GIST Alumni Corner: Dr. Iffat Zafar
We sat down with Sehat Kahani co-founder, and GIST alumna, Dr. Iffat Zafar to discuss all the new and exciting developments for her as well as her work.
GIST: Tell us about your startup, Sehat Kahani.
Dr. Iffat Zafar: Sehat Kahani is a health tech startup that engages female physicians currently not being utilised to their full potential to become healthcare enablers utilizing a telemedicine digital health care platform. Co-founded by Dr. Sara Saeed Khurram and myself, currently the company has two verticals demarcated based on the income bracket.
For low income populations we collaborate with nurse led-clinics in marginalized communities which are then converted into telemedicine E-health centers. Our network of E-health centers (E-Clinics) comprises 26 E-health centers all across Pakistan whereby we have performed collectively more than 130,000 active consultations with online physicians and with our health education and prevention platform. We have impacted more than one million lives in the last three years. We have also created partnerships with leading MNC’s such as Sanofi, GSK, Unilever as well as not-for-profits including British Asian Trust and Caretech to initiate health education and prevention in the communities in need.
For the middle to upper income market, Sehat Kahani launched a mobile application in 2019 which acts as an Uber for Doctors enabling access to a wide array of qualified female physicians ranging from general physicians to specialists including mental wellness experts. The application is marketed in the B2B, B2B2C, and B2C markets where we are in the process of partnering with leading names such as HBL Bank, Meezan Bank, JS Bank to name a few.
GIST: What is new and exciting at Sehat Kahani, right now?
Dr. Iffat Zafar: Our mobile application as of today is trending in the top 3 trending mobile applications where every day we are getting around 80-100 downloads.
My partner, Dr. Sara Saeed, won the Rolex Associate Award last year for Sehat Kahani and was also featured by Rolex in their official documentary which you can access here.
We have recently partnered with Microsoft and I was featured in their Microsoft4Afrika Documentary along with numerous articles which they published in the last few weeks. You can access the documentary over here.
We now have a growing network of 1500 female doctors that consists of general physicians and specialists. More than eighty female doctors out of the network have been employed to date.
GIST: You have made some great partnerships in the last 12 months. How were you able to find opportunities for partnerships and what advice around partnerships do you have for startups looking to grow?
Dr. Iffat Zafar: A startup’s key strength lies in its ability to be able to build and sustain strong partnerships which enable the company to add to their credibility without having to spend a lot in terms of marketing or engagement. The corporate sector of Pakistan is a very well connected and closely knit network and in order to tap into these partnerships it became imperative for the founders to learn and excel at networking. Both myself and my partner, Sara, have had the opportunity through various business accelerator platforms as well as other startup meetups to create a network and build relationships with various leaders from different organizations. That has enabled us to develop some long term, mutually beneficial relationships. So one piece of advice would be to learn the art of networking.
I have also been using Linkedin for a long time in reaching out to various people for creating the relevant contacts and I believe if used wisely, Linkedin can create a wide array of opportunities for building strong corporate partnerships.
Another piece of advice would be to have a strong sense of grit and persistence. Corporations work at a completely different structure compared to a startup. There are various levels of approvals and hierarchy which people within the corporate chains need to cross before a project can be entertained. So a lot of grit, persistence, and perseverance is needed while building strong corporate partnerships.
GIST: Sehat Kahani is doing very well, both in its mission and in its growth. When things were not as positive, what did you do to keep yourself motivated and optimistic?
Dr. Iffat Zafar: Being a startup co-founder is often considered a roller coaster ride and while there are great days there are also days when things are not working out as planned. I believe the co-founder chemistry, as well as the team, plays a very strong role in pulling you up again when you might be going through a dark patch.
Being a co-founder duo enables you to be able to experience and share all the failures with someone who is going through the same exact experiences and hence not only does it strengthen the bond but it also provides you with a channel to be able to vent or share your thoughts instead of bottling them up. In our case having two co-founders the channels of communication are very strong and are open which give the strength to be able to unwind and become motivated again. Also we have very contrasting personalities hence we are able to see both the sides of a coin and come to a middle ground often.
GIST: What role has GIST played in supporting your success?
Dr. Iffat Zafar: Being recognized by GIST has added a lot to the credibility for us and the company. It has been a reason to be connected to the U.S. State Department within Pakistan as well as outside Pakistan. For example, last year I was invited as a mentor for the GIST Tech-I Pitch Competition which was held in Bahrain. Being recognized by GIST also enabled me to be connected to the GES platform which often opens up many investments as well as funding opportunities for startups like Sehat Kahani.
GIST: What is in store for Sehat Kahani, or even just Dr. Iffat Zafar, for the coming year?
Dr. Iffat Zafar: A lot I must say!
1) I was recruited by United National Development Programme as a consultant to train 500 doctors while my co-founder Dr. Khurram was recruited to train 500 nurses. This ran as a very successful project and we are looking into enhancing our program with them further.
2) Like every year, this year we have scaled up 10-15 more clinics and I have been working on funding opportunities for these clinics.
3) We have developed an extensive network of physicians and are now looking at creating a Quality Assurance Department to be able to monitor closely the doctors as well as nurses.
4) Our mental health portfolio has grown substantially - with services in 12 clinics now (9 through our partnership with British Asian Trust, a 10th is an individual telepsychiatry clinic in Dadar and 2 more we are initiating under a partnership with IRD).
5) We have developed an extensive health education vertical where we are working with Sanofi to do pan-Pakistan Diabetes Awareness, with Pharmevo to do cardiovascular awareness and with Lifebuoy we have recently launched our primary health medical help line ensuring every person who does not own a smartphone can also call up a doctor.
6) We have been exploring opportunities with the Sindh and KPK government to see how we can utilize the Dormant Basic Healthcare Units and have submitted proposals.
7) Lastly we are closing our pre-seed investment round of 1 million USD and you will hear the good news within the next month Insha Allah.
On a personal note; I am finishing my thesis on “Comparison of patients' perspectives for seeking mental health services through digital mental health versus physical mental health clinics” for my masters in Global E-Health from University of Edinburgh which hopefully ends this year. After work, I am often found busy playing or reading books with my two little daughters.