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Financial Health

Case Study: Saving Lives in Rural India

Henry Ford believed vehicles like his Model T would improve lives through greater mobility. Many generations later, and half a world away, a 21st-century Ford vehicle brought that vision to life – quite literally.

In the remote hills of Tamil Nadu, India, an innovative pilot project sponsored by Ford Motor Company helped several dozen pregnant women overcome geographical and technological barriers that are roadblocks to adequate health care.

Called Sustainable Urban Mobility with Uncompromised Rural Reach (SUMURR), the program made use of a Ford Endeavour that was designed to handle difficult terrain and traverse areas previously unreachable by four-wheeled vehicles. Medical professionals traveled in the Endeavour to reach their patients and to transport those patients to clinics. The health care teams also could use their laptops and cell phones to connect – via a wireless connection – to doctors and medical records. In all, 41 pregnant women delivered healthy babies thanks in large part to the Ford pilot project.

In the hilly villages of Kallakurichi, maternal and infant mortality is an all-too-common tragedy, with half of all pregnant women and their newborns at high risk of death, disease or disability resulting from inadequate care. Deliveries frequently occur in homes and are rarely attended by trained health professionals. Some of the villages are so remote that government-sponsored nurses have difficulty accessing them. Many pregnant women go for months – if not for their entire pregnancies – without any medical care.

We partnered with the Tamil Nadu Directorate of Public Health, the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IIT Madras), the U.S. Department of State, George Washington University, and Hand in Hand India, a nonprofit focused on the empowerment of women. Between June 2012 and February 2013, the SUMURR program enabled some 1,600 women and children to receive health care, including immunizations and screenings for basic illnesses, at 27 pediatric and gynecology camps set up in remote villages. Many of these locations had never seen physicians before.

SUMURR ultimately reached another 3,100 people as our partners traveled to 54 villages to build community awareness on issues of maternal and child health. Originally, the project partners planned to work in 29 villages. But local nurses in other remote villages saw the benefits and asked to be included, explained K.S. Sudhakar, a project director for Hand in Hand.

Following the success of the pilot, we’re exploring similar programs in other parts of rural India and in other countries where we have manufacturing operations. Ford invested about $250,000 directly in the project, plus significantly more in terms of the time and expertise of our staff.

SUMURR isn’t just altruism – there’s a business rationale behind it, too. The SUMURR project offers one model of how Ford can leverage our expertise in fleet vehicles, data and financing to meet social needs and develop new markets.

“SUMURR exemplifies how Ford is using its global reach to address regional issues and causes around the world, and at the same time identify local social and technology entrepreneurs that we can partner with to further develop the kind of solutions that will shape our future,” said K. Venkatesh Prasad, Ford’s senior technical leader for open innovation, who oversaw the SUMURR technology development. “The fundamental aspects of what we did in rural India could very much wind up in the driveways of Detroit.”