— Interview by Emily Santos
Emily is a social producer and brand strategist. Since graduating from Columbia College Chicago in 2018 she has been sharpening her craft in the digital space.
Ivelyse Andino is a trailblazing advocate for people’s health along with leading doctors, nurses, neighbors, and family caretakers in the fight for quality, accessible, wellness resources. As a minority women-owned social enterprise, her organization Radical Health aims to improve health equity through community engagement and technology. There are many ways the healthcare system could be improved, and Ivelyse is challenging us to engage in this dialogue publicly by taking in the perspectives of underrepresented communities. Hear from Ivelyse as she shares her passion for the importance of restorative health circles in communities and how Latinx entrepreneurs should value the importance of multi-generational wealth.
Emily: What inspired you to start your company?
Ivelyse: I grew up in the Bronx, which remains one of the poorest communities in the nation. The zip code I grew up in determined the availability of resources, the quality of my education, and my health. As an Afro-Latina, I grew up being treated differently because of what I looked like and where I was from. I spent many years working in the corporate health space and was often the only woman and person of color in the room. I saw firsthand how decisions are made at the top without any consideration of our input from people in the communities suffering from the greatest health disparities. When my mom was diagnosed and ultimately died from cancer in 2010, I realized that all of the access I had to health innovation and technology was totally out of reach for my mother and others in my community. I wanted to find a way to combine the tremendous resources that are in the health tech space with a people-centered approach that would benefit people such as my mother.
Emily: What does the value of multi-generational wealth mean to the Latino community and why is it so important?
Ivelyse: The Latinx community is almost 20 percent of the population of the United States but controls less than 3 percent of the nation’s wealth. In 2016, the average wealth of a Latinx household was only $6,300 compared to $140,500 for whites. Economic security, or lack thereof, is a huge predictor of life outcomes and overall well-being. For the Latinx community to thrive, we need wealth. It’s important that this wealth is shared throughout our community.
It’s not enough for individuals who are Latinx to prosper if we’re leaving behind the rest of our community. Too often, securing wealth means abandoning the culture, values, and heritage that make us who we are. We need to build multi-generational wealth equitably for the entire Latinx community. Latinas earn less than Latino men, even though they have higher education levels. Afro-Latinos remain the poorest and most marginalized in the Latinx community. We need to ensure that all members of the Latinx community, along with other people of color, have access to building multi-generational wealth.
Emily: What are the benefits and challenges of being a Latinx entrepreneur?
Ivelyse: Being Latinx in the United States means you are connected to a people who already possess so many of the skill sets that an entrepreneur needs. To leave your home and come to a new country where you have to start from scratch is the ultimate definition of an entrepreneur. You’re “bootstrapping” and “pivoting” all along the journey. As a Latina founder, I have benefited from those “startup” lessons my elders passed down. They give me my hustle, my grit, and my tenacity.
The challenge is coming from a community where financial resources are scarce and people who look like me are undervalued. There have been many times I’ve been told to straighten my hair before an interview, add a white male to my team for funding, or have had people make jokes made about my name, my accent, and my heritage. But these indignities become my motivation to knock down doors and make space for other Latinx entrepreneurs.
Emily: Why does your company have high growth potential?
Ivelyse: The US spends about $3.6 trillion on healthcare, and globally, health is expected to be an $8.7 trillion industry by 2020. Health spending is almost 20% of the gross domestic product in the US. But about 30% of that spending is wasteful, unnecessary and preventable. Across the healthcare industry, there is a huge demand for approaches that reduce costs while still improving health outcomes. Radical Health’s approach has the ability to produce huge cost savings in the healthcare industry while simultaneously spreading the economic benefit among people who suffer the greatest health and wealth disparities. It’s a win-win for everybody.
Emily: What is the company’s 5-year vision?
Ivelyse: We want to see Radical Health operating in all the cities where the health disparities are the greatest. We want to see our AI-powered app - Radical Relay, which helps patients advocate for their healthcare rights, in use across the globe. More importantly, we want to be the leader in advancing health equity using a people-plus-tech approach. We don’t want to use technology to eliminate jobs or to strip people from their cultural context. Rather, we see ourselves leading an approach where communities use technology in a people-centered way to improve health outcomes for themselves and their entire communities.
Emily: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs looking to take their startup to the next level?
Ivelyse: Connect and build with others. Latinx culture is rooted in family and community and growing your startup shouldn’t be any different. The more you can support one another the greater your impact and growth will be.
Emily: What is the importance of restorative health circles in communities?
Ivelyse: Restorative Circles are based on practices used by our ancestors from Africa and the indigenous people of the Americas that facilitate people coming together in ways that flatten out the power dynamics and free people from secrecy and shame. Restorative health circles allow community members to dialogue with another about health concerns, trauma, and illnesses that affect them, and also provide a way to have those conversations with doctors, hospital administrators and others who usually don’t listen to people in our communities.
Emily: What is the current life expectancy gap in communities of color and do you believe that gap is closing?
Ivelyse: The data on life expectancy is mixed. African-Americans and Native Americans have consistently shorter life expectancy than whites in the US, while it appears that Latinx and Asian-Americans have longer life expectancy than whites. But when you drill down into income levels and neighborhoods, you find that zip code is still the biggest predictor of your health and poverty is the most important factor. You see that Black women are five times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications as white women. When we consider public health issues, we see that Black men are far more likely to be shot and killed. One in six Latino boys and one in three African-American boys will experience incarceration, compared to one in six white boys. I believe we can close the [expectancy] gap, but it will take closing the poverty gap more than anything else.
Emily: What are the 5 most common diseases that act as killers for communities of color?
Ivelyse: The leading causes of death for people of color are not so different than they are in white communities. Heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes, respiratory diseases are all up there. What is really affecting communities of color are the social determinants of health: the environment, structures, and conditions you live in that impact your health outcomes. Your zip code is a bigger predictor of health than your genetics. The social determinants of health are responsible for 80% of your health outcomes while genetics account for only 20 percent. Your income is a bigger predictor of life expectancy than your genetics. The social issues facing communities of color - racism, poverty, housing, unemployment, education, incarceration, deportation - those impact the health of our communities more than individual diseases.
Emily: Explain the importance of teaching and getting people involved and passionate about their healthcare
Ivelyse: We teach people to know their rights and advocate for themselves in many areas. We teach people to know their rights when stopped by the police, or to know their rights as a tenant dealing with a landlord, or to know their child’s educational rights, especially if they are disabled. But we often don’t teach people to know their rights and advocate for themselves when it comes to something so fundamental as their health and the type of healthcare they get. So many people in our communities just trust the benevolence of the healthcare system or avoid engaging with it altogether. When people are empowered to advocate for the best healthcare available - to know they can ask for an additional test, or procedure, or second opinion - it can literally be the difference between life and death.