Innovation, entrepreneurship and healthcare during lockdown
16 Apr 2021
To celebrate World Health Day, the Amazon Longitude Explorer Prize team spoke with Shiron Rajendran, a medical student and social entrepreneur who co-founded Covid-19 Infographics in April 2020.
This innovative platform provides reliable, visual and translated resources about coronavirus to help support non-English speakers in the UK. We spoke with him to get the low-down on pursuing a career in medicine, the challenges of being an entrepreneur and innovator during lockdown, and his advice for young entrepreneurs and aspiring medics.
What sparked your interest in healthcare and inspired you to pursue a career as a doctor?
I feel like I’ve always had an interest in medicine and even remember when I was very young, having a plastic doctor playset and using the equipment to run checkups on my sister. As a medical student, I am proud to be working towards a career in healthcare – a career of lifelong learning that requires the application of scientific knowledge to help people. It feeds my curiosity for science whilst allowing me to make a difference in people’s lives.
What is Covid-19 Infographics and why did you start it?
Covid-19 Infographics is a voluntary group made up of doctors, students and translators who produce reliable, visual and translated resources about coronavirus to help support non-English speakers in the UK.
I started Covid-19 Infographics along with two doctors after we began to see our friends and families receiving a lot of fake news about coronavirus on platforms such as WhatsApp. At first glance, these messages may seem funny and ridiculous, but they can also be dangerous and compromise our ability to handle the pandemic safely. During these uncertain times, people are desperate for information to look after themselves and their loved ones and we realised that there was a lack of resources available for people whose first language is not English. In England and Wales alone, more than 4 million people do not speak English as their main language.
Misinformation is becoming more and more of an issue and we felt a responsibility to support these communities with reliable information. We started producing one-page translated infographics summarising various aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic in a visual format. What started as a project to support my community, the British Tamil population in London, has grown to provide resources in more than 30 languages!
Has innovating during lockdown been challenging? How have you overcome barriers along the way?
The lockdown has been difficult on all of us and has presented many challenges. We started Covid-19 Infographics in April 2020 when the pandemic hit, and have been producing resources for almost one year now. This has only been possible due to the dedication and talent of our incredible team of volunteers, who have generously supported us on our journey. I can’t stress the importance of teamwork enough!
As a result of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to meet most of our volunteers in person. They heard about our work and wanted to help in whatever way they could. It’s inspiring and we are very grateful for their support. It’s a team effort: students helping with creating content, doctors checking the quality of information, members of the public making sure that the information is easy to understand, translators creating versions in additional languages, team members sharing our work on social media and reaching out to organisations who would find our work useful for their members.
At times, it can be difficult to remotely manage a large team of volunteers, who have their own commitments and priorities. A good support network is essential for running a project of this size and to ensuring that it continues beyond the short-term. I am very fortunate to be supported by my two fellow co-founders and other members of the team, together we have been able to keep moving forward and produce more than 50 resources in over 30 different languages. People are the most valuable asset to any organisation and we want to make sure that our volunteers feel valued for their contributions, and feel proud of their incredible work.
Running a social impact project takes a lot of your time and energy and during the moments when it’s all feeling a bit much, I take a step back to look at the bigger picture, reminding myself why I do the work that I do and focus on the positive impact that I want to make in people’s lives and in the world around me.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs or aspiring medics?
1. Be curious! There is a whole world of possibilities out there and a good way that you can seize them is by being inquisitive and asking questions.
2. Say yes to opportunities that present themselves and have courage to create your own opportunities too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you find interesting. People are very generous with their time and are always happy to help out the next generation. They might not always reply to you but you lose nothing by asking or sending an email, and have everything to gain. Fortune favours the brave.
3. A challenge that I often struggle with, both in and out of the context of the pandemic, is time management. I have had to work hard to manage time between this project, medical school and study, part-time work, other commitments and family. It can be tiring and overwhelming at times, but I am lucky to have the support of my colleagues, coursemates, friends and family. Build a strong support network around you and remember it’s never a one person job, don’t be afraid to reach out for help when you need it.
4. Don’t glamourise the hustle. Hustle culture can be dangerous and you do not need to work every hour of every day, unless you want to. It’s important that you lead a balanced lifestyle making sure to pay particular attention to your physical and mental needs. A healthy body and a healthy mind will allow you to work to the best of your abilities.