Nearly every morning, I am at my desk before the sun rises, talking via video conference with my clients across the world from my home base on an island near Seattle. This service is usually clear and reliable, allowing me to see my clients face-to-face. It’s efficient and pleasant for both of us as we have immediate access to our files and ledgers, and once the meeting is over, it’s a quick disconnect and we’re on to the next meeting.
But what is not there, is a real sense of place. When you are working with an international client or partnership, there is a limit to what you can do from afar, and the connections you can make. I have to rely on the person on the other screen to relay stories and data. I hear about experiences, but I don’t have them. Because of my decades of experience, I can understand and extrapolate, but I’m not there to share the experience myself.
It is important to leverage travel to see clients and partners, build relationships, and understand the context. When we arrive in a client or partner’s home country, we feel the air, we see the town, we meet the local folks running the clinic, and we laugh with the kids checking us out.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to Malawi. Travel is nearly always an exercise in patience and this four-leg trip of Seattle – Paris – Nairobi – Lilongwe was a one for the books. Thanks to flight delays and missed connections, I stood in line after line after line, showing my visa, paying fees, and trying to keep myself upright and lucid after nearly 48 hours of travel. Finally, I arrived and was able to rest before meeting with my Malawian colleagues. For those of us who do global work, this is just one of many relatable stories of how un-glamorous travel can be. And nearly all of us know how important it is to make the trip.
On this most recent trip, I was in-country to work with a colleague to populate and test a tool Kati Collective has developed to help Ministry of Health officials assess what is needed to advance digital health. We were able to sit together in the same room, go over questions, look at the same files, and have a true back-and-forth dialogue regarding what they need in their environment.
When we are in the places we are working to support, we are forced to examine our assumptions and biases. It’s easy—and normal—to create an image or idea based on conversation and what you think you know. When I am in a health clinic and see the multiple single-use digital devices handed out by siloed projects, the six or eight (or sometimes more) patient registers that require repeated entering of patient names, hash marks, and notes, I can better understand the ramifications of adding another indicator on an M&E framework or recommending another digital tool. We see the pleased looks and hear the frustrated sighs of those on the front lines of the work. We see where our theories play out in unexpected ways when put into actual practice.
It’s not that the local community isn’t being upfront when we talk via email or video chat, it’s that they have a different take on their everyday life and processes, than you, as an outsider and sector expert, would have. You can’t get the full picture of the ecosystem until you sit in it with the service providers and recipients.
And whatever country you are in, you chase after busy government health officials who scurry from meeting to meeting with UN agencies and global funders, hoping to secure an hour to tell them about your work. But every minute is worth it. Each relationship is important to the overall goals and every assumption that is challenged makes the work better.
Our goal at Kati Collective is to get to know the actual people whom our strategies, organizational plans, and tools are affecting. We are always asking whether our ideas and assumed outcomes match up with their actual use and needs and whether our recommendations are adding value, not just workload. If the people we work with trust us and we truly understand them and their needs, we can continue to grow our relationship by digital means and together, as partners, reach the goals we’ve set out to accomplish for their community and for our world.
Image: Kirsten Gagnaire, Kati CEO, with Maganizo Manawe, a digital health expert at the Malawi Ministery of Health.
Last month, I joined 8,000 people from 165 countries in Vancouver, BC to participate in the Women Deliver 2019 Conference. Held only every three years, this four-day gathering is the world’s largest conference on gender equality, and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women.
The energy at this conference was palpable and illustrates the power of uniting across women’s issues. Inviting strategists, practitioners, and supporters into one space to coordinate efforts and create synergy among leaders and organizations reduces silos and increases opportunity for collaboration. Rather than separating out reproductive rights, maternal health, and gender equity – to name a few major areas of concern – these issues were all brought together at WD 2019 and examined.
Women are complex, multi-faceted humans who face a confluence of issues. Our response to these issues must address this complexity and be holistic in nature. Infant mortality, access to women’s healthcare, and the agency of adolescent girls are not discrete problems to solve. WD 2019 not only acknowledged and highlighted some of our most pressing collective issues, it pushed all of us to mobilize for change.
There is great power in engaging with a spectrum of women – all ages, orientations, cultural backgrounds – coming together to address systemic issues. At WD 2019, the voices of girls were amplified. Today’s young women are ready to serve and to lead their communities, and they accept no excuses for inaction. With advocates such as Natasha Wang Mwansa, Girls Be Heard, and the Young Leaders Program, this generation, backed by the experience and wisdom of the women who came before, will be agents of positive social and economic change for women.
And now, the conference has ended. The conversation continues in boardrooms, in health clinics, on email, and via social media. It’s time for the data and the conversation to lead to action.
Following the Women Deliver conference, I spent a week in Lilongwe, Malawi, where Kati Collective is working with the Global Financing Facility to provide support to the countries in their portfolio. The GFF, whose portfolio of countries has grown to 36, is a tangible way that funding is being targeted to the many health priorities for women and girls. As funders, such as Canada, make ever deeper investments in this work, definite and defined actions to effect change are becoming more and more possible.
Additionally, I’m impressed by the White Ribbon Alliance’s promise to not just listen to women’s needs and demands for quality reproductive and maternal health care (read their report What Women Want), but they have pledged to act upon them. Let’s all join them in that pledge.
