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Chicago-based startup aims to help India’s less fortunate

Soondra Foundation founder and CEO Gayatri Mathur with grantee recipient.

Access to healthcare is a topic that often resonates with those living in the United States. However, more than 8,000 miles away in India, access to, and the ability to pay for healthcare is a pervasive obstacle as well. Despite the distance, a Chicago-based startup aims to make it easier for people from low socioeconomic backgrounds to get to a hospital. The Soondra Foundation, a Polsky Incubator alum, is a nonprofit startup that provides healthcare access through micro-grants to India’s working poor during a medical crisis. Serving those who make between $3 and $5 a day — people who have no viable financial options during an emergency — the Soondra Foundation disburses cash grants to medical providers through established Indian nonprofits. Soondra’s grants have a dual effect: the sick get immediate medical help and a financial catastrophe is prevented.

Founder and CEO Gayatri Mathur is passionate about providing healthcare access in the developing world. She has worked at leading universities and hospitals during her career in healthcare spanning three continents. Mathur founded Soondra after a trip to Mumbai when her mother’s maid’s toddler required hospitalization. In India everyone has to pay first, even for investigations like a blood test, X-ray, or MRI. She saw how the family struggled with little to no cash available to get tests for the concussion. Mathur founded the Soondra Foundation, which is named in honor of her childhood nanny, to help people who face similar situations.

“She is my inspiration and the demographic we wish to serve,” said Mathur.

Since its start, the Soondra Foundation has impacted more than 40 families in life changing ways. By partnering with a large public hospital in India, Soondra provides blood cancer patients with their first chemotherapy treatment and lifesaving antibiotics. First-generation students living in Mumbai’s slums have been treated for dengue, pneumonia, or serious fractures due to Soondra’s micro-grants. Through Soondra’s efforts, families can provide their children with medical care so that the children can return to school and continue their education.

As the fight against global poverty continues to make waves across the world, Mathur hopes that her business model can help change the staggering statistics surrounding the issue.

“The recent Nobel Prize winners Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo have shown how micro-grants or cash transfers at a vulnerable time are extremely effective to alleviate poverty.”

Take Samina for example, who received a grant to fix her broken leg, which ultimately allowed her to return to school to take her board exams and graduate on to junior college. She is now studying to become an engineer.

The school in Mumbai where Samina was a studentl. Photo credit: Tech for India

In order to provide the crucial funds, the nonprofit has developed a partnership with established Indian organizations like Teach for India. As a result, the Soondra Foundation promises accountability, transparency, and focuses on helping the individuals who need it most.

Farid, a student in a Teach for India classroom, recently received aid for his months-long medical treatment from the foundation and was able to successfully transition back to school with the support of his parents and teachers.

“I think we all have one thing in common and that is the idea that we believe in bringing about change and making a better society for the future,” says Sankalp, Farid’s Teach for India teacher.

Similarly, Gayatri Mathur continues to spread the message that is at the root of the Soondra Foundation’s mission.

“Everyone should be able to go to the doctor when they face a medical emergency.”

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