Devika Rani Wood: Founder & Chief Development Officer at Vida
The #SheInnovates stories team sat down with Devika Rani Wood to discuss the role of women in innovation. Get involved at She Innovates Global.
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Devika Rani Wood: At Vida, we are solving the care-at-home industry which is at the breakpoint, and our mission is to give everyone the freedom of choice they deserve to stay at home when they can no longer care for themselves.
1 in 4 families in the UK struggle to find timely and person-centered care for their loved ones, and with a growing aging population, 1 in 5 people will be over 65 by 2066, adding to this problem. With 2 million care workers needed in the UK by 2020 to satisfy this demand, and dwindling margins in care companies, agencies are closing down—leaving the UK in dire straits. At Vida, we believe our excellence stems from our ability to innovate in an industry where the moving parts and variables that exist, mean focusing on caring for the vulnerable; whilst innovating can be incredibly challenging, often risky, day to day. Vida uses innovative technology to enable us to scale with the demand of care in the market, ensuring we can keep operational costs at a minimum (in an industry that thrives on maintaining 30% GPM), through paying care professionals at National Minimum Wage to deliver highly complex care in vulnerable settings at home. We believe that care should be priced affordably and augment the care services using at-home monitoring solutions. Our perseverance and determination to ensure that care has longevity, carers are cared for and attracted into the market, and those needing care are looked after well, remains at the forefront of our values.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
DRW: Our Vida technology enables us to automate the allocation of our care packages using a proprietary algorithm that matches the most appropriate carer to the client using a variety of specified requirements. When we first implemented and used our technology, witnessing this happening for the first time was incredible! Previous to using our own technology, we had been delivering care in the same way any other agency would—requiring copious amounts of paperwork, hours to be spent on rota allocation and governance—and compliance became hard to maintain whilst growing the care hours. Over the year, we have seen such a vast improvement in our care delivery; our staff at Vida are finding their day-to-day jobs less burdened by admin and they can focus on actually caring for the client and the client experience. This is true innovation—seeing the results first hand on the clients and carers.
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
DRW: Innovating in an archaic industry with so many different stakeholders and decision makers has been the most challenging. At Vida’s inception, we knew that we couldn’t innovate, or even begin to make changes, unless we lived and breathed the problem. We began recruiting carers and delivering care like a traditional agency would, so that we could become our own test bed for innovation. This in itself can pose problems, as we were growing our care at the same time as building our own technology. Care is also very sensitive and often we are dealing with the most vulnerable people in society, and understanding their needs can be challenging. At the beginning, we wanted to solve everything for everyone! Which as anyone can appreciate, isn’t possible. Understanding that we had to slowly change, and it wouldn’t happen overnight, was difficult to get my head around, but almost 3 years later we are now in a beautiful place at Vida. We can innovate to service and build around our carers and clients.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
DRW: Vida was founded on the back of a personal struggle caring for my grandmother for 12 years. As a child and a young carer for someone who brought me up, that was very harrowing and difficult to experience. The impact that caring for a loved one has on the family is often forgotten, and seeing how it affected my mum and dad really left a mark on me. When work gets difficult and obstacles come up, I always go back and focus on why I do this and what motivates me, and that is not letting other families experience what we did. As a family we couldn’t get the care we needed and we didn’t have the money to pay for it—no one should be put in this situation. Care is a need, not a want, and it should be a basic human right to be able to live your life with dignity and the care you deserve. As a family, there should be support systems in place that allow you to continue living your life without the stress and anxiety that comes with caring for someone you love.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
DRW: As a young founder, I have tried to use my platform as a voice for topics that are close to my heart. For me, as a survivor of domestic violence, I want to inspire young women to achieve what they often believe is unachievable. Looking back, I never in a million years would have pictured to be where I am today. It’s been a true struggle to get here, as my self-esteem and confidence were crushed at a young age. Due to the abuse, I didn’t achieve as much as I could have. However, perseverance has gotten me here. I want to help women in similar situations achieve their potential. Furthermore, being able to inspire young women to become founders and leaders is at the core of my heart. We are constantly surrounded by statistics of inequality—gender pay gap, inequality in investing, 2% of CEOs being women—often the negativity can fuel women to believe it is not achievable. Therefore, if more women in leadership positions and women who have broken through barriers and challenges are championed, we can change the norm and spark the next generation of successful leading women!
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
DRW: The stats speak for themselves—gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to deliver better financial returns, according to McKinsey & Co. However, if we put aside the stats for a moment, we need to change the narrative, stop focusing on the gender and directly challenge the perception of what it looks like to be a female innovator. I can speak from personal experience here: I have often felt the need to change my persona, dress down and “be more man.” I think this is in part due to the fact that I believe I will be accepted and taken seriously if I do so—this is what we need to challenge. We need to challenge the stereotype in thought, execution and gender and celebrate role models across platforms to urge our younger generation to break the mold. We live in a digital age—surrounded by influencers, bloggers, beauty, and fashion—yet rarely do we see a successful female CEO, startup founder, STEM leader, across these platforms. If we elevate these humans, and make that an accessible, realistic and exciting prospect for our younger women, we will see a shift in generational thinking.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.