4 to 8 persons maximum, preferably based in Vietnam.

We are looking forward to hearing from you,

Vincent

 

Some late news

Well! it’s been a while I didn’t post anything here… the reason? A fairly good one. We have just been a bit too busy those last months to just spend a little time on our blog section.

The company is heading towards its first anniversary (on the 18th of June), and that, on itself, is quite a relief. We made it. The company is operational, and has now enough clients to sustain its operations, recruit, pays all due salaries and taxes, and even start saving some capital for the 2nd phase of our project, the opening of a first low-cost outpatient clinic in Hanoi, sometime late 2012 (although the legal steps for that job might take up to 10 months to get through…). So far, we managed to allocate US$12,000 to our social project, expecting to reach US$15,000 within a quarter, and most likely US$35,000 by the end of this year, and hopefully US$100,000 by the end of 2012.

Most of our revenues came from short- and long-term programs performance, costs and cost-effectiveness analysis, our hallmark. We have been operating mostly in Vietnam and Thailand so far, in the domain of HIV, TB, Primary Health Care, and In-Patients services for displaced populations. We have now some solid perspectives to expand shortly in Cambodia, France, and South-East Africa for both operational and scientific projects in the domain of HIV, TB, Malaria, and Hepatitis C, while maintaining a high level of activity in Vietnam.

As for the institutional side of our development, we are about to engage in a long-term relationship with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute from Basel. And we are currently finalizing the setting up of an International Advisory Board (IAB) staffed with international experts in the domain of business and finance administration, public health, and INGO management. We will let you know shortly on the names and qualifications of those 4 persons who will help us build and review our long-term internal and external strategy.

Finally, we are about to review and update this website including some nice new features, including some details on: our current portfolio, our team, the composition and role of our IAB, and some free country analysis..

And yes, we are working on Constellation at the moment… a few more months of development… and you’ll see that it could really change your way of managing your portfolio of activities..

Cheers and farewell.

V>

PS: I would need to update soon my profile on this website since I am no longer a PhD student… after a few years of hard and painful work, I have successfully defended it.. (that was in March 2011). And really, like so many other friends, I can tell a PhD is just a proof of resistance and endurance.. Not sure it has anything to do with being smart.

And again the issue of essential drugs patents

MSF goes back in again along with Thailand’s government to secure access to essential drugs, certainly one of the most critical public health issue for this decade in low- and middle-income countries… and quite likely in some high-income countries as well.

Here is the call:

““Europe! HANDS OFF Our Medicine”

Bangkok, 20 October 2010As the European Commission (EC) continues negotiations on a trade agreement with India that could block access to life-saving generic medicines, here in Thailand we are coming together to add our voices to a growing global campaign to stop Europe’s multiple attempts to restrict access to these medicines for patients across the developing world.

“We depend on access to affordable generic medicines like those produced in India to treat all kinds of diseases, including HIV/AIDS, heart disease and cancer. We buy two vital HIV/AIDS medicines (efavirenz and lopinavir/ritonavir) from India – medicines that keep tens of thousands of Thai people alive today,” said Apiwat Kwangkeaw, the chairperson of Thai Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS “On their behalf, we cannot remain silent as Europe works to close the door on every aspect of drug supply – the production of a generic medicine, its registration, and its transportation to patients in other parts of the world. So today we are launching a campaign demanding ‘Europe! HANDS OFF our medicine.”

Tomorrow (21 October 2010) Mr. David Lipman, European Union Ambassador to Thailand, will be at the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre to formally open the European Union Film Festival. We will be there to hand him a letter requesting that he publically state that the European Union and its member states will ensure that the European Commission negotiators will remove all demands in current and future trade agreements with developing countries that pose any threat to access to the life saving generic medicines we all depend upon.

The India-EU agreement is just one of many attacks on generic medicines currently being undertaken by the EC.  Through other bilateral trade agreements around the world, Europe is threatening the production of safe, effective and affordable medicines by demanding tougher intellectual property provisions than anything required under international law.  Europe is also a driving force in the secret negotiations for an Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, where it is leading the push for measures that would put limits on the generic production of medicines.

