Denver: Noora Health seeks to improve outcomes and strengthen health systems by equipping family members with the skills they need to care for their loved ones. They envision a world where patients and their caregivers are a core component of healthcare delivery, and family member training is a standard of care.
We’ll begin with their Co-CEOs, Edith Elliot on Hiring and Shahed Alam who shares the unique dynamics of a shared leadership role.
Shahed: One, I think exactly how she said, like having a partner in this where you can just like just share, and I do this pretty frequently where, like, my bar of sharing is very low with Edith. and it just helps to share and talk things through. And you always have a partner to be able to do that, and that is so, so helpful in this work because there’s just so much that comes your way. And being able to have someone where the guard is completely down and you’re really just trying to figure out what’s best for the organization; and the team is super, super helpful; and in this structure, I feel like we can do that so readily.
Central to the ethos of Noora Health is the principle of “Doing the Needful,” a philosophy explained by Varun and Will.
Varun: One is how do we keep everybody safe, both within Noora Health and as well as outside or the lesser of the two problems was, I would say, how do we keep operations going like we are a non-profit at the end of the day? You know, we’ll have funding dry down and stuff like that. That is one concern, but on the other hand, the more major concern was, “Hey, let’s put that to the sideline for now. Let’s focus about, like we are a public health organization, how do we be best useful to people at this point of time?” So, we went straight back to the drawing board and one of our core values is called doing the needful, so then we really stepped into what is needful mean to the public at large? What are our strengths as an organization like design thinking, really creative designs, like physical designs as well, tangible design elements. Those are some of our strengths. Now, we have this huge workforce in multiple states in India at that point of time and to a certain extent in Bangladesh and we have powerful government partnerships. So, we just like listed down everything and said, okay, these are our strengths, how do we now leverage these to reach out to as many people as possible in helping them. And training is our strength too, like in training people, so how do we train as many people as possible to stay safe from COVID? What is social distancing mean and all those good elements, right? So yeah, so long story short, we ended up reaching out to close to a hundred organizations across India, Bangladesh, even to countries where we have, we were not physically present.
Will: I recently was able to hear Shahed speak about our workplace culture just a couple weeks ago and I heard a bit of like a new approach to even the “do the needful” mindset that everyone had mentioned of, kind of that being something that we’re interrogating as an organization. Do the needful, when we were a younger, earlier nonprofit that was scrappier, where we really needing to kind of all contribute to different elements of things, is that the culture that we want to maintain as we’re growing and as we’re getting larger? What does “do the needful” mean? And what is the value that we really want to pull from that? And how could that be translated into kind of like our current moment of growth? And so it was awesome to hear that even within my time here at Noora Health, we’re even interrogating these really wonderful core values to make sure that we can make this an even more inclusive, supportive, accountable, empathetic, and ultimately, I would say, caring workplace
Learning is of paramount importance at CSI in all its different forms and shapes as Kierstyn and Morgan illustrate.
Neha: So, we came up with a plan where we have created online onboarding, where every day had a theme, which was related to our value, like first day equality, second day empathy, likewise. And then we created onboarding in such a way that every onboarding was only for 20 minutes. And any presenter who is going to present or talk about their department or team, they also have to share how in their day-to-day work or life they implement that value, what is that value that they implement so that anybody who is joining those calls, first of all, they don’t feel that they have got so much of information, how to process it, and also they get understanding that, okay, how this individual is maintaining equality when they’re working with Noora or day-to-day work they do at Noora, how do they practice it.
Suparna: Neha as our HR person, like a simple conversation about a performance evaluation, because as we are scaling, what’s important is we also build in accountability along just ensuring that we are working together and so on, but in a simple conversation about performance, if somebody is.. the first question that’s asked to an individual that seems to be struggling is, “Why is it that you are not performing? Is it because there’s something going on in your personal life? Is there some support that we can give you? Can we give you some kind of counseling or training?” Or something like that, so the first conversation is not about, “Hey, we have issues with your performance.” It’s about, “What’s going on? Is there some support that you need that you aren’t able to voice out?”
At the heart of the organization is a relentless drive for excellence, a sentiment that Arzul, Will and Varun illustrate through the commitment to continuous improvement.
Arzul: And we regularly do a lot of data analytics, and through insights, actually, we always try to understand what we need to do in our next, as in, as our next process. And, what else actually, and we are actually adding some new technologies in ourtech platforms like AI is one of the common, yeah, all of us actually know. So, we are using AI just to actually make one proper knowledge bank where people can actually ask any question and without any human intervention, people can actually get their answer. So, this is actually an ongoing process.
Will: And I think one element about our work that I really appreciate just yet again is that we are so constantly evolving and it is so clear that everyone is open to that mindset and that everyone is really willing to grow with the organization, and there’s not like stagnancy within that. You don’t have to justify that things are changing and that we need to grow. That’s like a constant thread that is so present, and that is so lovely to be a part of and to feel.
