This blog post was contributed by Onikepe Owolabi, one of the fifteen Young Champions of Maternal Health chosen by Ashoka and the Maternal Health Task Force at EngenderHealth. She will be blogging about her experience every month, and you can learn more about her, the other Young Champions, and the program here.
I woke up every day in April waiting for something……many things, actually, and treasuring every moment of work at SNEHA because it felt so close to the end. I spent a great deal of my work hours looking through work I’d completed, thinking of what I’ve learned, putting the information together, and asking how else it could feed into the community work we’re doing and planning to do. The plans for the community resource center trial are evolving nicely and learning about the possibilities for the design of the intervention has been immensely exciting. At the same time, the sustainability plan for the project and community resource centers is taking off slowly but steadily. While we’re making sure the initial approach is practical enough to sustain the up-drive for maternal health in the community, it can be the foundation for so much more, and I hope and dream it will become a practical social model. Social enterprises have actually been the subject of so many of my conversations this month. I’ve had extensive discussions with my friends – Minal who works with another Ashoka Fellow’s organization, Drishtee, in Delhi, and Sheila who is also SNEHA’s monitoring and evaluation consultant – on how to combine impact with financial sustainability for maternal health. Indeed, I have spent much time thinking about this especially with the comprehensive Ashoka Future Forum pre-work.
What happened at the end of April? The wait was well worth it!
The funding proposal I worked on with my supervisor was approved, and we received a grant for our project on enhancing outreach on maternal health to slums and facilitating a community-based monitoring system of public health facilities. The monitoring and evaluation training I was excited about happened in good time. On the same day I was learning about something I love, I got an email telling me I had funding to go to my dream graduate school! This also meant that I would possibly be close to Julianne Parker, my friend and fellow Young Champion. I finally landed in Ghana on the 1st of May for the Future Forum, and thanks to Ashoka, had the opportunity to see all my friends again and meet some of the most inspiring maternal health experts, including Fred Sai, whose autobiography I have my head buried in and I am completely in love with. In addition, I have some real answers to many of my questions about social enterprises and have received additional skills which will help me tremendously in my career in maternal health. I can say conclusively that this month, all my expectations were exceeded and the lessons I have learned have surpassed what I expected or even hoped for.
Sometimes I wish I could put every second of April in a bottle, distill it and keep the scent for the rest of my life. And even though I literally can’t do that, the things I’ve learned in the past 30 days- the history and the field experiences of my mentors and colleagues will help me make change in the lives of millions of women around the world.