A bookshop-owner’s love letter to her bookshop

“Like hospitals and universities, we need bookshops. In every neighbourhood”

I run a bookshop. It is not really a bookshop in conventional terms. I like to think of it as a book-shack.

I think I always wanted to work in a bookshop. Always had a thing for tiny bookshops crammed with books. I always thought bookshops are magical places.

When Akshaya Rautaray and I started Walking BookFairs, there was no “shop” for our books, so to speak. We displayed books on pavements, on the streets, for everybody to look at. We wanted everybody to experience the magic of a book.

The street, the pavement, the footpath, the bus-stop, the shade of the tree, became our shop. We loved our sadak-chhap bookshop. People seemed to love it too. Our books were for everybody – the farmer, the tea-seller, the fruit vendor, the college student, the teacher, the lawyer, and the rickshaw-puller.

There were two reasons for having books on the street. One, we wanted to make books accessible to everybody regardless of class and social background. We wanted to bring books out in the open for the common man. Two, we could not afford a shop space.

When we wanted to go to more places with books, we got a second-hand van and travelled to places. Initially we carried books in boxes in the van and displayed them on the street but later we built a bookshelf in the van.

We wanted to rent a small space for opening a bookshop in Bhubaneswar, but everything was very expensive. We finally rented a tiny corner of an open-air restaurant and that was the beginning of our book-shack. We had a hand painted bookshelf with all our books and some chairs for people to sit and read, and some potted plants.

Our books were still out in the open, for everybody to see, touch, and experience. But we had a problem – rain. We had to move out.

Luckily, we found an affordable space for our book shack. We wanted some greenery around. We grew a small garden. We had no electricity so we got solar power. We filled our tiny shack with all kinds of interesting books.

We thought of all the different kinds of people who might walk in and all the different kinds of books that they might like to read. We wanted people to read good books and not just popular books. We wanted our visitors to have a comfortable time browsing through books, so we put in chairs and cushions for them.

We thought books in the middle of a garden are almost therapeutic and filled our space with plants. In no time we had butterflies, sparrows, and squirrels for company. We wanted booklovers to have a chance to meet and talk to authors, so we talked to some of our writer friends, who obliged. We wanted young people to be interested in reading, so we tried to make reading fun.

At each stage my bookshop was my dream bookshop because I was doing exactly what I wanted, to connect books with readers. It does not matter what shape or size a bookshop is. What matters is that there exists such a magical place, with stories from lands far and near.

But sometimes it gets very difficult to run a bookshop. When we started out, we had difficulty sourcing books. Publishers do not deal with bookshops directly. Distributors control the market. Very few people are reading books. Most people are buying books online. Nobody is promoting good writing or good books.

We were lucky that we got to work with wonderful people from the book industry who supported us in our journey so far. But somehow at the end of the day it is about the number of books sold. There are days when nobody walks into our book shack. We don’t sell even a single book for days.

But we have to remember that a book is not a commodity. It is not always about the number of copies sold. Though our book shack is our only source of livelihood, we do not run it only for profit’s sake. We believe books are a powerful medium of social change and it is our responsibility to promote reading of good books and make books more accessible to all segments of the society.

A bookshop is not just a place where people come to buy books. A bookshop is a creative space which nurtures free thinking and free expression of the individual. A bookshop is a space where ideas get exchanged. A bookshop is essential for the existence of a healthy society and a healthy democracy.

As a bookseller I think my dream bookshop will be a space where people come to meet, talk, read, sing, laugh, cry and create together. Where authors don’t come in just for “events” but to openly talk about the society we live in and the people that we are. Where we can have good books at affordable prices. Where people can come and read for free if they cannot pay. Where we let our insecurities go. Where we let our masks fall. Where we can truly be ourselves and realise our true potential.

Like hospitals and universities, we need bookshops. We need bookshops in every neighbourhood. Publishers, authors, distributors and readers have to come together to support independent bookshops stay alive. So that bookshops in return can help us stay alive.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.