Shobha Arole

Comprehensive Rural Health Project (CRHP)
Year founded: 

By partnering with village communities in India, CRHP brings modern healthcare services and training programmes to the rural poor.

Focus: Health, Rural Development, Women
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 500,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 750,000 (2009)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 30%
Recognition: Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum

In 1970 malnutrition and infant mortality were pervasive problems in India’s state of Maharashtra. Less than 1% of the population had systems for the disposal of solid waste, modern health services were non-existent and cholera, typhoid and malaria were highly prevalent. Having grown up in rural India, Raj Arole (1934-2011) understood that any healthcare delivery system would have to confront cultural superstitions about the causes of illness as well as caste, religious, gender and political divisions. After finishing medical school, Arole and his late wife, Mabelle, began engaging villagers in the creation of modern healthcare services for the rural poor.

Innovation and Activities
The Comprehensive Rural Health Project, a community-based healthcare programme for the rural poor, has brought about extraordinary health and social improvements in hundreds of villages in Maharashtra. Despite the region’s extreme poverty, severe gender and caste inequality and minimal public health services, CRHP has achieved exceptional results by training local village healthcare workers and helping villagers address economic, social, agricultural and health needs through self-organization.

In the early days of CRHP, the Aroles earned the trust of communities by inviting all groups to volleyball games, which then became meeting places for discussions about village development. These discussions led to the formation of farmers' clubs to address such issues as inadequate drinking water and poor sanitation. The clubs eventually conducted health surveys as a crucial step towards overcoming traditional beliefs about the causes of disease, and identified simple ways to improve health, like draining puddles that attracted mosquitoes.

The clubs encouraged women to become village health workers. With coaching and guidance from the Aroles, these women provided prenatal care, monitored child immunizations and coordinated village waste management. The village health workers in turn organized women's development associations, which initiated credit circles to fund cooperative business enterprises. Between 1971 and 1993 infant mortality rates in areas where CRHP worked plunged by 84%, while maternal mortality dropped by 75%.

CRHP has been increasingly involved in public policy advocacy, while establishing a primary healthcare model for relevant, appropriate and cost-effective community-based hospital care. Their training programmes in community-based health and development, leadership, management, and personal development have been replicated worldwide, impacting communities in +100 countries. The knowledge and skills have been shared with +20,000 participants nationally and internationally for more than a decade.

The Entrepreneurs
Raj Arole was born in Jamkhed, India, and in spite of the difficult circumstances of his upbringing, he studied at one of the most prestigious medical colleges in India, the Christian Medical College at Vellore. There he met his future wife Mabelle and, on their wedding day, they vowed to work together and devote their lives to the marginalized and disenfranchised people living in Indian villages. Today, their daughter Shobha, a medical doctor and holistic family practice specialist, is the Director of the CRHP, and her brother Ravi is Director of Operations. She also dedicates time teaching and promoting comprehensive healthcare in the national and international arenas and is significantly involved in national policy discussions.