Share, trust, care and dare… Together. These values have driven the inspiring success of Hospitainer, a company that alleviates suffering with rapid deployment containerised medical solutions in disaster zones and rural areas. Meet founder and CEO Rolof Mulder, a man on a mission for the past decade who is now partnering with Strategy& to plan the next level of global healthcare outreach.
"Witnessing this problem in Ghana, I realised that – in theory – I could build up to 100 mobile units for the price of this one conventional hospital.”
The story of Hospitainer starts in 1996 with another company owned by Rolof Mulder. Millson was set up to develop web applications that help people in remote areas become self-supporting with ICT-based communication and education. In 2007, Mulder and his team were installing a medical ICT solution alongside a hospital that was clearly too high-tech for its surroundings in a remote part of Ghana. Discovering that this well-intentioned but hugely expensive hospital was functioning poorly and close to shutting only three months later, Mulder saw that a different approach to conventional health infrastructure was required.
“Having been a nurse for six years after leaving college I’ve always had a keen interest in healthcare, hence the medical ICT company. Witnessing this problem in Ghana, I realised that – in theory – I could build up to 100 mobile units for the price of this one conventional hospital. They would be far more rugged and suitable for developing countries and post-disaster/conflict areas, and easier to maintain.”
“Returning to the Netherlands, I prayed with my wife, recognising that embarking on this venture would likely drain our finances (it did) but be very fulfilling for us as Christians (it has been). I also found out that 300,000 women die annually of pregnancy-related complications in developing countries and only one tenth of people in rural Africa have access to basic surgery. At the same time, there is money in the world and the challenge was to match demand with supply via solutions that meet the primary goal of bringing healthcare to places where no such facility exists.
“I started building the first hospitainer with my neighbour (a retired carpenter) in his garden, which took a year to complete. Doctors without Borders had been to see what we were doing and when the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010 the charity asked me to send the first hospitainer to them as their hospital had collapsed. Two weeks later it arrived and everything was online within three days. Some 2000 operations were carried out in this unit over the next year and there was no going back.”
“We started building more hospitainers with funding from NGOs and government bodies. Our success with fundraising led to an invite by Bang Ki-moon to address a UN conference on financing disaster responses. I also constantly travelled to hotspots: if you want to support people you have to go there yourself. Taking calculated risks is part of the job. We’ve taken X-ray containers to Sudan, delivery theatres to the Philippines, Ebola labs to Africa and even placed hospitals on ships in the Med saving refugees. Providing mobile hospitals to Syria and Iraq, we’ve offered life-saving surgeries while acting as peacemakers as fighters cease fire to send family members for help.
“As we’ve grown, the work of four inspiring people continues to shape our course. John the Baptist said that if you have two coats give one away to someone who has none. We all have so much to share and such individual acts of kindness can make a big difference. Ricardo Semler’s people-centric management approach empowers our staff and the relationship with suppliers. Around 15 companies share their expertise, knowledge and materials in a relationship of total trust.
“Nelson Mandela sought reconciliation not revenge after his release from prison. He showed how people need each other in different ways, and Hospitainer works with people of all faiths and none. Last but not least, obviously, Jesus is to me the greatest example of caring for people in need, seeing the potential in individuals and being prepared to take risks.”
“Discover what drives you in life and what’s holding you back. Can you fulfil your deepest motivations and if not, why not? If you believe there’s more to life than chemical reactions alone, tap into the source which will change your life and those of others. Then plan, calculate, prepare to take risks and make the leap. You may fail first time but you can always learn and rise again. When we reconnect with the source, the Creator, our potential is released and we can achieve great things. Hospitainer currently has 85 medical solutions placed across four continents covering some 10,000 square metres.”
"Strategy& is comprehensively analysing all our activities to date, measuring impacts, examining costs & turnover and identifying risks."
PwC has been providing us with support to set up our charitable foundation. Earlier this year Tessa Brand from Strategy& offered to help take Hospitainer to the next level, especially in rural areas where the challenges of financing, access, infrastructure and staff are greatest. We have shown our ability to respond swiftly in times of disaster, and the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated this again as we flew clinics to the Caribbean within 48 hours. But this is a reactive way of working and we’d also like funding programmes that allow us to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to planning activities in advance. That requires a more stable source of income.
“Strategy& is comprehensively analysing all our activities to date, measuring impacts, examining costs & turnover and identifying risks. Tessa is mapping this out, listening to staff, interviewing clients and generating a picture of where we are now and how we get to where we want to be. The time is right for a fresh impetus to greater expansion, especially in bringing healthcare to people who have none. Strategy& is proving very helpful in making this ambition a reality.”
As Senior Associate at Strategy&, Tessa Brand has found it inspiring to work together with Rolof and the Hospitainer team. "I am impressed by people’s drive to help others and by Hospitainer’s ability to provide medical solutions in high-risk locations, like war zones and natural disaster areas, at short notice."
"I am impressed by people’s drive to help others and by Hospitainer’s ability to provide medical solutions in high-risk locations, like war zones and natural disaster areas, at short notice."