Do you ever ask yourself “how did I get here?” I do, and that question seems to be the theme of my summer this year. My name is Mohan Sudabattula, I am an incoming fourth-year student at the University of Utah triple majoring in biology, philosophy, and health, society and policy. I am also the founder and CEO of Project Embrace. The time right now is 3:46 a.m. and the power is out. I’m currently typing this article in total darkness in my room in Hyderabad, India, stop two of my month-long trip abroad as CEO of Project Embrace. My first destination before India was Oxford, England, where my colleague, Gabrielle Hoyer and I gave a 25-minute talk at the International Health Conference hosted by the University of Oxford. After Oxford, I flew out to Hyderabad, India, to meet with our international community partner and conduct research focusing of the social impact our nonprofit will have to the local disabled community.
So, how did I get here? Trust me, I’ve been trying to answer that question since day one, and while I may not have an easy answer, I’ve found that the best way to answer that question is to count how many times I’ve actually asked myself that: “How did I get here?”
How We Got Started.
The first time I asked myself that was nine months ago on Oct. 17, 2016. That was the day I officially launched Project Embrace. It was during the fall semester of my junior year at the University of Utah, after over a year of brainstorming, research and self-doubt, I decided to incorporate Project Embrace as a non-profit in the state of Utah. I wanted to make it special and do it in person. That day was the first time I was called a “CEO” by another person, the clerk. It was very surreal.
That’s when I remember first asking myself, “How did I get here”?
Project Embrace is an international medical nonprofit organization dedicated to the “reduction of global health inequalities and promotion of sustainable global healthcare.” We do this through the collection or slightly used medical devices intercepted as mislabeled “medical waste” in the United States to be sent to healthcare facilities in low and middle-income countries abroad to be reused and repurposed for patients with little access to adequate healthcare.
The types of medical devices we collect are noninvasive and used either for orthopedic and/or rehabilitative purposes, such devices include but are not limited to specialized orthotic braces, compression braces, medical boots, surgical shoes, crutches, walkers and wheelchairs. We are very selective with what we choose to collect and reuse. I’m not advocating for the reuse of needles; no, I’m advocating that we shouldn’t treat needles and crutches the same way. Often these kinds of medical devices are used once by one patient in the United States and then never touched again. That they are viewed as valuable for one patient and that once they serve their purpose they can never be used again. We want to collect those devices after they are done being used, clean them up, then ship and deliver them to low-resource communities abroad to be reused by other patients who otherwise have limited access to those devices in their area.
It’s a simple idea, but with a much bigger agenda supporting it.
Again, we are looking to reduce global health inequalities and promote sustainable global healthcare, a really big goal; but sometimes the best way to take on such big goals is not to take a massive bite out of the world’s problems, but rather break down into small pieces and go one bit at a time. Project Embrace does that exactly. We provide a direct service to those need it, but do so in a way that challenges how we view medical waste in the United States. Because, really, what we are collecting has been labeled as “trash,” but that trash is an invaluable resource for so many others around the world. It’s an innovative and resourceful solution to one of humanity’s utmost health priorities.
Where We Went from There
This idea got some traction, and I soon found myself presenting that idea on some impressive stages. Our academic debut was at the “2017 Extreme Affordability Conference” hosted by the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, followed by our presentation to the Utah’s 62nd State Legislative Session. We made our international debut in Washington DC at the “8th Annual CUGH Conference” hosted by John Hopkins University and the Makerere University of Kampala, Uganda. That was an experience. The conference ran three days where I was able to network and receive feedback on my proposed model and operations for Project Embrace. I was star struck by some of the folks that I got to meet, representatives from some of the world’s finest universities and professionals in global health were now referring to me as their colleague, a privilege that to this day inspired me to work hard on developing Project Embrace as the sizable organization that it is today.
I walked away from the conference with our first peer-reviewed academic publication alongside these colleagues, and after each and every one of those opportunities I asked myself “how did I get here?”
We started to see some amazing progress back home as well. Six months had passed and by then, simply through word of mouth, we had collected hundreds of pounds worth of medical donations — dozens of them from our small community. Up to that point in time, we had been storing our donations in my dorm room, but we needed to move quickly because of how many donations we were beginning to collect. I eventually outsourced by parent’s garage — kicking my dad out of his regular parking spot — and it’ll do for now but we are to this day looking for more secure storage units.
My dad lost his parking spot because I needed a place to put our donations, “How did I get here?”
What We Did this Past Month
Through the generous support of several offices, colleges and departments at the University of Utah, we were able to get just enough money to accept our invitation and travel to the University of Oxford where Gabbie, our chief operations officer, and I gave our most recent talk on reducing global health inequalities to improve patient-centered care. Much like in Washington, D.C., we were able to meet and connect with a variety of global health professionals and gain some incredible insight on how to better execute and maintain our operations as we begin preparations for our first international campaign.
We were the youngest presenters at the International Health Conference, “How did I get here?”
The last stretch of our trip I did alone. I traveled to Hyderabad, India, where I researched the market need, social demand and impact of our proposed service with our already established partner the Vegesna Foundation. The Vegesna Foundation is complex of buildings that provide housing, food, an education, and rehabilitative medical services to physically and mentally handicapped children. The families and children that often utilize these services have either been abandoned by the community or live in extreme poverty making it impossible for them to acquire adequate healthcare services despite suffering from a variety of congenital and/or infectious disease(s). I spent days playing and socializing with these children. I interviewed them, the staff, faculty, in-house medical professionals, and administrators to critically evaluate the severity of the need and the potential impact Project Embrace would have here. I left with a sharp sense of determination to aid these children and improve access to the healthcare they need. I had also visited several sites run by other non-profit organizations that could benefit from partnering with us; and I’m proud to say we partnered with Abhaya another charitable organization located in Seconderabad, India, dedicated to the “welfare of the specially abled and aged.”
Wait, So… How Did I Get Here?
Every day I was in England and India with almost every single conversation I had I asked myself, “How did I get here?” It still hasn’t hit me that I am ending my ever business trip for my own business nearly 8,000 miles away from home, but here I am.
Everything that has happened so far with Project Embrace still surprises me. It just doesn’t feel real. I never thought I’d be able to call myself an “entrepreneur,” and I most certainly would have never have guessed that this where I would be this time last year. If there is one thing I have learned from this trip and running Project Embrace as a whole, it’s the importance of always staying surprised and humble to the progress that’s been made. We’re still just an infant non-profit trying to learn the ropes of global business but I’m proud of what we have done in less than a year’s time. But I will never let that pride stop us from growing. This is just the beginning. There is so much potential for what this can become.
So if you’re thinking about starting your own business, non-profit or any other organization, don’t get caught up in your journey to success; no, instead always be asking yourself, “How did I get here?,” and appreciate the fact that you can ask yourself that.
Never cease to be amazed by the amount of good you can do for the world.
That’s how I got here.