Already the impact of these policies has been felt by patients:  under EC customs regulations, legitimate generic medicines destined for developing countries have been detained in European ports, putting the lives of patients at risk.

“What the Europeans are doing is effectively snatching the medicines out of our hands,” said Supatra Nakapeaw, Chair of Thai NGO Coalition on AIDS “The European Union might have good reputation on supporting the arts and culture, you will see at the film festival. However a hidden face of the European Union needs to be revealed as it threatens so many lives in Thailand and the rest of the developing world. It’s not much difference from the US, somehow even worse. If Europe has its way and shuts off  this source, we risk killing the success of what has been achieved here in the last ten years.”

A recent study found that up to 90% of certain AIDS medicines bought by international donors – including European governments – in 2008 were sourced from generic producers in India. Shutting down this supply of affordable medicines would be devastating for the millions on or awaiting treatment.

“Europe is clearly taking every opportunity it can find to shut off the tap of affordable generic medicines for people in developing countries,” said Paul Cawthorne, Coordinator of Médecins sans Frontières Access to Essential Medicines Campaign.  “Together with other civil society groups across the world, we are demanding that Europe “BACK OFF NOW” and we are asking everyone, everywhere to support our campaign, and go to https://action.msf.org and join us in sending a message to the European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht to get his HANDS OFF our medicines”

To join us in saying  “EUROPE! HANDS OFF OUR MEDICINE”  visit:

https://action.msf.org

New website

Well there it goes. Our new website is online. New features, new layout, new colors. And it is only a month late. Which is quite an achievement.

If you like it, you can praise Mr Fred, from vinaganda.com. He certainly did an excellent job at designing it, translating my ideas into actually seeable pages, and being patient with my repetitive delays in finalizing the content of the many new pages we have here.

This is when you realize how much work it is to coming up with a site that is readable, user-friendly and nicely designed. This is definitely a professional job, not the sort of things you can figure out over a loose week end with your mac. Not me anyway.

If you wish to see more of Fred’s job, you can visit his portfolio here.

The Whys and the Hows how that social enterprise, part 2

How do you create an enterprise in Vietnam, let alone a social enterprise, when you are a foreigner. Well you’d better brace yourself for the ride! Setting up a social enterprise takes time, money, a willingness to gather and complete a whole lot of paperwork, access to legal advice and, most of all, patience. I have outlined the steps that I followed in setting up Urban Care in Vietnam and have included some tips that will save you time and effort. You would need some cash in advance, patience, some more cash, and a whole great deal of some more patience. Because it really took some time. Quite a bit more than expected in the first place actually. The plan was to sort out all the paper work within a month… well, how about 8?
Continue reading

The Whys and the Hows how that social enterprise, part 1

Watching a music video recently of Lady Gaga dancing on a table covered with dollars, I was overcome with a feeling that we are on the road to nowhere on this planet.

The economic crisis of 2007 had some people saying that the economic order of the day is over; that the time of making money with money is coming to an end; that it’s only a matter of time before capitalism returns to a natural state of equilibrium, creating and distributing wealth through the “magic wand” of the trickle-down-effect, as in the 1950s.s

I don’t trust magic to solve our problems. That situation needs a push.

It’s now 2010 and the world economic system looks more like former Russian president Boris Yeltsin trying to stand up straight after 9am. The G20 meets every year to lay out itsplan – a plan with frankly no direction nor commitments to regulate this economic order and address the huge inequalities of wealth distribution in both industrialised and emerging economies. with

Looking at the evolution of the GINI indexes during the last 20 years is depressing. Our economic order continues to rely on a huge concentration of wealth and capital in a few hands and the confiscation of profits by those same hands. It is ironic that even in China, the target of industry relocation, salaries are deemed too high now, skyrocketing above US$100a month in some southern factories.

Everlasting public and private debt is not a solution to sustain demand. A new paradigm is needed. Especially for health care, our area of concern.

