Balancing the Bicycle

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By: Seth Cochran, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Seth Cochran, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. He will be blogging about his experience every month, and you can learn more about him, the other Young Champions, and the program here.

Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle – to keep your balance you must keep moving.”

I have never been a poster boy for managing a good Work/Life balance. With a full-time commitment to my project with EHAS and a startup non-profit of my own with OperationOF, I am now facing the challenge of a Work/Work/Life balance. But when I accepted this Young Champion challenge, I expected to grow in unexpected ways.

I have to admit that the Life part of my Work/Life balance is typically my first sacrifice. Normally in a situation like this, I would learn just as much Spanish as necessary (if any) and live as close to work as possible.

Everyone here speaks great English, so necessity demands little. But learning Spanish has become important to me and I am devoting hours of every day studying its intricacies. I also did not choose the path of least resistance in the apartment search. But, being picky paid off. I found a little flat on top of a tall building. With panoramic views in every direction, my terrace is my new refuge. This wide-open, rooftop patio dumps Spain’s enchanting light on me and I honestly can’t get enough. I’m making every day a little longer just by refusing to miss a sunrise. Believe me, I need all the extra time I can get.

So how can I get the Work/Work done with Life demanding a bigger piece of the pie? I keep moving and try to make sure there is very little wasted motion. It helps that my work with EHAS is contributing to my effort with OperationOF and vice versa. This synergy is driving my growing knowledge not only of maternal health, but also of how I can apply old skills in new ways.

For example, in my first month with EHAS, I did a fair amount of research on telemedicine and ICT (information and communication technologies) for health. This definitely sharpened my research skills and helped me orient myself around the various peer-reviewed resources available. These research skills found immediate use in the investigation of new approaches to preventing obstructed labor and obstetric fistula for an international consultation.

As a member of the Prevention sub-committee in the Société Internationale d’Urologie (SIU) consultation on obstetric fistula, I had the opportunity to present research at the SIU meeting in Marrakesh. My new research skills helped me discover new mechanisms to potentially prevent maternal death. Presenting the findings at the Marrakesh meeting also gave me the opportunity to see one of the world’s leading fistula surgeons: Dr. Steve Arrowsmith. I convinced this thought leader to join OperationOF’s surgical advisory board. So my work with EHAS is not only growing my technical skills, but also helping me strengthen my organization.

I am also finding new ways to apply my old private sector skills in my work with EHAS. When I worked in the private equity industry, the application of business development and finance skills translated ideas into profit. As part of my role, I have assisted Andres and Carlos Rey, a member of the EHAS team with broad ICT knowledge, to develop social business strategies for EHAS as part of the Ashoka/Siemens Foundation Social Business Development Group. The strategy sessions and financial forecasting we did this month felt very similar to private sector work, except we sought profit in the form of improved health outcomes. Andres presented the high level strategy at a meeting in Munich and we are now digging deeper into several elements of the plan as well as focusing efforts on maternal and newborn child health.

The breadth of my efforts in this Young Champion experience is most definitely fueling my growth as a maternal health innovator, but I am also growing from interaction with my Young Champion peers. Anna Dion and I are adapting a business planning structure. Martha Fikre Adenew and I are developing a collaboration plan to synergize our project ideas. Ifeyinwa Egwaoje and I have discussed how to reduce volunteer attrition and increase participation. Yeabsira Mehari, who also works on obstetric fistula, has shared a great deal of her experiences and ideas with me. There is truly cross-pollination on every level and in every dimension.

I love how Einstein implied that balance lives in motion. I am “moving” more than I can remember, but am finding incredible balance amidst the flurry of Young Champion experiences. I can’t wait to see where this “bicycle” will take me next.