Posts Tagged ‘healthcare’

Things Move More Slowly in Africa

June 27, 2012

Shannon Maynard is Director of Bankers without Borders® (BwB), Grameen Foundation’s skilled-volunteer initiative. Maynard has more than 15 years of experience in nonprofit management and volunteer mobilization. Before joining Grameen Foundation, she served as Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and managed strategic initiatives for the Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency. This post is the third in a four-part series; you can read her first post here, and her second post here.

“Things move more slowly in Africa” – this is a common refrain for many of us at Grameen Foundation when we find ourselves experiencing hurdles with our work in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. In fact, African countries and the organizations we work with do often lack the infrastructure – particularly the Internet connectivity – that contributes to the fast-paced, rapid-response world that those of us based in the United States have grown so accustomed to. Slower is also a word I’d use to describe Bankers without Borders’ own presence in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Joining Grameen Foundation after primarily working with US-based NGOs, I remember my own first experiences arranging a call with a microfinance institution (MFI) leader in Sub-Saharan Africa – fumbling around with Skype to enter the correct phone number, then getting a voicemail message in a language I couldn’t understand. It might take a few weeks of trying to connect at a time convenient for us both. In those early days, Grameen Foundation did not have local offices or staff in places like Nairobi, Accra or Kampala. Cultivating relationships and managing projects is difficult to do from a different continent, which is why I am amazed we were actually able to do any work in places like Ghana and Nigeria in those first few years of BwB.

Over the past year, however, BwB has been able to gain some traction in the region, thanks to the regional leadership of Erin Conner and Steve Wardle, and BwB Regional Program Officer Martin Gitari, all based in Nairobi.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of Bankers without Borders' FiDavid Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB's Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.nancial Modeling Reserve Corps.

David Washer (right) spent a week meeting clients and lending his skills in finance to Eshet, an Ethiopian microfinance institution, as part of BwB’s Financial Modeling Reserve Corps.

Grameen Foundation’s own programs, particularly our MOTECH work in Ghana and Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) program in Uganda, are BwB’s biggest clients. In our early days, we had a hard time convincing Grameen Foundation’s own technology teams of the services we could provide, because Grameen Foundation’s own employees assumed BwB was only focused on connecting bankers with microfinance institutions (a fair assumption, given our name). Thanks to some education on our part and the willingness of these programs’ leaders to give us a try, we’ve been able to place volunteers such as Chris Smith and Gillian Evans (a husband-and-wife team) with CKW and Roche employee Lynda Barton with MOTECH, in year-long placements. We’ve worked with CKW to establish a local collaboration with Makere University to provide interns to our Uganda office each semester. And we’ve just finalized arrangements to engage a Glaxo Smith Kline employee with the CKW team on a six-month assignment, starting this month.

(more…)

Growth for All: Including the Poor in Strategies for Economic Growth

May 31, 2012

Michael Castellano is a graduate student at The George Washington University, studying International Affairs and Development. He interned with Bankers without Borders® at Grameen Foundation during the spring of 2012.

In the years following the global financial crisis, politicians and policymakers across the globe have harped on one cardinal goal: economic growth. Without a doubt, plans for growing the economy will dominate discussions in the upcoming U.S. presidential election. It seems as though we as a society have collectively determined that if only the economy would turn around, conditions would certainly improve across the board. If only we could enact legislation to spur economic growth, inevitably we would all be better off.

Fortunately, statistics show that the United States has seen steadily climbing annual growth rates since the nadir of the “Great Recession.” Developing countries and emerging economies have, on the whole, experienced average growth rates of more than 5 percent thus far in 2012 and will continue to propel the world’s progress, according to financial forecasts. So – this is good news for everyone, right?

Not necessarily.

Although a country’s national economy may grow, the poorest of the poor often remain completely disconnected from the financial, political and social systems in place. Without active bank accounts, the poor cannot easily save or access other financial services. In rural villages, people may not have easy access to healthcare and can quickly fall victim to external shocks such as disease or natural disaster. Without these services, poor people around the world cannot reap the benefits of overall economic growth.

During my time at Grameen Foundation and through my studies in International Development during this past year, one fundamental lesson has stood out: Though economic growth is certainly important, growth does little to reduce poverty if the poor lack access to essential services. This illustrates a key principle that development practitioners dub “pro-poor growth.”

