Women’s issues and how technology can save lives

  • 4,000 participants at Women Deliver conference joined by tens of thousands from all over the world via live-streaming and social media
  • Conference sees launch of +SocialGood, a new approach to global engagement that connects innovators
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives

IT is not unusual to see thousands of people from all over the world converging on Kuala Lumpur for an event, which is happening this week with the on-going Women Deliver 2013 global conference from May 28-30 that discusses the health and well-being of girls and women.
 
However, the 4,000 participants from 150 countries, including some of the world’s leading experts on these issues, are being joined by tens of thousands of people from all over the world who are sharing experiences, ideas and best practices via live-streaming and social media.
 
“Tonight, we’re making history because it’s the first time we’re making use of technology this – and it’s also the first time many of these issues are being discussed,” Aaron Sherinian, vice-president of communications and public relations at the United Nations Foundation, said on May 27 on the eve of the conference.
 
That evening saw the Women Deliver conference launch +SocialGood (with the Twitter hashtag #SocialGood), which its creators said was a new approach to global engagement that connects innovators around a shared vision: The power of technology and new media to make the world a better place.
 
Both an online hub and a toolkit for planning events year-round, +SocialGood invites community members around the globe to connect with each other and discuss how technology and social media can positively impact the issues they care about.
 
The idea came about last September at the Social Good Summit three-day conference, held annually during United Nations General Assembly Week in which people gathered in nearly 300 cities to discuss how to make progress on local and global challenges.
 
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives“This meeting produced unexpected results – it not only brought together people who may not have got to know each other, but more importantly, started dialogues around the world through social media that were crafting and catalysing change,” said Sherinian (pic).
 
“As soon as the summit was over, our phones started ringing; people were asking us: How can we engage our community? How can we engage through social media and new technologies to drive solutions?
 
“We’re meeting here tonight in this room, and all around the world through social media, to keep these issues on top of the world’s agenda,” he added. “We’re here tonight as part of what our friends at Mashable call ‘The Connected Generation’ – it’s not about your age as much as it is about the age in which we live.”
 
Sherinian said that +SocialGood was a long-term partnership between Women Deliver and Social Good Summit partners: The UN Development Programme, Mashable, 92nd Street Y (a nonprofit community and cultural centre), the United Nations Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. On May 27 itself, the Case Foundation added its support as well.
 
Through a mix of online conversations and real-world events, +SocialGood aims to support the global community of innovators, social entrepreneurs and thought leaders. Community members can use +SocialGood resources to host events ranging from Meetups in local communities to digital conversations connected with major events such as the World Economic Forum, SXSW, Women Deliver, or the G8.
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives 
The platform was launched by Esther Agbarakwe (pic), described as a “digital story teller, climate change and reproductive health activist” from Nigeria.
 
“Technology is the very fabric that connects us all together,” she said. “It’s what keeps us alive; it empowers us to make the right decisions about ourselves; and it allows us to hold our governments accountable as well.”
 
Malaysia, land of contrasts
 
While many Malaysians are still reeling from recent news that the deputy public prosecutor withdrew a rape case against a 40-year old man after he agreed to marry his 13-year-old victim, Kuala Lumpur (KL) was chosen to host the Women Deliver conference because of Malaysia’s otherwise good record on issues related to women and girls.
 
“It’s because of what Malaysia has done for girls and women,” said Jill Sheffield, president of Women Deliver.
 
“It’s an amazing story in the reduction of maternal mortality, from 590 per 100,000 live births or so just after its independence [in 1957] to 29 today! Malaysia did it in a way that was so smart and effective, and was willing to share with anyone who wanted to learn.
 
“It did by bringing health services to where the people were, making the services and people available where they were needed. I think the Malaysian Government deserves all the kudos it can get,” she said at one of the many panel discussions preceding the conference proper.
 
After public outrage over the aforementioned child rape case, Malaysia’s Attorney-General said the prosecution would proceed with statutory rape charges against the accused restaurant manager.
 
