Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ruchika Singhal of Medtronic LABS Is Helping To Change Our World

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… Seek your purpose and listen to your inner voice — Early on in our careers, it is easy to feel lost and end up chasing the most prestigious jobs and career tracks. It takes time and courage to explore and develop our passions and skills and to discover what we truly care about. I am still working on this in my own life and take inspiration from leaders such as Bill George (Discover Your True North) and Hubert Joy (Heart of Business) as real-life examples of corporate leaders living their purpose.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruchika Singhal.

Ruchika is the president of Medtronic LABS, a non-profit initiative conceived by Medtronic to design, build and scale technology-powered healthcare delivery solutions to improve access to care for underserved communities around the world. Ruchika is a healthcare technology veteran, having worked at Medtronic for a decade and a half driving strategy, international market development and new product development.

She has led Medtronic LABS to have incredible impact thus far — with 1M+ people screened, 40K lives improved, 2500+ health workers trained — and they are just getting started.

Ruchika is passionate about healthcare and women’s empowerment, and she holds a master’s in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins and an MBA from the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I spent most of my early career in the medtech industry developing new products and therapies in the neuroscience and neurosurgery domains. As an engineer, I was fascinated by emerging technologies such as deep brain stimulation that held tremendous promise to push the frontiers of medicine. Yet as I engaged with physicians and hospitals across the developing world, I was struck by the lack of resources and infrastructure available for even basic care for the majority of the population.

Almost 10 years ago, when our former Medtronic CEO challenged the organization to develop ideas to make healthcare accessible and affordable, it sparked a passion for me, that has since evolved into my life and leadership purpose. Having grown up in India and witnessed the inequities and disparities up close, the challenge to design equitable health systems is personal. For all our advancements in medicine and technology over the past 100+ years, we haven’t yet figured out how to make healthcare accessible to 5B+ people living on the planet. That is the wicked problem we are tackling at LABS — designing and implementing health systems for the future, so we can make healthcare accessible and affordable for ALL, not just the privileged few.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Mark Twain said — The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why. For me that second day was when I took on the leadership role for Medtronic LABS in 2018.

Leading a life with purpose and meaning has been a transformative experience for me, both personally and professionally. In addition to our public, private and social sector partners, we have built an incredible team at LABS of 140+ innovators and pioneers across Africa, India and the U.S., that are working passionately to make a difference in people’s lives. I am humbled every day by everyone’s dedication, inspired by their perseverance and am honored to call them friends in this journey to transform health systems. These shared experiences along the way will be the most valuable and meaningful moments in my life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not a funny mistake, but I will share a poignant story of a patient we met in an urban slum on the outskirts of Delhi in India several years ago that helped change our program for the better.

A woman in her 70s came to one of our community outreach camps. Our program at that time was primarily designed to create awareness and preliminary diagnosis for hearing loss and ear infections. This woman was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss and when we referred her to a physician for further follow-up, she became angry and started shouting at us in the street. As it turned out, even though we had negotiated discounted rates for patients in our program, the physician costs for follow up care were still out of reach for her. She told us in no uncertain terms that she was better off not knowing that her hearing loss can be fixed versus living with the knowledge that she didn’t have the money to take care of her health — and that we had done her a disservice.

That story has stayed with me as we have evolved our programs over the years to address the entire care pathway for patients — not just the first step of awareness and diagnosis, but also affordable treatment. We constantly challenge ourselves to design our solutions to be as inclusive and as comprehensible as possible, so no one gets left behind.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

In low and middle-income countries, two-thirds of all deaths are due to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), and yet, only 1% of health spending goes towards NCD care. In this equation, it is the poor and vulnerable who suffer disproportionately. Our mission is to change this narrative and reduce the burden of these diseases.

Medtronic LABS is a global health systems innovator that develops community-based, tech-enabled solutions for underserved patients, families, and communities across the world. We bridge hyper-local services with the latest technologies, to provide sustainable and localized healthcare solutions that produce measurable patient outcomes for all.

Our programs are now operating in 10 countries including Kenya, Ghana, India, Bhutan and more. Over the last decade, we have screened over one million people for conditions like hypertension, diabetes and hearing loss, and our programs have had a positive impact on over 40 thousand lives. A key priority for our organization is to strengthen and extend health systems into local communities — to ensure our work is sustainable for the long-term. Thus far, we’ve trained over 2,500 healthcare workers in 200+ sites globally — and we’re just getting started.

We design with and for communities to address local barriers across the care continuum, employing evidence-based practices and protocols to ensure we’re delivering clinical excellence. We address the social determinants at the root of poor health, integrating digital and product technologies for high-tech, high-touch models of care. All of this is to ensure we’re building innovative operational models that enable efficiency — and are sustainable.

Examples of active LABS programs include:

  • Empower Health and Akoma Pa are programs in Kenya and Ghana, that address hypertension and diabetes through a comprehensive approach that provides innovative healthcare technology — a mobile device, an automated blood pressure machine, a glucometer and a proprietary software application — and trains community health workers to screen patients for hypertension and diabetes. Patients access regular blood pressure and blood glucose checks at community-partner locations, through CHWs or at home where they receive real-time feedback on their measurements.
  • Shruti, is a program to address ear diseases and hearing loss in underserved populations in India and Bhutan. Shruti-trained community health workers use our Screening Kit, a proprietary mobile otoscope and low-cost hearing aids integrated with a mobile application, to collect patient history, take a photograph of the ear drum and conduct a test for hearing loss to provide a preliminary diagnosis. Patients are then referred to Shruti partner clinics and they receive follow-up to ensure they have the information and support they need.