Michael Castellano served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this spring.

Michael Castellano, shown here during a trip to Australia, served as an intern at Grameen Foundation this spring.

Pro-poor growth involves forming development policies and strategies that target the poorest of the poor and offer new ways of connecting them to financial markets. Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Prize laureate and founder of Grameen Bank, stated, “The direct elimination of poverty should be the objective of all development aid. Development should be viewed as a human rights issue, not as a question of simply increasing the gross national product.”

(more…)

Panel Explores the Power of the Mobile Phone in Fighting Poverty

May 14, 2012

Alex Counts is president, CEO and founder of Grameen Foundation, and author of several books, including Small Loans, Big Dreams: How Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and Microfinance are Changing the World.

I first met Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy and Director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations, through one of our greatest Grameen Foundation Board members, Lucy Billingsley.  When Isobel and I were introduced to each other, she was running a small program at the Council focused on women’s issues.  She has since grown it into a flagship initiative of this prestigious institution, and her reputation as a researcher and thought-leader has naturally grown along the way.

I was therefore very pleased when she invited me to speak as part of her Women and Technology series last week, alongside Ann Mei Chang, senior adviser for women and technology, Office of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State (and formerly with Google), and Scott Ratzen, Vice President for Global Health at Johnson & Johnson.  The title of the session was “mDevelopment: Harnessing Mobile Technology for Global Economic Growth.”  We had a planning call with Isobel, Scott and Ann Mei the week before and I realized I was joining some extremely knowledgeable and articulate people.  To prepare, I read up on all of Grameen Foundation’s many programs that work to alleviate poverty by leveraging the mobile phone revolution, as well as some related research on inclusive business models.

Alex Counts makes a point while (from left) Isobel Coleman of the Council for Foreign Relations, Ann Mei Chang of the U.S. State Department and Scott Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson listen.

Alex Counts makes a point while (from left) Isobel Coleman of the Council for Foreign Relations, Ann Mei Chang of the U.S. State Department and Scott Ratzan of Johnson & Johnson listen.

The event was kicked off with remarks by Suzanne McCarren of ExxonMobil, which sponsors this speaker series.  Suzanne, whom I sat next to during lunch, explained why women’s economic development is a high priority for their company’s foundation, which has made more than $50 million in grants so far, according to my notes.  Then Cherie Blair, the former first lady of the United Kingdom and the founder of a foundation that bears her name, spoke.  She announced the release of an important new report titled, “Mobile Value-Added Services: A Business Opportunity for Women Entrepreneurs.”  I had met Cherie several times through Meera Gandhi, whose book Giving Back features the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, as well as Grameen Foundation.

(more…)

Ensuring that Healthcare for the Poor Is Just a Call Away

March 6, 2012

The annual Mobile World Congress is the place to see the latest mobile phones and applications before they hit the market. But that’s not why Tim Wood is there. As director of Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Health initiative, he’s more interested in how the mobile industry can help improve health outcomes for people who can barely afford a $20 phone.

Tim was part of a panel discussion on mobile health for development – the first of its kind to be held at a Mobile World Congress. He hopes this will galvanize even greater awareness of, and support for, the life-changing opportunities that a simple phone can provide to poor people around the world.

Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Health solutions focus on improving patient care for the poor by helping healthcare providers become more efficient, and by making modern medical information easily accessible and relevant to the poor themselves. In Ghana, we have been working through our MOTECH initiative with the Ghana Health Service on a “Mobile Midwife” service that sends weekly messages to pregnant women and new mothers reminding them of appointments and providing health tips that reinforce advice from their local nurses. In addition, nurses can update their clients’ data on their mobile phones and access their records as needed. Since 2010, we have registered more than 11,000 pregnant women and families in the country’s remote Upper East Region.

Be sure to follow our coverage of the Mobile World Congress 2012 to learn more about how we can deliver products and services to poor, rural communities through the 4 billion phones that are already in developing countries and emerging markets.

The Value of Group Savings and Lending to the Poorest People

December 21, 2011

This is a guest post from Sudarshan Behera, Field Executive for our Livelihood Pathways for the Poorest project in Gaya, India.

