September 26, 2014

Impact + The Power of Mobile

Written by Kirsten Gagnaire, Executive Director, Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

Every year as the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York, it’s an opportunity for those working alongside the UN to address the world’s most pressing challenges to come together and find ways to both assess our work and move it forward. This year, through all the partner meetings, workshops and other events, one thing is clear: the power of mobile technology and public/private partnerships to advance our collective goals are being recognized and leveraged.

My conversations with host country government representatives revealed a growing acknowledgement that mobile phones are nearly ubiquitous at all levels of society. They also are increasingly making the connection that mobile phones can help governments connect with their citizens. Perhaps what is most exciting is greater recognition that programs like MAMA, which provide targeted and substantive health information, have the ability to generate demand for services and innovations – like those showcased at an Every Woman, Every Child innovation luncheon – that can improve the health and lives of women and children.

Time spent with corporate partners this week has shown that mobile tech and cross-sector collaborations are an increasingly important part of their overall strategy. As we’ve seen with our founding partner, Johnson & Johnson, corporations want to engage beyond just funding, and find ways to leverage their organizational skills and assets in ways that promote health and well-being in the markets where they work. An important way for them to do this is through partnerships that leverage technology.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has been catalytic for public/private partnerships and technology, and they continue to be an integral part of their strategy. This week I participated in discussion with USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, and Bollywood star and hand washing ambassador Kajol, on the “Help a Child Reach 5:  Scaling Up Hygiene Programs for Newborn Survival” roundtable. While once a novel idea, it is becoming more accepted that mobile technology is a critical tool in the promotion of something as low-tech as hand washing, and that together we can bring about transformative change. During the roundtable, Shah exuded that for the first time it was possible to imagine a world where no child died from preventable causes, and that it is only possible because of the power of partnerships.

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Here at MAMA, we’ve seen firsthand the powerful role that mobile technology and cross sector partnerships can play in generating demand for health services and catalyzing behavior change through nationally scaled programs. As we mature and find more solid footing, it is exciting to see others on the path with us, knowing that we are better together than alone.