Varun: And there was this exercise, like activity, two or three years back, we did in an all-team gathering where we really had to write down in small pieces of paper, the entire organization, I think we were like 150 people or so at that point of time. So, we had to write down and then randomly, people could come up and open any piece of paper and read out what was written there. So, it was all laid bare like everyone heard everything that everyone wrote. So, that was to me a beautiful sight of how an organization acknowledges openly and transparently as to what everybody is feeling and then once you acknowledge, then they were different, small teams, which are put together to try and see how do we improve on on some of these points.
What are some of the elements that make Noora such a wonderful place to work? Deepa, who serves as a translator, suggests respect, Mohosina loves the flexibility and Huma admires the ability to adapt.
Deepa: When I am taking these things, like I have worked for many companies across the world when I was freelancing, but this kind of respect I never got anywhere. Because one thing Noora, because is like we are working for the people in the grassroots level so the content that we’re giving should be in their language, and the person who is translating becomes more and more important at such [inaudible], and this is one place that has given me a lot of respect for my work, like I feel proud about the difference I have made for myself
Mohosina: So to me, the secret sauce is definitely these flexible work hours that really, really, really help me because I am a working mother. Sometimes I have to work, in fact, after my dinner, I just serve my dinner for my family members and then I put to do my work and get things done. So, as I get this flexibility, I never feel stressed. I know I can do this work. I have my deadline. So, I do not need to wake up very early in the morning to do my work, or I do not need to stay the whole eight or nine hours in the office to do my work, whether I can work from my home also and deliver my product on the right time. So to me, the secret sauce is the flexible part work
Huma: I would say that something that’s the secret sauce for me has always been the adaptability within the organization and that adaptability comes in not only internally, like how we’ve grown, we’ve grown into different cultures, we’ve grown into different geographies. So all that adaptability that we’ve been able to do internally as an organization and also externally, dealing with different people, dealing with different partners, dealing with different kind of growth. So that’s very important. I think that’s the secret ingredient that we have that has held that us out in the long run
The absence of a rigid hierarchy and ego are catalysts for Noora’s achievements, a revelation shared by Mohosina, Neha, and Will.
Mohosina: In fact, at Noora Health, there is no tier, no hierarchy, that I love most. So I have the best experience working for NGOs. It’s more than eight years and at Noora, it’s three years and going on. And if I give example on my previous organization, so I have to follow some protocols, I have to follow some steps if I want to reach to some senior person. But at Noora, if I need some help, even if I feel that I need to get this answer from my CEO or co-CEO, there is no hesitation. I never feel any fear. I can reach to him or her very friendly. So our Noora always have this friendly and amicable environment that I really love most and that makes Noora as a distinct entity.
Neha: So, if you see most of the companies, they say doctor, or sir or ma’am, but here, whatever is your age, from whatever background you come, everybody addresses everybody with their name, not like sir, ma’am. Whatever is your designation, whatever number of years of experience you have, it’s just people call each other by their names.
Will: I feel like one thing that is really lovely is there’s not a lot of big egos at Noora Health. And even the way that we work itself is very not about the ego of Noora Health. We really want governments to view this program as theirs. We really, like that’s kind of a point of all of our work is we all want this work to be viewed as the work of Noora Health. Everyone is really ego-less at the organization, and that really, yet again, starts from the top-down with Edith and Shahed, who are, I would say always humbled and flattered to be representatives of our work, but are never itching for that and are never itching for opportunities where the rest of the team’s voice and like feeling is not present, so I think I wanted to mention that too.
A few final thoughts. Deepa on recognition, Suparna on the influence of her co-workers, and Huma on retention.
Deepa: Like in all the diverse cultures, we are like recognizing each community of people for what they are. That makes this organization very important for me.
Suparna: So, for me, it’s been like seeing other people do these things. I have changed the way I used to think about certain conversations or certain aspects of our work because you see everyone around you across all levels of the organization kind of embody a lot of care in what they do.
Huma: So this is what I loved about the Noora’s culture in terms of how just everyone knows what there has to be done to make the things work. When I joined, and I also heard this a lot of times, that nobody wants to leave Noora. The organization is such that nobody wants to ever, ever go out of this organization. And over the years, I’ve realized that, yes, this is true. Nobody does ever want to go out of this culture, this working environment.
I want to thank the Noora Health team members who participated in this piece: Arzul Islam, Varun Rangarajan, Neha Singh, Suparna Kalghatgi, Deepa, Mohosina Akhter, Will Funk and Huma Sulaiman.
And to learn more about The organization go visit their website at the noorahealth.org or visit Denver-frederick.com and hear my earlier interview with Edith Elliott and Shahed Alam, the Co-CEOs of Noora Health.
Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving serves as a Trusted Advisor and Executive Coach to Nonprofit Leaders. His Book, The Business of Giving: New Best Practices for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leaders in an Ever-Changing World, will be released later this year.Listen to more The Business of Giving episodes here. Subscribe to our podcast channel on Spotify to get notified of new episodes. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.