(November 22, 2023) “A 100 million people in India suffer from Type 2 diabetes, while 136 million are pre diabetic,” remarks Dr Nalini Saligram while talking about the diabetes menace. The former corporate executive based in Atlanta and Bengaluru, is committed to making an impact in the global health space as the founder and CEO of the non-profit organisation Arogya World.
“Arogya World’s work is mostly in India,” Nalini tells Global Indian. “This year we started MyDesiPlate to help Indian-Americans eat right. We are bringing the successful MyThali social media campaigns from India to the US, including #HealthyWaliDiwali. We reach people all over the US and are working with Indiaspora and South Asian Heart Center to reach our US communities,” she explains.
This year, Arogya World organised three galas – in Atlanta, California (Mountain View/Bay area), and Chicago to advance its mission and help make every child a healthy child.
Dr Nalini Saligram has lived and worked around the world ever since she began her career in 1986. She has led global corporate communications teams for renowned healthcare brands, including Merck in Philadelphia, Merial in Atlanta, Glaxo Wellcome in London, and Hill & Knowlton in Hong Kong. She plunged into social entrepreneurship in 2010.
A global journey
Born and raised in Bengaluru, Dr Nalini’s life took her on a remarkable journey as she traversed across six countries, following her husband’s international postings. Today, she commutes between Atlanta and Bengaluru multiple times a year as her organisation functions from both the places.
With a PhD in biochemistry from Indian Institute of Science (IISC), Bengaluru and a wealth of experience in global communications, Dr Nalini has made it her life’s mission to combat non-communicable diseases (NCDs), especially diabetes in India, which is considered the ‘diabetes capital of the world’ due to high number of diabetic patients in the country.
Dr Nalini serves on the Dean’s Council at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and is active with Indiaspora, the India Philanthropy Alliance and the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces.
Making an impact
Dr Nalini has been working to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCDs)—diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic lung diseases—through health education and lifestyle changes. Tackling NCDs is critical for the world to meet the sustainable development goals and Dr Nalini is committed towards it. “The Problem is so big that prevention instead of only screening and treatment is the smart solution,” she says.
Since its inception in 2010, Arogya, which means ‘health’ in Sanskrit, has managed to reach close to 12.5 million individuals, ranging from school children to working professionals. Their flagship programmes, like Healthy Schools, Healthy Workplaces, mDiabetes, MyThali, Arogya City and MyDesiPlate, tap technology, including AI, to build and nurture a healthy living movement in India.
Awards and recognition
Dr Saligram’s contributions to the field have not gone unnoticed. In 2021, Dr Nalini received the prestigious Ashoka Award. Awareness programmes like ‘Healthy Workplaces’ have earned Arogya World a considerable amount of recognition as a thought leader and passionate champion of health. In 2020 – 2021, the organisation was included in the core committee by WHO–NIMHANS for the development of minimum health guidelines for workplaces in India.
While several leading organizations have joined Arogya World as partners, this August, it celebrated its 200th workplace collaboration. The organisation has also been invited to serve on CII’s Public Health Council. In 2021 Arogya World was chosen to be part of the Google AI for Social Good effort. In 2022, on her watch, Arogya World was one of the recipients of the prestigious United Nations InterAgency Taskforce and WHO Special Programme on Primary Healthcare awards.
Arogya World has also been working towards the goal of making Bengaluru, India’s first Arogya City with Dr Devi Shetty, the renowned cardiac surgeon and founder of Narayana Health, and Arjuna awardee and former Olympian Ashwini Nachappa, as brand ambassadors.
Empowering people through health awareness
Dr Nalini’s leadership is defined by her vision of supporting and empowering individuals to lead healthier lives. “By learning on the job, I have become a public health practitioner,” says the change maker, who addresses herself an advocate for global health and healthy living as she believes that these are the tickets to the healthy next generation.
