"Health care is an essential right and Yuvo's mission resonates with me deeply," says Yuvo's Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Janel Sia. "I can't imagine doing anything else."
Witnessing firsthand the sacrifice and hard work required to build a sustainable life in this country, Sia feels destined to lead a purpose-driven life.
Throughout her childhood, Sia's parents navigated immigrating from the Philippines to the United States — a process that required them to battle visa problems, work constraints, and family separation. Growing up, Sia and her brother moved between relatives' homes in Manilla while waiting for the opportunity to join their parents in the U.S. Sia felt a sense of immense gratitude when she immigrated to the U.S. later in elementary school and reunited with her parents.
Still, the journey was anything but easy moving forward. Affording housing was a challenge, and the family moved around before eventually landing in subsidized housing through her mother's employer. Sia felt immense pressure to succeed — working hard to attain scholarships and excel at school and in after-school activities — while living in both the world of her home life and the affluent ones of her peers.
These lived experiences have since fueled Sia’s mission to ensure that community members facing the greatest hardships are recognized, supported, and given the resources they need to be healthy and independent.
As soon as she got to Columbia University, Sia dove headfirst into psychology and began a research program on mental illness in Chinese immigrant populations. She studied the role of social support and stigma through the lens of Chinese culture to investigate how this impacts the prognosis of a diagnosis – and through this process discovered the value of community health centers.
After graduation, Sia moved to Beijing to work for an NGO, where she built educational and community health programming at underserved and often unregulated schools for migrant children and families, many of whom faced significant limitations imposed by government regulations that restricted their access to vital public services, including health care and education. She returned to the U.S. to join a venture philanthropy organization and then worked for the International Rescue Committee, where she shifted to the business side of nonprofit work.
“I loved the work I was doing,” she admits, as she had the opportunity to build out nontraditional programming and partnerships with private corporations, such as working with Chipotle on a farmer entrepreneurship program for refugees with agricultural backgrounds and Whole Foods on a microenterprise program giving underserved borrowers affordable financing and technical assistance to support their small businesses. “But I had ventured too far from my original goal of working in public and community health and I wanted – and needed – to get back to that.”
After taking on a leadership role at a healthcare startup, where she built solutions directly supporting community-based organizations, she met Herrera and started to envision Yuvo and what it would mean for so many people in this country who can’t access health care.
“The work I’m doing is personal. While it is a tremendous responsibility to be in this position, I’m grateful for the opportunity and I feel so lucky to be a part of something so special,” Sia says, who is most looking forward to helping FQHCs unlock revenue streams through value-based care so they can extend their care to everyone in need.
“While everything is interconnected and we all have to work together to achieve better health outcomes, community-based organizations, nonprofits, and FQHCs are far too often left out of crucial conversations,” says Sia. “Knowing how much value they bring to the community and the people they serve, I aim to be their fiercest advocate and ensure their voices are heard.”
Far too many communities have limited access to health care and as a result, face significant health risks and health disparities. It’s Sia’s hope, in leading the long-term strategy for Yuvo, that she can build a strong foundation to ensure that FQHCs receive the financial support and dedicated managed care they need to make life-impacting changes in underserved communities.