We talked, we studied, we collected, we determined. Now, we deliver.
And we improve the world for women and girls.
Image: WD 2019 delegates from Deliver for Good, a global campaign that applies a gender lens to the Sustainable Development Goals and promotes 12 critical investments in girls and women to power progress for all. Photo: Suzanne Rushton.
Implementing digital solutions to human problems seems like a no-brainer in our connected age. Technology is powerful; it connects people worldwide, it offers innovative solutions to age-old issues, it simplifies situations. On the other side of every digital platform, however, is a human being who needs to relate to and operate it.
Disrupting the system is a popular catchphrase these days; implying that the system needs to be interrupted and upset in order to resettle into an improved form. Perhaps the system really could use a serious disruption, but on the receiving end, have we disrupted a person’s life in order to prove a tech point?
On June 10, the UN High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation released “The Age of Interdependence,” a report which advocates for improved digital cooperation and stability while concurrently developing human capacity and mitigating the risks. It’s encouraging to see that more than 2,000 people were met with to discuss inclusive development, data, human rights, and digital trust and security.
We must have empathy and understand the context in which the person on the ground will use the tool. No matter how elegant, helpful, or potentially life-changing, a tool will only work if a human being can use it without too much fuss and if it makes sense, given their particular context.
Questions to ask yourself before disrupting:
Here’s an example for you: As is typical in low-and middle-income country healthcare settings, staff at a local health clinic kept huge registry books of all patients to record what services and commodities were provided. There can easily by five to eight registers (or more) in just one clinic, each delineated by programs, such as ante- and post-natal care, HIV/AIDS, family planning, and immunization. Last year, during a data use assessment in Eastern Africa, I observed staff carefully entering each person’s details and treatment by hand although a new digital patient registration system had recently been implemented in this and a few other facilities. This system was supposed to eradicate the need for the manual registry as patients could be entered directly into a new digital platform and their records pulled up quickly.
However, the interface was in English, a language in which most community health workers were not fluent at the level required to navigate an interface requesting medical information, and many were not well trained in how to operate the new technology. It’s an all-too-common scenario where digital solutions that are not fully contextualized and/or don’t have a reasonable plan for scale and elimination of the paper entry system actually causes dual data entry. This does not ease the clinicians’ workload—it makes it more burdensome.
Digital systems and human implementation have to be coordinated, both on individual and larger community levels with a localized understanding of how the system interacts with other systems at play in the environment. And, there needs to be a clear, realistic, and funded plan for rolling out the digital system so it can replace—not duplicate—manual systems. Fragmented solutions are not enduring solutions; they do harm rather than help.
At Kati, we work with you to think through these issues before program implementation so that the chance of success and satisfaction is increased. We help our clients leverage digital to meet humanitarian needs. We are excited to see how the UN High-Level Panel works with partners to implement its recommendations. With every innovation, real people and communities are affected. Let’s work together to ensure that disruption isn’t disruptive, but instead leads to coordinated community action and improved outcomes for all.
Image: Healthcare workers at a clinic in Tanzania. Courtesy of Kirsten Gagnaire.
Giving birth is normal, natural, and, if you live in a low- and-middle- income country, potentially life-threatening. Day by day, woman by woman, Kati Collective works to improve this outcome.
In 2015, the global maternal mortality ratio stood at 216 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. By 2030, Goal #3 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals includes reducing this mortality rate by two-thirds.
The Maternity Foundation is one of the leading organizations working to reduce maternal and newborn mortality in LMICs by empowering skilled birth attendants (SBAs) to provide a safer birth for mothers and newborns everywhere. Their main digital focus has been the creation and dissemination of the Safe Delivery App, a smartphone app that provides SBAs with instant access to up-to-date clinical guidelines on emergency obstetric and neonatal care via easy-to-understand animated instruction videos, action cards, and drug lists.
Kati Collective spent six months working with the Maternity Foundation to facilitate their transition into becoming a scaled and sustainable capacity-building program to help their innovative approach to SBA training to exponentially more frontline health care workers in LMICs. This included partnering with MF staff and leadership to facilitate the identification of their value proposition, key audiences and costing model in a way that helped them feel connected and committed to the results. The resulting sustainability plan will help the Maternity Foundation grow and create a more robust program to support more women in more countries.
On May 22 at 3 pm, we will continue the conversation about this important work at Global Washington for a panel on “Mother, Baby, Provider: Completing the Triangle.” CEO Kirsten Gagnaire will moderate a panel of experts including Heidi Breeze-Harris, Executive Director, PRONTO International; Kathleen Davis, MD, Board of Directors, Worldwide Fistula Fund; and Susan Thompson, Director of Timor-Leste Programs, Health Alliance International.
We will be talking about creating safer birth environments and how improving the skills, training, and resources available to SBAs—who are often poorly paid and unappreciated—lowers maternal mortality rates in developing countries. If we are meet UN Sustainability Goal #3 by 2030, we need to keep talking, keep listening to women in LMICs, and create innovative methods, like the Safe Delivery App, to leverage digital technology for human benefit.
Register here if you would like to join us.