Sheffield’s fellow panelist Kathy Calvin, president and chief executive officer of the UN Foundation, concurred with her on how political will plays a major role in addressing women’s issues. “I think political will is critical, not just from governments but also from companies and people who can make a difference,” she said.
 
But a key part of the discussions on the evening of May 27 revolved around technology. Panel moderator Wong Mei Leng, the Malaysian editor of pregnancy and parenting website BabyCenter, noted that technology today seems to be taking decision-making away from traditional authority figures and putting it firmly in the hands of women and girls, and young people as a whole.
 
“What has been the response of governments and local communities, in your experience, to these changes,” she asked her two panelists.
 
“I find they’re very excited about this – they [women and young people] are doing half their work,” said Sheffield, adding that there were three technologies that were key here, the first being medical technology, while another was mobility.
 
“Mobile telephones have absolutely shortened the distance between the person and the health system, or the private sector acting on behalf of the health system,” she said.
 
“Mobile technology is only limited by our imagination – I think it can do amazing things in reaching out and sharing information; in asking for help; in making sure people have the medication they need; in getting to the clinics on time; and others.
 
“The third is social media – it’s just simply a phenomenon,” she said, adding that it has allowed young people to become part of this discussion in a serious way. “They’re ready, they’re willing, and they’re very able.”
 
The UN Foundation’s Calvin agreed that technology can make a massive difference when it comes to disseminating information and shortening distances. For example, the UN Foundation is using mobile phones to send health reminders to young mothers, and even to disseminate family planning messaging.
 
And social media is incredibly powerful. “Young people today don’t really trust institutions, so they’re taking charge [with new technology] to make changes,” she added.

Next page: The young take charge 
 

Women’s issues and how technology can save livesThe young take charge

A perfect example was Fungai Machirori, founder and managing editor of Her Zimbabwe, which describes itself as “a platform for women to share their views, discuss issues and carry out open debate about the things that affect them.”
 
The former journalist had been writing for newspapers in Zimbabwe since 2006, but the practice of censorship was beginning to stifle her. “I once wrote an article on male circumcision, and mentioned there was a penis involved, and it was changed to ‘male member.’
 
“That was a deal-breaker for me – if we can’t call things as they are, then what are we really doing?” she said.
 
So she decided to start blogging instead in 2009, and as more people followed her blog, she became more confident … and more controversial, which attracted an even larger readership as more people cottoned on to the fact that they weren’t the only ones feeling this way. More people started blogging too, on issues close to them. People were beginning to find their voice.
 
“At the end of 2011, I thought that we could continue in our own silos, or we could come together in a coordinated way and have a repository of different stories, and that’s where the idea of Her Zimbabwe came about,” said Machirori.
 
A large proportion of the panelists and moderators at Women Deliver indeed young people like her, and empowering youth and giving them a voice featured in many discussions.
 
Women’s issues and how technology can save livesMashable chief marketing officer Stacy Martinet (pic, left) moderated a panel discussion which featured a young woman suffering from HIV and another whose parents are both suffering from it too. She asked her two panelists a key question: “As youth is most important when you talk about the future, how do you get them engaged when you talk about something as scary as HIV?”
 
“By making them responsible for the issue as well,” said Humphrey Nabimanya (pic, right), team leader and founder of Reach a Hand Uganda, and a host of a live TV talk show called the Youth Voice Programme which allows people to call in to give their opinions and ask questions.
 
“You have to talk in a language youth can understand – about prosperity, hope and about the future. You do this by providing them with tools that empower them,” he said.
 
Nabimanya said that back in 2007, Facebook wasn’t very popular in Uganda, so his TV show used blogs when it first started, later getting on to the social network.
 
“In my TV programme, we bring up issues and we find much more participation when we combine the two media – the TV channel and new media like Facebook,” he said.
 
“We post an issue that the show will cover first on Facebook, and we will get 1,000 comments usually. Social media allows young people to feel free to express themselves without being judged, without being contradicted,” he added.
 
His fellow panelist Helena Nangombe (pice above, centre), from Advocates for Youth, agreed, saying that you get young people involved by using the tools and platforms they use, like social media.
 
“This way, you can get them excited because then they can see the way forward, they can see hope when people are not distanced by stigma and discrimination,” she added.
 