“Lifestyle induced diseases like diabetes used to be an adult onset disease but now it is showing up in youngsters as well,” she remarks adding, “Type 2 diabetes which affects Americans and Europeans in their 50s and 60s is now showing up in the 30s or even in 20s and teens in India. But the good part is that it is a preventable disease, and this is what we are working on.”
“We do not need a new vaccine or technology to combat Type 2 diabetes. We just need to lead a healthy life,” she says. “80 percent diabetes and heart ailments can be prevented as per the big clinical trials and landmark studies by WHO, with three lifestyle changes – one must eat right, avoid tobacco and exercise,” Dr Nalini shares. Through her organization, she is educating and empowering people to undergo behavioral changes for better quality of life.
How does it work?
By reaching out to children Arogya World tries to inculcate good habits in them from a young age. A healthy lifestyle acquired as a pre-teen will stay with individuals through their lives, and the non-profit attempts to inculcate these habits early on. It works with students in government and private schools in rural and urban areas, using games and activities to build good habits.
They have reached more than 1 million kids in the last 10 years and are in process of working with another million plus school children in the coming months. “The impact of Arogya World’s programmes have been validated by Stanford Center for Asian Health Research and Education unit,” shares Dr Nalini.
Under her guidance, the organisation has spread its wings across several states in India, spearheading age specific programmes. The organisation has been taking prevention strategies to people outside their doctors’ chambers – where they live, learn and work by conducting awareness programmes not just at schools but offices as well.
“We create age appropriate programmes and spend a lot of time in the design, and delivery of the content. All our programmes are science based and designed to induce behavior change” she says.
Voices of 10,000 women
In 2013, Arogya World and its collaborators pledged to develop and launch an international survey aimed at capturing the viewpoints of 10,000 women across 10 different countries regarding Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). This commitment, known as a “Commitment to Action,” was unveiled during the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting by Arogya World and its partners, including Novartis, Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, American Cancer Society, UNICEF, Population Services International, SRBI, and Jana. They successfully worked on their commitment and in 2014 shared the survey’s results during that year’s CGI Annual Meeting.
This significant collaborative public health initiative strived to emphasize the influence of NCDs on women and their families, with the intention of motivating governments to take concrete actions by amplifying women’s voices.
Mobile and web technologies were harnessed to conduct surveys among a total of 10,000 women aged 18 to 40, hailing from Afghanistan, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the UK, and the U.S. Dr Nalini’s team captured the personal narratives of women from these nations to provide an authentic perspective on their experiences in dealing with and combatting NCDs.
Latest initiatives – MyDesiPlate and HealthyWaliDiwali campaign
In 2023, Arogya World introduced a nutritional tool named MyDesiPlate, aligning with US nutritional guidelines. Alongside this launch, they initiated the #HealthyWaliDiwali social media campaign within the US, aiming to encourage Indian Americans to adopt healthier eating habits during festive times.
MyDesiPlate adheres to USDA nutrition guidelines, offering guidance to both Indian Americans and the general American populace on meal composition and appropriate portion sizes in a typical Indian meal. It advocates two fundamental principles for healthy eating—achieving a balanced meal and practicing portion control. The tool specifies the recommended quantity of cooked food for lunch, emphasizing a suggestion for dinner to be a lighter meal compared to lunch.
Finding her path and achieving success
Dr Nalini’s journey at Arogya World began with a deep desire to make a difference. Armed with her scientific knowledge and a fervent commitment to change, she embarked on the endeavour to engage people and leaders in the battle against NCDs in 2010 by establishing Arogya World. Before this Dr Nalini worked in the corporate world for years. “When I found myself restless and underutilised in corporate America, I decided to quit my job at Merck Vaccines and started Arogya World. It’s the best decision I have made in my life,” she shares.
As a relentless advocate for NCD prevention, Dr Nalini doesn’t merely rely on her own determination. She leverages the power of public-private partnerships and strategically utilizes global platforms to drive meaningful change.
- Follow Dr Nalini Saligram on LinkedIn
- Follow Arogya World on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram