Clearing out my locker at Peace Corps’ headquarters last evening in Chișinau, Moldova I found two WorldView magazines, a National Peace Corps Association publication, sitting in my mailbox. I grabbed them, along with black track pants, iPod speakers, and laptop and tossed them in a green backpack found in a nearby storage closet as I departed for site. Little did I know that in the next two hours I would stumble upon something shocking within the publications and receive another dose of motivation as I enter my second year of service.
Hopping on the mini bus towards Leova at sunset, I bought a small package of Fit Form wheat crackers, filled up my water bottle, and found a nice corner spot in the back of the mini-bus where I could post up. Within minutes, I opened my new found backpack to take out the magazines when it hit me. On the front cover of the Spring 2013 issue I noticed something familiar: a person’s name and story from the University of South Carolina. A featured article appeared in the bottom right-hand corner titled Watsi.com: Crowdsourcing Health. I instantly thought of my friend and fellow Moore School IMBA classmate Howard Glenn, who served in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica from 2009-2011.
Howard was one of the first classmates I had met at the Moore School of Business when he and I were placed among a few others in the all “Peace Corps” related room for IMBA students. He told his story about Watsi, his experience in the Peace Corps, and was very approachable on the first day of the program, sharing advice with me. We later had more discussions and built a nice bond during our time in Columbia.
To see his organization pop-up on the front cover I was very interested in reading more about their back story and where they stood currently. Watsi became the first global crowdsourcing platform for healthcare when Peace Corps volunteer and future founder Chase Adam saw a woman collecting donations on a bus in a plastic bag. What stood out to Chase was that the bag was filling up rapidly with money. With great curiosity Chase awaited for the woman to approach him as he then noticed a red folder in her other hand. When she arrived at Chase, she opened up the folder. Inside was a picture of a boy with a gash across his stomach, on one side, and a piece of paper with his medical condition being described on the other. The boy was her son. Chase was not only affected very deeply by the woman’s story, but also became enlightened. He realized that people from developed nations would send money to this woman if they could hear or view her story personally. The idea for Watsi was born and Chase used his remaining six months of service with fellow PCVs, including Howard, to build the social venture. In just two years, Watsi has been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal and was the first NGO to be accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator investment program in Silicon Valley, California.
What really struck me about the article were two things: 1) Watsi was named after the Costa Rican town in which Chase met the woman on the bus and 2) the idea manifested into a successful startup while he served in the Peace Corps.
It is hard for us volunteers to understand the impact of our efforts in-country. Success is not easy to translate onto paper. We do not always know if what we are doing will be sustainable or if we can aspire to greatness post Peace Corps with the skills being developed during service. Reading this article not only made me feel great for Howard, as he exhibited his passion for Watsi to our entrepreneurship class in the winter of 2011, but also for the sake that it provided me with yet another reminder of what is possible during service and what can be contributed to the developing world thereafter.