Sugia Devi was a changed woman on November 7, 2011. She had just left the free cataract clinic in Bodhgaya in India’s northern state of Bihar and was grateful for her improved eyesight. She couldn’t wait to thank the people who had made it possible: the members of her adapted self-help group (ASHG).

Sugia Devi and her husband

Sugia Devi and her husband.

The group is part of Livelihood Pathways for the Poorest, a joint project of Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest group and BASIX/The Livelihood School that is designed to enhance the skills of the ultra-poor, link them to income-generating activities and build their savings habits.

Sugia lives in Khaneta village with her husband and her son, and his family. When she first heard about the ASHG in August, her husband did not want her to join the program because of mistrust and a lack of understanding about the benefits of participation. She persisted and began attending meetings and saving a small amount each week. Starting with an initial deposit of 10 rupees (about 2 cents), by November she had saved 130 rupees (about $2.40). But it still wasn’t enough to pay her fare to get to the free clinic in Bodhgaya some 30 kilometres (19 miles) away.

That’s when Sugia turned to the members of her ASHG. In addition to providing a safe place to save, the groups also provide its members with quick access to short-term loans. Sugia’s group members approved her loan of 100 rupees, enabling her to cover her transportation costs for her operation.

Today, Sugia’s husband has a better appreciation for the value of the self-help groups, while she knows that her family can rely on the group when they need help. As her husband noted, before the ASHG, the family would have had to borrow from moneylenders who typically don’t lend less than 500 rupees (about $9), at very high interest rates.

Sugia has recovered from her operation, and now Friday – the day her ASHG meets – has a special importance in her life.

Lessons Learned from Mobile Technology for Community Health in Ghana

June 15, 2011

Sandra Fernandez is a Social Media Intern for Grameen Foundation.

Over nearly the last year, we’ve been piloting our Mobile Technology for Community Health, or MOTECH, initiative in the remote Upper East Region of Ghana.  MOTECH’s two key services – Mobile Midwife and Nurse Application – provide maternal health information via mobile phones to both pregnant parents and their community nurses in rural areas. The system was launched in July 2010, and we’ve experienced many successes ever since. As is expected with any new projects, it’s also been an intensive learning process. Here’s a short overview of some of the lessons we’ve learned.

Creating the content for the Mobile Midwife service was a fascinating process. We convened focus groups to test whether our messages were clear, effective and helpful – where, among other things, we learned that we needed to be sensitive about the accent and speed of the messages, as well as the “depth.”  Mobile Midwife users strongly preferred to hear messages from a voice that sounded like an experienced “auntie”– meaning a voice that wasn’t too formal or too casual, but wise and familiar. Using voices that users felt were trustworthy was a vital step in ensuring the effectiveness of our messages.

MOTECH’s Nurse Application – designed to help community health workers track patients’ needs and care – was originally meant to utilize the nurses’ personal phones. Yet we learned that over the long term, it was cheaper and more effective to provide participating nurses with low-cost, durable handsets that were pre-programmed with MOTECH forms for data entry. As such, we could avoid the considerably high text-messaging costs associated with personal mobiles, while experiencing an easier, more cohesive training process.

These are just a couple of the findings. We’ve learned a lot since July of last year, and expect to continue doing so in the coming months. We’ve recorded more than 150 MOTECH messages (even some in song!), and we’re currently working on a replication project in the Awutu Senya district of Ghana’s central region, to assess opportunities of expanding the MOTECH initiative nationally.

If you’d like to read more about our findings, we’ve recently prepared a report of lessons learned available for download.

It’s Gonna Be Ghana: Out in the Field

May 9, 2011

Lynda Barton is spending six months volunteering with MOTECH Ghana through Grameen Foundation’s global volunteer corps, Bankers without Borders. This is Part II of a two-part series. If you haven’t yet, you can read part 1.

I’m in my fourth week now and have had the opportunity to visit our field sites in the Upper East Region of Ghana to see Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative in action.  These are some of the most remote areas in Ghana, where MOTECH really makes a difference for expecting mothers.  We visited 12 facilities during my three days in the field, interviewing nurses and midwives at each location to collect their feedback regarding “Mobile Midwife,” the MOTECH mobile application that they have been using.

