Rahul Singh: Innovating to make a difference
By Kerry Turner,
Rahul Singh is all about getting maximum benefit to the people who need it when they need it. While on a restorative trip in 1997, the Toronto paramedic saw first-hand the shortcomings of rescue and aid programs in developing countries. It led Rahul on a journey that ultimately resulted in his founding the David McAntony Gibson Foundation in honour of his best friend, and its operational arm GlobalMedic. To date GlobalMedic has conducted more than 238 operations in over 78 countries.
It is GlobalMedic’s internationally deployable Rapid Response Team (RRT) that is responsible for executing its responses. “The RRT is composed of professional emergency workers, as well as other skilled and trained professionals, who volunteer their time and skill set in order to deliver aid,” explains Rahul.
The group has learned to be nimble and apply solutions to what’s needed most. “When we rolled into the Bahamas in 2019, they didn’t need our hospital, but they had a whole bunch of rescued pets that needed shelters. So, we put up the tents intended for the hospital, and air conditioned them to house all the rescued dogs and cats, and other pets,” says Rahul.
“A few weeks after Category 5 Hurricane Dorian made landfall over the northwest Bahamas, we were still making food and we were still giving people clean water and still running our medical programs. But we realized the biggest need on the island was to do mould remediation and apply fungicide in the flooded homes. We hired 45 local folks, trained them, and then we provided a free service to those homeowners. We ended up remediating 240 homes.
“It’s just applying these same models and getting people what they need right then and there. While we were running that program, we also went out to McLean’s Town and we saw that all the fishermen and fisherwomen had lost their boats. We put up one of our big military tents − the same tent that was used to house those pets, who had since been reunited with their families. We filled it with fibreglass and materials and hired four local guys to repair boats. 119 boats later, we restored livelihoods,” recounts Rahul.
“It’s funny because people think of us as an organization that will kick down the door, be the first team in, and we’ll get you clean water, get your medical care, and we’ll save lives. But our true strength is our innovation and how we’re just developing these programs that are really built for the need at the moment. We make sure our core skill set gets utilized properly and you see this massive impact.”
GlobalMedic is also being pressed by supply chain issues. By breaking down the components of water purification buckets for assembly on-site Rahul was able to cut costs from US$50 each to US$12.50. Space in and around the buckets is then filled with solar lights and hygiene products for shipping.
Fresh food, fresh ideas
Closer to home, Rahul is particularly concerned with the growing use of food banks and the lack of fresh food on offer. He has found it to be far more economical to buy staples such as rice, peas and beans in bulk and have volunteers repack them in 500-gram bags. The initiative is part of McAntony’s Menu, a component of a program called the Grassroots Revolution which GlobalMedic started in 2020. “The whole idea is to get people the right products such as good, healthy food, drive cost down and engage volunteers,” says Rahul.
“We’re at a point where this food program is so effective, and it’s working, that we’re looking at what other gaps exist in the system. One in seven families are accessing food banks. This is not a small number. I’m not talking in a war in Syria right now, I’m talking in our backyard. This could be your neighbours. This is not a nice statistic − it is not something we should be proud of.
“We thought about what else do those folks need? They’re not getting fresh produce. We said look, let’s get on the supply side of this. If I went to buy a head of lettuce in the store it’s $4 or $5. Food banks can’t afford that. Even if I ran the leafy lettuce hedge fund for the poor, and could buy truckloads of greens, I still have distribution and logistics problems, and half my lettuce is coming on a two week call up from California and Mexico,” says Rahul.
With his new vertical garden initiative Rahul solves those issues and has an affordable product. “Every Wednesday or every Thursday I have my harvest, and I’m telling the same food banks I’m going to come to you at 11 a.m. on that day with freshly picked lettuce or microgreens or baby greens. And you can now put this out to your clients,” explains Rahul.
“This is true supply chain management. I’m at a lower cost point, I’m on the supply side, and I’m delivering locally. We have thousands of volunteers. So now a volunteer day could be in helping harvest the lettuce, or helping harvest the greens, packaging them and then taking them to the food bank. What a great way to spend your day. That’s what we’re working on right now. We’ve got a little place in Oakville where we’re building the grow room and the germination room. It’s all volunteers that are doing the work.
“I think in my mind I’ve got the next thing lined up where I want to grow peppers. I’m going to try and grow different products because we don’t want to grow something people aren’t going to eat. Lots of people understand what peppers are but if you go to a store and buy a pepper, you’re paying $2. If you’re a family that can’t afford food, how do you afford $2 for a pepper?” asks Rahul.
“We can get on the supply side and grow peppers, and then those same food banks are serving these families a steady supply of peppers if I can get them down to one-eighth of the cost of retail. This is the same mentality we apply to getting into war zones, getting hospitals up and running, getting people clean water and just delivering aid. How do we lower costs? And how do we reach more people?”
In an industry sometimes mired in bureaucracy, Rahul is particularly proud of the fact that under three per cent of the foundation’s funding goes to administration. “I want to see our money going to aid. We are sometimes criticized for our low admin costs but I see it as a badge of honour,” says Rahul.
GlobalMedic’s RescUAV Program deploys Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to provide situational awareness, emergency mapping and search and rescue. “Following a disaster, Situational Awareness is critical,” notes Rahul. “Our teams can relay information in real-time to responders on the ground to identify hazards, damaged infrastructure, and assess issues to reaching communities in need. This allows responders to deliver aid as quickly as possible to those who are in the greatest need.”