Ortolife is providing innovative healthcare for people with disabilities in Moldova
Ortolife is a private prosthetic laboratory center in Moldova that offers patients with physical impairments innovative products that make it easier for them to live a full life. In addition, they offer prosthetic rehabilitation and psychological counseling.
Svetlana Pinzaru started Ortolife with her husband Alexandru. The organization combines their collective experience as Svetlana comes from a medical background, while Alexandru studied and worked in the field of Orthopedic engineering.
Driven by a personal experience
In 2015, Alexandru had an accident where he lost his leg, and had to stay at home due to his physical situation as he couldn’t continue the work that he was doing. He needed a specific type of orthotic support for his leg fractures to be able to move that wasn’t found in Moldova at that time. At that same time, Svetlana was on maternity leave, and so they did not have any steady income coming into the household and had to give up their house at the time. The couple then started planning to try to move out of Moldova; to immigrate to another country in order to find medical support for Alexandru’s case.
“We started to come up with a business plan based on Alexandru’s experience in the field. He was already receiving calls from patients that he had previously worked with, who approached him personally because they wanted his support and advice. He started doing consultations, and started to work on setting up something of our own, because he couldn’t return to his workload in the company due to his health condition.”
Their first project was a collaboration with the NGO, Inimi Solidare (Solidary Hearts), on a Swiss-funded project to provide prosthetic limbs for children in Moldova. It was a new field; they struggled to find local support in terms of caliber and in terms of the supply of the needed material and equipment. However, having the experience of their collaboration with the Swiss-funded project helped. After that, they also started a collaboration with the German Ottobock, which enabled them access to better material and manufacturing processes, and contributed to their growth.
Creating a welcoming safe space for people with disabilities in Moldova
“Our main goal when we started out was to help people who couldn’t find help at standard, state-owned clinics and facilities. We wanted to be able to provide personalized help, take on cases that required more specific and complex support. I feel like we achieved our goal. Each patient that comes into our clinic in a wheelchair and eventually leaves walking is a huge success.”
Ortolife customizes every item they manufacture to make it as comfortable as possible for the patient, whether the case is an acquired disability or one they were already born with. Whenever they onboard a new patient, they sign a contract with them that they are able to first come and go to the center as much as they feel, to try out the products and explore the options, before they have to pay any fee. The goal is not to just build a profitable business, it is to build a safe haven and create a family.
“We wanted patients to ask questions, encourage them to come by, schedule an appointment and share their experiences in order to receive both physical and psychological support and to overcome the barriers to asking for and receiving support.”
Since 2019, Ortolife has helped over 200 patients through prosthetics and support activities. Some of the cases they worked with included a child that was born without a proper calf; the parents tried at first to look for the resources that were readily or commonly available, and couldn’t find support through standard healthcare. They worked with Ortolife, and at 10 months the boy became their youngest patient. Now, he has been growing with the prosthetic, and is now old enough to play football and have an active life.
Another case included a man who was involved in an accident as a teenager where he lost both of his legs, and for twenty years, he couldn’t find any support for his specific case despite trying several medical facilities and healthcare options, but now he is able to walk again with crutches and regain independence in his life.
Finding support to keep going and build resilience
At the onset of the war, especially the first three months, Svetlana didn’t know how they could find any control in the situation or find solutions for the crisis they were going through. Orders were blocked due to the lack of raw materials and lack of knowledge about how the future would look like.
Svetlana reflected on why she applied for the FEMEIE program when she came across the opportunity: “My personal motivation for joining the FEMEIE program was to learn something new and work with people with different mindsets, to see what I’m lacking and how I can improve it. Right before we found FEMEIE, we were in a very tight financial situation. We had a lot of challenges and failed attempts, and it was getting very exhausting. I wanted to find new inspiration, to connect with others who were going through similar experiences. Here, I found a lot of others who were going through the same experience, that I’m not the only one going through these challenges. I also started Ortolife with no prior experience in entrepreneurship or business knowledge, so I’m learning a lot, especially on how to be a better leader for my team in times like these where there are too many uncertainties, and how to adapt.”
Using the financial support provided by the FEMEIE program, they are working on increasing their outreach and visibility efforts in order to reach more people in need of support.
Svetlana’s message to women who want to make a difference
“Persevere and keep going. Don’t lose hope, because any idea – no matter how impossible it sounds – has its place and time, so as long as you believe in it and find the right people, any idea can be implemented.. It’s important to have the right community to support you, and work with you, because success is only built through collaboration of people who are genuinely invested in something, a cause they are committed to. So, the recommendation really is to just wake up and do it.”
Svetlana is part of the The ‘Female Entrepreneurship in Moldova – Emergency Initiative for Economic Empowerment’ (FEMEIE) program, which was created to provide direct support for Moldovan entrepreneurs and displaced Ukrainian entrepreneurs in Moldova, with a specific focus on supporting women. To create a comprehensive, sustainable and empowering network, the program provides a support center in Moldova, financial support, access to global network and resources, and entrepreneurship education and training.
The program is implemented by enpact e.V. with the support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). The aim of the program is to counteract the economic and social repercussions caused by the Russian war of aggression.