Davina Patel
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01 March, 2018

‘We want to help 25,000 people with disabilities by 2021’, said Merel Rumping, who spoke to a captivated audience on Tuesday 20 February, at the London centre of Initiatives of Change. The focus of her talk was about founding LegBank, a social enterprise providing life-saving prosthetics to land mine victims in Colombia.

Rumping, who had previously worked with street children in the slums of Colombia, spoke about how she left a promising career in diplomacy to pursue her interests in microfinance and social entrepreneurship. ‘I returned to Colombia to work at a micro-credit bank. There I discovered the potential of social enterprise. I was heading for a diplomatic career, studying political science in France and working at the Dutch embassy in Morocco. It became clear to me that I believed in the power of social enterprise, and that this was where I wanted to put my energies.’

Rumping started working at ProPortion Foundation based in the Netherlands, which supports social enterprises that focuses on providing solutions to the world’s biggest problems. She mentioned to her director that she noticed ‘In Colombia, in poor neighbourhoods, often people had no quality orthopaedics. Perhaps there is any chance to develop a social enterprise around this issue. I was given the opportunity to find out and research the issue.’

Rumping spent months in Colombia with researchers mapping out the obstacles faced by thousands of amputees accessing affordable prosthetics. They spoke to many who live in rural areas and cannot afford the bus ride to the orthopaedic clinic. Like Beatriz, who lost her leg from an accident. She had to beg in front of her house until she had enough money for the bus to make the journey. Rumping also learned that not all casualties were from land mines, many were due to diabetes or accidents. The team spoke to many people in both urban and rural areas who face a similar problem of accessing quality prosthetics.

What Rumping learned was that orthopaedic care is highly centralised and not equally accessible for all, about 30% of all clinics in Colombia are uncertified and at risk of getting fined or closed. Another issue faced was the amount of administration there was for each patient, that were still dealt with manually. Rumping and her team developed smart and innovative solutions, like an app to reduce administration. They also developed a blue print to provide orthopaedic care in a sustainable way in rural areas, to increase access to care.

Another innovation was the creation of Majicast, an instrument that creates comfortable prosthetic sockets in an automated way through hydrostatic pressure. Majicast accurately reflects the contours of a patient’s unique shape and volume of their residual limbs. The result is a tailor made fit that increases comfort and reduces the necessity for further modification in the future. It also increases comfort for patients, and saves time for clinicians. These solutions were only made possible through a multi-disciplinary approach with researchers from the University of Strathclyde, business developers and engineers.

Defence Attaché at the Dutch Embassy in London, Captain Wolter Sillevis Smitt
Defence Attaché at the Dutch Embassy in London, Captain Wolter Sillevis Smitt

Rumping is definitely aiming high with LegBank: ‘We want to empower 100 clinics in 15 countries by 2021. There are 30 million people with little or no access to care. We need half a million euros to build more clinics and to commercialise Majicast. As long as you keep on envisioning your bigger goal in the end of your path, and all the obstacles will soon dissolve into minor speed bumps on your road.’

German Espejo, the Deputy Head of Mission for the Colombian Embassy in London, who was also at the event commented: ‘Colombia has experienced half a century of armed conflict and we are third most heavily mined country in the world. We have managed to reach a peace agreement with one of the groups responsible and as a result we will have 5,000 less landmine casualties. By 2021 we are aiming to have a Colombia free of landmines.’

Photos by Laura Noble. Video by Yee Liu Williams.