Over the next decade, our goal is to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases and move the needle on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Specifically, we are working toward our goal to improve the lives of more than 25 million people living with non-communicable diseases by 2025.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I could give you many instances for this response — and I absolutely love telling stories such as this one of a 65-year-old gentleman living in Africa that greatly benefited from our Empower program.

Kwasi is his name, and he lives in a remote area where accessing regular health care services is not easily done. He was taken to a hospital after his health had severely degraded due to diabetes and hypertension. When he was admitted to the hospital, he got enrolled in our program, which now provides him virtual care from home — so he can live a heathier life and doesn’t have to be in a hospital.

With Empower, when Kwasi checks his blood sugar and blood pressure, those readings are digitally relayed to his doctor, which helps overcome geographic barriers to care and keeps him connected to experts when he needs to better manage diabetes and hypertension.

There are thousands of stories like this where our work has been life changing to people around the world — this is what motivates us every day to grow our work and build scalable models of care.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

This is such a great question, and it is critical to our success. Healthcare is complex, especially in under-resourced settings. We’ve found that if we want to increase access sustainably, not only do we have to have the right tools — digital technologies built specifically for low-resource settings, for example — but there also must be multiple entities and organizations involved. That’s why every program we have is built with the local community and includes partners who are invested in ensuring patients get access to care — from local community leaders and health systems to national governments and public health organizations, to other stakeholders like NGOs and pharmaceutical companies. It’s exactly by working together that we can increase access to care at a lower cost, ultimately delivering better health outcomes. So — the biggest thing that we can all do is come together.

Collaboration is critical and we need to build trust across the private, public and social sectors so we can break silos and scale workable solutions on the ground, instead of fragmented approaches that do not move the needle for society as a whole. Implementation focused partnerships in countries and communities are needed and my call to action for our politicians, communities and society is to roll up our sleeves and do the work beyond proclamations and well-intentioned statements.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

By definition — If you are a leader, then you have to have some followers! How does a leader get followers? I believe a good leader must have a strong moral compass and purpose that can inspire and motivate others to be their best selves and contribute to society. Earl Bakken, one of the founders of Medtronic, was one of those inspirational leaders — the Mission statement that he wrote in the 1950s remains the same to this day, and has inspired multiple generations at the company to ‘alleviate pain, restore health and extend life.’

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Seek your purpose and listen to your inner voice — Early on in our careers, it is easy to feel lost and end up chasing the most prestigious jobs and career tracks. It takes time and courage to explore and develop our passions and skills and to discover what we truly care about. I am still working on this in my own life and take inspiration from leaders such as Bill George (Discover Your True North) and Hubert Joy (Heart of Business) as real-life examples of corporate leaders living their purpose.
  2. Life is a journey of discovery and learning — I wish I had known that in my 20s; it would have saved me a lot of anxiety about my future! I started my career studying the human brain and am now designing health systems for underserved populations — it was definitely not a career trajectory I had anticipated or planned for, but I have loved every part of it.
  3. Dare to be different — Society often pressures us to conform, and it takes courage to embrace our individuality. Don’t let people put you in a box!
  4. Invest in relationships and build a personal board of advisors — Life is challenging. We all need support to get through tough times. Constantly cultivating and investing in professional and personal networks has been invaluable in my life as I have navigated career, health and life experiences. Networking shouldn’t be something you start when you need a new job.
  5. Curiosity is a good thing — We all have it as children but as get older, we feel pressured to know everything, so we sound intelligent to our peers. I have learned a lot more in life by continually asking questions and being able to laugh at myself for not knowing. Can’t take yourself too seriously!

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would say — Do one nice thing for a stranger around you every day. A friendly comment, a gesture of kindness — it builds community and is good for our own mental well-being. We are losing our humanity with our heads buried in our phones and forgetting to appreciate the things around us that truly give life meaning and fulfilment.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Put one foot in front of the other” — this has been my life mantra especially when faced with daunting challenges! I started hiking and mountaineering in my early 20s and very quickly realized that if I focused on the summit, I would get overwhelmed and paralyzed. Instead, when I just focused on each step and small progress, I made it to the top of some of the highest peaks. That mindset translated easily to work and life as I grew in my career and started taking on tough challenges like expanding access to healthcare at Medtronic LABS. If I had focused on the magnitude of the problem we are tackling, I would never have had the courage to start. But one step at a time and one days at a time, we are making progress and impacting lives around the world.

You can climb the highest life mountains if you persevere, focus on what’s in front of you and keep making progress, however insignificant it might seem. Whether its work or life, we underestimate what we can accomplish when we persevere. Small steps are all it takes.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

Here is a wish! I would love to meet with Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott to explore ways to bring together some of the leading women philanthropists in the U.S. and abroad to collaborate and align efforts so we can make a meaningful difference and move the needle on women’s health, security and empowerment in our lifetimes.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To keep up with all that Medtronic LABS is accomplishing and taking on around the world, visit and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ruchika Singhal of Medtronic LABS Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.