Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reverse Innovation in mHealth: Interview with Kirsten Gagnaire of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

I recently interviewed Kirsten Gagnaire, Global Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). MAMA is a public-private partnership that provides relevant information to pregnant women and local healthcare workers  text and voice messages. 

MAMA credits its success- reaching 530,000 mothers in 60 countries- with a focus on local relevance and rapid prototyping. "We don't just translate- we localise the content and target local myths. We look at the literacy rate and the level of comfort with technology," says Gagnaire. MAMA relies heavily on focus groups, bringing in the whole spectrum of healthcare stakeholders into early conversations - from community health providers to public health officials in the government. Once there is alignment among healthcare workers, the information is tested in focus groups with the target audience. In these focus groups, MAMA tests variables such as content, tone of voice, and even background noises to understand what resonates best with local women in the target demographic. MAMA experiments with multiple iterations and continuously updates its messaging.

MAMA's emphasis local relevance stems from Gagnaire's time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. She saw a number of agricultural machines rusting on the side of the road. These machines were donated to the local population but because local skills could not service the machines and replacement parts were not locally available, the machines were left to rust. The technology provided was not appropriate for the local context. Gagnaire has applied this lesson to MAMA by focusing on programmes that are available no matter what the handset and creating content that is relevant to the local context.

Gagnaire emphasises the importance of partnerships in her work. “Work that blends technology, behavior change, and long term sustainability is too big for one entity to do alone.” She acknowledges the challenges of finding the right partners for complex initiatives. Gagnaire encourages organisations to understand their strengths and contribute their core competencies. She also suggests guiding partnership decisions by asking, "Who else cares if this succeeds? Who else has a stake in this? How can we effectively monetise this?" 

As MAMA moves forward, partnerships will be key to its growth. MAMA is compiling an affiliate programmes offering, expanding to Nigeria, and focusing on the ways that MAMA could provide complimentary services to  adolescent girls and mothers with young children. It is exploring a partnership opportunity with Sesame Street to provide joint messaging for families. 

MAMA is also focusing on partnerships that financially sustain the organisation. It is exploring the viability of mobile advertising and considering offering mobile financial services through banks. One opportunity in the financial services space would be an mSavings scheme to help women save for birth-related costs, such as transportation to a healthcare provider and birth assistance.

As mobile penetration around the world increases, MAMA will certainly be an organisation to watch. 

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