Corporate buy-in
Women’s issues and how technology can save lives
Nabimanya also said that another way to reach youth is to engage with the brands and companies that are popular with young people.
 
“In Uganda, we also involve the big corporations that are popular with young people, whether it is Coca Cola or Pepsi,” he said, adding that the message is this: Your market is young people, help us reach out to them.
 
It was such a private-public partnership that a speaker at another panel discussion credited with saving her future. Mary Ndandi said she was a beneficiary of the Global Give Back Circle, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Kenya that helps young girls, usually from disadvantaged backgrounds, make the transition from high school to university.
 
“There is a gap period between high school and university, from the time you finish high school and before the government places you in a university,” she said. “In Kenya, this gap can be as long as one and three-quarters of a year, and many young girls fall into other things, like an early marriage, during this time.”
 
“The Global Give Back Circle makes sure they don’t fall into the cracks,” she added.
 
The NGO has partnered with US technology giant Microsoft Corp to make sure these girls stay in school and do not go back home during this gap period.
 
Ndandi admitted that she almost fell into the cracks. “I was concerned and wanted to help my mum take care of my six siblings, but instead I entered the Microsoft Labs and took a nine-month course in ICT (Information and Communications Technology).
 
“Now, I can take on do basic jobs to help my mum,” she said, adding that Global Give Back Circle has a sustained programme to ensure that its beneficiaries can in turn become benefactors through mentoring and enablement.
 
Next page: How technology, old and new, is saving lives
 

Women’s issues and how technology can save livesTechnology can save lives
 
While new technologies such as social media can help galvanise people, sometimes it’s the old technologies that are most effective – if they can be reworked, at least.
 
Laura Stachel (pic), co-founder and executive director of We Care Solar, was an obstetrician who left to work with a hospital in Nigeria, where she saw more delivery complications in her first two weeks there than she had in two decades in the United States.
 
Part of it was because “women who deliver easily, deliver at home; the ones who come to the hospital have already suffered a severe complication of some kind,” she said.
 
But there were other issues as well. “Nigeria, like so many other African countries, rations electricity – you only get it 12 hours a day, and you’re never sure when it will hit you.
 
“People would come to our door bleeding to death, but because there was no electricity, there was no blood bank refrigerator. No lights in the operating room. We had to send so many people back to what I believe was their ultimate death.
 
“I felt that my skills as an obstetrician were completely useless. I realised that until we address the issue of some of the most basic infrastructure such as electricity, we really didn’t have the power to save lives,” she added.
 
According to We Care Solar, Stachel wrote to her husband Hal Aronson, a solar energy educator back in Berkeley, California. He designed an off-grid solar electric system and this led to an innovation the company calls the solar suitcase – a solar-power generator that can fit into a suitcase, that can bused in labour rooms and operating theatres, among other uses.
 
“It was using renewable energy and a technology we’ve had for years, but directing it specifically to maternal healthcare – something that can fit into a suitcase,” said Stachel, adding that the hospital she was working at managed to cut down its maternal mortality rate by 70% within the first year.
 
“It shows that if we can take the technologies that are already available, and direct them specifically at the most terrible problems we face – sometimes, the problems don’t need very difficult solutions; they just need a little bit of reworking,” she said.
 
Neelam Bhardwaj, health and nutrition specialist at Unicef Uganda, said hundreds of these solar stations would be deployed in that country.
 
“The Unicef office there has also developed what we call MobiStations, which contain online content that will be deployed with village health workers, and making use of solar power. We’ll be training women, including the women who’ve been treated, so that they can operate and run these health centres,” she added.
 
Unicef Uganda has introduced other innovations, Bhardwaj said, such as making available medical information within 48 hours to health workers, and has even converted oil-drums into information kiosks for young children who are out of school.
 
Women’s issues and how technology can save livesVisual and visceral
 
Another woman who was driven to make changes is Deborah Van Dyke (pic), director of the Global Health Media Project, who has worked in the underserved areas of the world for two decades.
 
“No mother or baby should die just because they lack access to basic knowledge and skills; yet they often do,” she said.
 