Yet, most people of my generation, who were in their teens when the Berlin Wall collapsed, might feel in their gut that pure socialism is also not the solution, human somewhat greedy nature being what it is for the time being.

This is where the idea of social capitalism kicks in. What does that mean for us?
Well, Simply put, social capitalism means that private is for public good. Private investment to kick-start a process, benefiting from private management and risk ownership, controlled salaries within the structure, a maximum revenue-spread across the team, and employee ownership of the capital. That means as well not boosting unnecessary demands to inflate profits, a cornerstone in health care where the asymmetry between provider and patient is so huge, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Social capitalism means building a sustainable model of intervention and redistributing a maximum of a controlled profit to the staff ; decreasing costs for the patients to make good-quality care accessible to everyone in keeping with the local laws and regulations.

Urban Care is undertaking its work with such a model in mind. Much more to come about that in the next posts. In the meantime some links you might want to check out:

GINI index
Lady Gaga
Social Enterprise
Our friend Boris having a difficult time

And an interesting link to Asset-based community development, that could nurture some more posts

Sharing the results of my PhD research in Hanoi

Hello there,

you would be able to see a presentation of mine on the 20th of July at the Hanoi School of Public Health. This is organised by the UNAIDS and Pepfar. I will present the results of my PhD research on the cost-effectiveness analysis of the Hanoi-Tay Ho integrated HIV/AIDS prevention and care centre.
You can read more about it here.
I’ll post the PPT tomorrow.
Cheers

New players, same old small wallets

The theater of international aid gets more and more complicated with the arrival of new players. The SCO (the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a 6-country club mostly concerned with the central Asia military and security agenda) sent today its first round of humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan, as reported in news from the Official Chinese Press Agency Xinhua. Is that really the end of the Western monopoly on emergency relief? A blip? Or just another sign of an emerging multipolar world order?

Nevertheless, the US Secretary of State announced last week a pledge of more than 10 million USD, of which 6.5 million was direct aid assistance as reported by AP 4 days ago, about 14% of the 71 million USD Mr Ban-Ki-Moon, the UN General Secretary, seems to be looking for to cover the most immediate needs of the 400,000+ displaced persons. This would translate into a hefty 178 USD per person.

Not much of a bailout frankly.

Some links:

SCO, and here SCO

Kyrgyzstan

Hello world!

Building at a crossroad.

Well, finally we made it. The site is functioning; we could work out a server and a proper domain name altogether, finish the design of the first version of our site, and put all that online.

That was quite an adventure. And a long one with that. About 7 years to come up with the right concept, 3 years to gather up the seed capital, and 9 months to finally obtain the investment certificate from the Vietnamese administration.

And now Urban Care is born and real and breathing.

Creating this company was a bit of a dream you know, it is not exactly a cash-machine which would buy me a Porsche Cayenne or a SUV I wouldn’t be able to steer out of central Hanoi. Nope. It is an old dream. Setting up something at the crossroad of capitalism and social action. Private means, public purpose. Bones and flesh. I think I would never really quite understand the concept of dividing the society into two antagonist groups, the private sector in one corner of the boxing ring and the public in the other, with all the drama and cultural war between them. Here, we are trying to reconcile those two sides of human societies, and to participate to the renovation of the economic system, in our domain, health care. And I hope this blog, along with our core work, would do its share.

In that blog we will propose you to follow two main threads, a first one linked to the development of social enterprises in general, and this one in particular, and a second one giving you fresh news and analysis from the health aid & development sector.

To organise that, we will use 4 key tags:

New economy: posts on other organisations defining themselves as social enterprises, thoughts on the concept and its place in a post-industrial society

Urban Care: all critical information on the development of our social enterprise, results, challenges and policies

Trends: important publications and reports concerning the aid & development sector and its evolution, and our comments and analysis

News: direct links to selected newspaper articles covering the health aid & development sectors with some minimal inputs from us

As for the frequency of publications for that blog, we would post a homemade text every Monday or so, and we will share news with you the rest of the week.

Well… there it goes.

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