I joined IMAGO on July 1st, 2020, not fully knowing what to expect. I was working with the Patient Care Intervention Center (PCIC) in Houston but given the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases in the US, the summer fellowship was going to be remote. The pandemic has sent the world on a tailspin, and in those early months, it was difficult to understand the problem, how we got here, and especially what it means for my daily functioning, and my future. Social norms, human interactions, and the way organizations communicate and function, had completely transformed in a matter of months.  I quickly understood that my time working with PCIC alongside IMAGO would naturally be affected by these troubling headwinds. The only thing I knew for sure is that it would be an unconventional summer fellowship that is at its core, very experimental in its nature. PCIC, IMAGO, and its summer fellows would all be learning along the way on how to best make this a meaningful experience.

I joined PCIC at an important juncture. PCIC is a non-profit technology start-up with the mission of reducing health and social services costs in the system, while aiming to improve the quality of life for vulnerable individuals. Their solution is a human-centered, values-based, collaborative model of care. Their main concern was to try and scale-up their model across the nation. Until now ,they relied on philanthropic funding and grants which is often uncertain, limited, and involves competing with many other worthy causes and Not-for-profits. They now needed investment capital to compete with for-profit social health access referral platforms, build their technology capability, and attract high-priced talent. My first task was to think about hybrid models (such as benefit corporations, among others) that can sustain a double/triple bottom line (that measures performance not only in terms of financial loss or profit, but also social impact).  A second task was to build a business pitch to attract potential impact investors. I also worked on assessing the battery of survey instruments used to measure social impact and helped build a research and evaluation strategy for randomized control trials in the future.

The fellowship started with a nervous energy and uncertainty, but quickly blossomed into an enriching learning experience. I learned about the deep fault lines in the US healthcare system, and how these cracks have adversely impacted the lives of the vulnerable. I became more familiar with the academic literature on care-coordination, and community information exchanges. I learnt about the struggles social enterprises face in trying to scale-up their operations while preserving their social mission and humanitarian values. I learnt about business strategy in the context of a social enterprise, which was a domain I was largely unfamiliar with, given my prior experience in behavioral economics research at J-PAL. I also learnt how to persuade and present PCIC in a way that highlights the wonderful work it has done for the community. Finally, I was introduced to the world of technology start-ups for the first time. I really resonated with the team’s passion and excitement in working toward an innovative and potentially ground-breaking solution to a very convoluted healthcare system failure.   

Some lessons I learnt during the fellowship were not directly related to the work per se but were equally valuable. Despite the physical distance, I was amazed that I was still able to make meaningful connections with PCIC’s CEO, build trust, and continue to have an open line of communication. I understood the promise of technology to connect us in these difficult times in a more visceral way than before. Perhaps more pertinently, I learnt how despite so many changes in the world, businesses and people have a remarkable ability to adapt and change with the times. I learnt about business resilience in tough times, and how that impacts social enterprises. I also learnt that even in the worst economic crisis, there is opportunity and room to innovate.

My time with PCIC and IMAGO was very fulfilling, and I know I will look back at this fellowship and these difficult times very fondly. Nonetheless, if there is one lesson I would like to take from this experience into my future career and in life in general, it is the idea of resilience. I would like to learn to be resilient in tough times, and unafraid in the face of difficult challenges. And just like with this fellowship, I want to take with me the truth that even in a global pandemic, there is hope and opportunity.

By Siddhant Gokhale

IMAGO Fellow 2020
MPA-ID HKS Candidate

Wordcloud from IMAGO’s Sensemaking session with PCIC