Creating Usable Systems

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By: Julianne Parker, Young Champion of Maternal Health

This blog post was contributed by Julianne Parker , 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.

As Anna Dion wrote in her blog post last month, achieving sustainability in our work as Young Champions is a consistent challenge. From the day we arrived at our Fellows’ organizations, we knew we would be here in a temporary setting. We would be leaving in June and any projects that we instigated would have to be carried on by someone else when we left.

Just as Anna mentioned funding challenges in her own organization, at Lua Nova, ensuring sustainability for the therapeutic program and maternal health curriculum I have been conducting here rests on an uncertain human resource situation.  As with many NGOs, Lua Nova relies heavily on short-term partnerships, collaborations, and internships for the staff to continue its programming. It’s an innovative way to keep programs active even during potential ebbs and flows in resources. However, it makes it difficult for programs to have any sense of longevity: new staff have to relearn the methods and mistakes that previous staff mastered o​ver time, and in many instances there is a cyclical rather than linear pattern of progression for the organization. The same mistakes are made, and the same programs are designed and redesigned over and over again.

This situation at Lua Nova is not unique, and mastering these systems of heavy staff turnover while still promoting sustainable programs that build on previous lessons learned and consistently improve the level of efficacy is critical as we all move forward with our work. It is unlikely that any of us will stay and work in one location for the rest of our lives. In designing projects to improve maternal health that have as wide an impact as possible, we will consistently be making local partners, sharing innovation and program concepts with them, and then letting those partners take over the implementation process as we move on. It can be a scary process, especially if we are leaving the program in somewhat uncertain hands, but it is up to every community to improve the situation of its mothers, and it is the ultimate empowering process to place this responsibility directly in the community’s hands!

I’m fully engaging in this process now, trying to ensure that the curriculum I have created for Lua Nova does not end once I’ve left Brazil – that it can be effective in the long run and reach as many moms as possible. The fact that the curriculum exists in a host of entertaining didactic materials will help immensely – it is easier to engage with a comic book than an excel spreadsheet! The key is to make projects usable, interactive, and adaptable enough to ever shifting environments. Residents at Lua Nova will change, the educators will come and go, but as long as some form of regular maternal health education continues for the moms as they live in the recovery shelter, the success of Lua Nova will only continue to flourish.