I was absolutely humbled by the dedication of these nurses and midwives and how they manage to work with so few resources available to them.  One of their greatest concerns is their fuel allotment for the month.  If they have too many follow-ups at patients’ homes for that month they run out of fuel and can’t afford to do more visits — not to mention the long hours they must put in to finish the paperwork that is required at the end of each month.  Most of these nurses and midwives work very long hours and weekends. MOTECH and the efficiencies it provides should help them in the future, if all of their client data can be uploaded electronically via the mobile phone application, because their paper registers will no longer be needed.

Woman in office

Lynda working in Grameen Foundation's Ghana office.

This project is amazing since no two days are the same and I’m able to contribute to so many different things. Day two in the field was mostly devoted to shooting video footage of expectant mothers who are using the Mobile Midwife application, asking them about their experience and how it has helped them so far during their pregnancy.  We interviewed one mother’s husband, who was impressed with the program and often listens to the voice messages his wife receives as part of the program. He especially likes the messages that tell her to eat meat and eggs, those that tell her not to carry heavy things, and the reminders for vaccinations and check-up appointments; he ensures that she never misses an appointment (for some, the distances to the clinic are significant, so this is not always an easy task).  It was so interesting to meet some of these ladies and their families and listen to them speaking in their local dialect.

Volunteering is not only an opportunity to broaden my horizons on a professional level.  It has also given me an opportunity to meet new people, see new places and learn about different cultures.  I’ve tried to do as much as possible — in and out of the office — and Ghana has impressed me with its welcoming people and interesting places to visit.  So far, I’ve managed to join a book club, meet new volunteers, make friends with other locals and expats, visit the Aburi Botanical Gardens, get to know a few restaurants and bars in Accra, and visit the Cape Coast and Kakum National Forest, to do the canopy walk.  I know there’s a lot more exciting work to come – stay tuned!

It’s Gonna Be Ghana: First Steps to Living the Dream

May 4, 2011

Lynda Barton is spending six months volunteering with MOTECH Ghana through Grameen Foundation’s global volunteer corps, Bankers without Borders.  This is Part I of a two-part series. 

It’s amazing to realize that you can completely change your life in fewer than 30 days when you have the passion and motivation to do so.  We often set our own limitations and roadblocks, but I think we can achieve anything we set our mind to.  We might just need some patience and flexibility along the way, but once you take that first brave step, a whole new world opens up to you.  Perhaps like many other volunteers, I found the first step difficult, but I have not looked back since.

Lynda in ghana

Lynda Barton is volunteering with MOTECH through Grameen Foundation's Bankers without Borders program.

For years I’ve been interested in healthcare and microfinance, and the potential benefits that such initiatives can bring to the developing world.  I’ve researched a number of organizations, in the hope of someday gaining first-hand knowledge by working with them in the field. Grameen Foundation really impressed me with its healthcare-related initiatives around the globe.

Given an incredible opportunity to help with one of Grameen Foundation’s projects in Ghana, I took a courageous step in January and requested a nine-month leave of absence from the pharmaceutical company I had worked for in Switzerland since 2000.  I was excited and terrified to take such a risk professionally, but I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing for me.  I also knew that that the experience I’d gain clearly outweighed the perceived risks.

I was in the Ghana office by March 9th learning about Grameen Foundation’s Mobile Technology for Community Health (MOTECH) initiative, which uses innovative mobile phone-based solutions to help provide healthcare access to pregnant and new mothers in rural communities in Ghana. It’s an exciting project and the team is very busy planning an expansion of  its pilot program, to eventually scale up to the national level (pending funding).

I’m still getting up to speed with the details, but have been learning about the applications they use to capture client health data, as well as learning about the system for alerting clients about upcoming vaccinations and check-ups.  The application/tool also delivers tips and useful health information to registered users. I feel very privileged to be helping this unique and talented group of people to accomplish such a sizeable task.  I was expecting the pace to be slower than the office environment I left in Basel, but people here are really motivated by the project, and are often in the office beyond their scheduled workday.

Only two weeks into the assignment, I had the privilege of meeting the President and CEO of Grameen Foundation, Alex Counts, who visited our site to see our work first-hand.  He was accompanied by David Edelstein, Director of the Grameen Foundation Technology Center, and Robyn MacIntire, Grameen Foundation’s Regional Director of Development.   It was a wonderful opportunity for our entire team to meet these individuals and to learn more about the vision and passion that drives the company.  We were all very inspired by their visit.

Read Part II >>