Q&A with Leissan Sadykova
Leissan Sadykova is the founder and executive director of Advocates for Rural Community Health (ARCH), a not-for-profit organization that provides quality healthcare services to rural regions on a global scale. Driven by her passion for healthcare as a human right, Leissan started ARCH while living and conducting research in Uganda for her master’s thesis. Visit http://archruralhealth.org to learn more about programs and services offered.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno and, like most people, was not fully certain about what I wanted to do. I dabbled in teaching and was part of Teach For America when I decided to pursue further education. I completed my Masters in Diplomacy and Military Studies from Hawai’i Pacific University, where I had an opportunity to travel to Uganda for my thesis research. My emphasis was on post-conflict health sector development, and Gulu was the perfect case study, given its recent post-conflict status given in 2012.
I lived in Gulu, Uganda for about 6 months, conducting research and working at the World Health Organization conducting health center assessments. Upon returning to the US in 2016, I started developing Advocates for Rural Community Health (ARCH), which combines my research results and passion.
What inspired you to start your business?
While working with the World Health Organization in Uganda, I conducted a health center assessment that allowed me to travel to health centers within Gulu District and assess the physical structure, the type of care provided, medicine stock-outs, and the overall functionality of the health center.
Each week, every health center is supposed to submit statistics to the District Office in order for us to track any potential outbreaks and other health needs. One health center, in particular, Patiko Health Center, consistently missed these reportings. I went to Patiko to find out why this was happening. When I arrived it was pretty evident that this was a human capital issue. In rural regions, especially remote rural areas such as those in Gulu District, there is a severe shortage of trained medical healthcare professionals. There are about 1 physicians per 10,000 people.
We invited the District Office to join us when we returned to Patiko to provide additional training and support. During this visit, the health center was shut down for a little over two hours. As I watched the queue grow with crying babies, restless mothers, and sick patients all waiting in the blistering Uganda sun, I couldn’t sit in the meeting anymore. I excused myself and mingled with the patients the remainder of the visit. This was the moment I started developing ARCH.
I wanted to create something that addresses the human capital shortage and provides quality healthcare to rural regions. Additionally, ARCH provides educational outreach programs including teaching proper hand-washing and teaching adolescent girls how to make reusable sanitary pads. These are issues that the local population has identified and something ARCH can provide.
Where is your business based?
Business is originally based out of Reno, NV. ARCH has a local office in Gulu, Uganda and I am currently working on opening an office in San Francisco.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
When I started my business, I had no idea what I was doing or how to go about starting a nonprofit business. So I took opportunities to intern and sought mentorship. I interned at the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation, in which the Executive Director at the time was the founder.
Then, I just started. I took it one step at a time. Being a nonprofit, I had to make sure that I had something to offer donors since I wasn’t selling a specific product or service that donors would be receiving. I registered the organization in Nevada and started fundraising. I had a couple of crowdfunding campaigns to raise initial money and started recruiting medical students.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Being the biggest believer in your organization and talking to everyone. It was important to believe in ARCH more than anyone else. I was the biggest initial investor in the organization and the biggest advocate for our work. Once I was able to see the results of what ARCH was accomplishing, then I was able to confidently share those results with others. I reached out to everyone I knew and started to aggressively expand my network. The most effective way of raising awareness is making sure that I always talked about ARCH because the organization produces results and it is essential to share that with people in order to raise awareness for the cause.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that I faced was imposter syndrome. I was truly scared of the potential success of the organization, especially on an international level. So I played it small, and that does not benefit anyone, especially the population receiving our programs and services. I started listening to podcasts for entrepreneurs, one in particular that I like is “Behind the Brilliance” by Lisa Nicole Bell. I realized that imposter syndrome was more common than I thought.
To deal with this challenge, I sought out mentors and feedback early. I also changed the way I viewed the organization and rather than keeping the focus on myself, I shifted and focused on what programs and services would benefit the community.
How do you stay focused?
Daily focus can be a struggle, and it’s important to develop a system to accomplish tasks even when it’s not your most motivated day. I break down monthly and weekly goals to daily tasks. Then it’s just a matter of discipline and knowing that things need to get done no matter how you might feel that day.
Additionally, I worked on developing my "why". Why am I doing this work? Why is it important? Having a strong why can keep you focused on the most unmotivated day. One ARCH campaign we conducted involved having local people write out what rural health development means to them. I look at those pictures and am reminded of Patiko Health Center, and why this organization was started in the first place.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
I focus on what ARCH can offer more so than that of our competitors. ARCH is unique in that our medical student participants stay with local host families allowing them to understand the home culture, which allows them to be better physicians in the hospital. They are also more integrated into the culture and can understand the health disparities better. ARCH also provides support for public health centers and hospitals rather than private ones. ARCH also conducts outreach programs to provide health education programs. The two main ones are teaching hand-washing at primary and secondary schools and teaching adolescent girls how to make reusable sanitary pads using local materials.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Making sure that I am sharing the work that we are doing and talking about our work. As straightforward as it sounds, sometimes sharing your work is difficult, and posting on social media does require a bit of time. However, it has been very effective to share our work and even over-sharing sometimes. If people don’t know what ARCH is doing, then people don’t know why their donation is important. Scheduling social media posts, with platforms such as Hootsuite, makes it easier to plan social media posts and to post consistently to continuously engage the audience.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
The best advice I can give to aspiring entrepreneurs is to just start. Start somewhere and make sure you are open to learning along the way. When I first started, I was very hesitant and it took me several months to actually dive in and start sharing the work I was doing with ARCH. That is wasted time. I was caught up in making sure that everything I posted and every email I sent was absolutely perfect. And that delayed a lot of the messaging and I missed a lot of opportunities because things were not “perfect.” Do not focus on being perfect. There will always be people who will judge your work and also people who will love it. As long as you are following your passion, it does not matter what others think.
Do not get caught up in what is perfect. Start somewhere, do something and learn along the way. Try something new, then adjust as needed. You have to start somewhere and remember that no one started something knowing exactly what to do. And make sure you are sharing what you are doing. You have to believe in what you are doing no matter what. If you believe, then you can get others to also believe. But do not be scared, and make sure you just start. The details will come as you go along.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
App: Instagram – it allows me to stay connected with other people and share ARCH’s work
Blog: Nonprofit With Balls – huge resource for nonprofits; this blog has a ton of information for every category
Book: You Are A Badass – because sometimes we just need a reminder
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
My favorite business tool is Google Keep. It allows me to create different to-do lists and share with others so that we can work from one list and make sure everything gets done. I work well with being able to organize different lists and having everything in one place.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Dr. Cat Begovic is one of my business role models. As a double Board certified plastic surgeon, she started her own business and has a very strong "why". I look up to her because she has a strong mission and keeps her audience engaged. Her message is strong and incredibly inspiring.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
Expansion. I am excited to work with more medical schools to increase medical student participants as well as expand our programs and services to other countries including Ghana, South Africa, and Liberia.
ARCH is going to expand programs and services as well. Our hand-washing program will serve more primary and secondary schools with at least 4 participating schools within each region.
ARCH will also implement and expand our reusable sanitary pads program. This includes teaching how to make sanitary reusable pads to adolescent girls. The goal is for ARCH to work with at least 4 schools.
How can our readers connect with you?
Facebook: Leissan Sadykova