“Sometimes the very basics are missed, like the need to keep the baby warm after birth, giving fluids for diarrhea, recognizing pneumonia – there are so many unnecessary deaths in poor countries,” she added. “We can do better.”
 
A key point for Van Dyke came when she was in Afghanistan. She showed a group of health workers a short video on childbirth, and their excited reaction to seeing it being performed, virtually in front of them, was an ‘aha’ moment for her.
 
“Through their eyes, I realised the unique power of video to teach clinical practices,” she said. “I searched for more such videos, but found virtually none that were suitable for low-resource settings. There was a surprising gap.”
 
“I knew video could help clinical workers like no other method – it’s visual, step-by-step, cuts through literacy and language layers … and it makes it stick. That would be a game-changer,” she added.
 
So Van Dyke founded the Global Health Media Project to help bridge this knowledge gap. It plans 30 videos on newborn care, with 20 already completed.
 
“We create new media, video and animation that teach the basic practices and skills that we know will save lives. We reach providers all over the world, leveraging Internet and mobile technology,” she said.
 
“Access to health information that’s practical, easy to understand and easy to remember would be a breakthrough for health workers doing their best on the frontlines of care.
 
“Imagine the difference we could make if all health workers could see live examples of clinical signs and imagine if they had access to a whole library of essential skills and practices. Imagine also if parents had access to visual danger signs and brought their babies for care just in time.
 
“Video is crucial for that ‘aha’ effect that leads to change – imagine if we had tools for these ‘aha’ moments for so many other health issues,” she added.
 
The organisation’s videos are open access and easily viewed on mobile devices; in fact, Van Dyke said some companies are preloading them into video-capable mobile phones so that Internet access is not even necessary.
 
“Think about where this can take us in the next 10 years: Technology will enable us to reach health workers and families in all corners of the globe, with visual information when they need it, right at their fingertips.
 
“This is empowering, and life-saving,” she added.
 
Meanwhile, members of the +SocialGood community have already planned a number of events, such as:
 
G-Everyone: +SocialGood on the G8 -- A 24-hour digital convening that will unite local groups around the world to discuss the pressing issues addressed at the G8 Summit.
 
Global Nutrition +SocialGood: A Google+ Hangout about nutrition, global health and global development on June 3 (the first day of USAID’s Nutrition Week), featuring 1,000 Days and GAIN’s Future Fortified campaign.
 
Young Genius + Innovation Challenge  +Social Good: An event hosted by the Conrad Foundation highlighting students who “design with meaning” and create innovative solutions to social problems.
 
FHI 360 +Social Good: Thought leadership event giving a 360-degree perspective on connecting the world globally.
 
Devex +SocialGood: A convening for Barcelona's aid and NGO workers, consultants, techies, and others who want to discuss how the development landscape is changing in the face of decreased funding, and how the Barcelona development community can find new funding solutions.
 
Digital Diplomacy +SocialGood: The Digital Diplomats, an alliance of digital media strategists from over 100 Embassies who gather for a discussion around the role of digital media in taking diplomacy into the 21 century.
 
Fitness +SocialGood: An afternoon of inspiring presentations exploring the different ways that people use fitness to promote social good, hosted by Charity Miles.
 
Open Source K12 Education Hackathon +SocialGood: EDesign Lab, New Visions for Public Schools, CodeMontage, Developers for Good, and You (developer, creative technologist, educator) come together to address compelling K12 learning needs with technology.
 
Diaspora +SocialGood: The U.S. Department of State and the International diaspora Engagement Alliance (IdEA) promote a series of gatherings that explores the power of diaspora leaders and their communities to collaborate on solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
 
Youth+GlobalProsperity +SocialGood: The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) brings a conversation on International Youth Day to the world on how engaging youth is the essential ingredient to Global Prosperity.
 
DC+Youth +SocialGood: Vanguard Communications will host a SocialGood Hack; Washington, D.C. youth will be invited to participate in a 24-hour intense brainstorming and creation event to identify their biggest challenges, along with citywide solutions that we can explore collectively.
 
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