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The Heart of the Work: Why mHealth Initiative Linda Mtoto Relies On Volunteers

Lisa Jones | February 5, 2016

How far can tech solutions to social challenges go?

“To the ‘last mile’ rural communities,” says Isaac Gogo, founder of Kenya-based mobile health initiative Linda Mtoto.

“But technology can’t go anywhere without the help of people.”

For Isaac, those people are his dedicated team of 23 volunteers and counting.

A proud father of a one-year-old boy, Isaac was disturbed by maternal and infant deaths resulting from preventable complications. In Kenya, roughly 7 million children under the age of five die each year from diseases that could have been prevented. Half of these preventable deaths occur within a month of a child's birth.

Knowing that most mothers living in rural regions struggle to travel to clinics for frequent care, Isaac decided to meet them where they are—on their mobile phones. With a team of medical experts, he developed weekly SMS updates that provide expectant mothers with vaccination schedules, healthy eating tips, reminders on when to take medications, and alerts for upcoming doctor visits. He named the initiative Linda Mtoto, a Swahili phrase meaning "save a child."

In this video, Isaac explains why volunteers are integral to the function of his tech-based organization. They are responsible for visiting communities, building a trusting relationship with women, and identifying families most in need of Linda Mtoto’s services. Volunteers collect key information, such as mobile phone numbers, and help determine due dates, which are critical to aligning the automated text messages with a woman’s current stage of pregnancy.

These volunteers are the faces and voices of an initiative that otherwise could seem impersonal, conducting its work from a distance through black and white characters on a screen. Returning often to the same rural communities, volunteers follow up with families to ensure infants continue to grow into healthy toddlers, and mothers continue to practice the same care with future pregnancies. They cheer women on, becoming allies as mothers navigate potential social backlash for relying on modern healthcare.

Today, Isaac and his team have worked with 30 rural hospitals to develop a database of 2,500+ mothers with young children. In participating communities, the number of women giving birth in health facilities rose from 28% to 63% and more than 70% of women are attending all critical pregnancy and infant health appointments. Isaac believes his volunteers are a driving force behind Linda Mtoto’s exciting progress.

“While some may think they are just volunteering for leisure,” he explains, “the work they do is very important. They change lives in the communities. This we can attest to.”

Learn more about how young social entrepreneurs are redefining the role of volunteers in these videos.

Click to Tweet: #mHealth initiative Linda Mtoto proves that #TechforDev ventures need #volunteers too! http://bit.ly/1Qilorm

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Isaac Gogo