Saving Mothers and Babies: Social Venture Maternal Health Challenge

PROVO, Utah – Jan 31, 2019 – In February 2018, the World Health Organization reported that more than 800 women die worldwide every day due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Students who participate in the Social Venture Maternal Health Challenge propose technology-related solutions to lower the mortality rate for pregnant mothers.

In the past, the challenge has been limited to vulnerable populations in underdeveloped countries. This year, participants can target vulnerable populations in first-world countries as well, such as Native American reservations in the United States.

“The United States actually has the highest maternal mortality rate of all the developed countries,” says Naomi Rhondeau, student program director.

Previously the Social Venture Maternal Health Challenge fell under the umbrella of the Y-Prize competition department of the Ballard Center at BYU. Today, the challenge is one of three social venture challenges. Rather than having first-, second-, and third-prize winners, the challenge creates a situation where students aren’t competing against each other. Instead, they are proposing a 'best venture,” and every student who meets the criteria is eligible to move forward with implementation.

Students also aren’t limited to partnering with existing organizations; now they can come up with their own solutions to decrease maternal mortality. If student teams meet the necessary benchmarks for their ventures, they are awarded $24,000 to implement their idea.

The challenge consists of two parts: During the first part, students prepare a ten-page proposal that is submitted to judges during the fall semester. During part two, students participate in sin-person presentations of their solutions to a panel of judges. Once the in-person judging is complete and judges determine the teams that have met the requirements, students can then travel to their countries of choice.

In 2017, two teams met the venture benchmarks and partnered with Care for Life, a nonprofit in Mozambique that focuses on alleviating poverty for families, and Ghana Health Services in Ghana. The teams were awarded grants and traveled to the two countries to implement their solutions.

“We worked closely with community healthcare workers every day in Ghana,” says Rhondeau. “It’s not about going to make an intervention, it’s about working alongside community leaders who locals already know and respect. We were able to implement what we had been planning for months and find friendships that were cross-cultural and cross-generational.”

Rhondeau’s team has plans to return at some point during 2019 to measure the impact and sustainability of their solution. Her team is currently monitoring the program they implemented, which involves Medic Mobile, an SMS text reminder system that connects community health workers and expectant mothers. “If our solution isn’t what the people need, then we will pivot to find a solution that will work for them,” says Rhondeau.

Rhondeau advises students who are considering participating in the challenge not to feel intimidated or limited. It’s easy for students to think that this challenge is reserved for public health or business students, but it is open to students from all disciplines, she says. Plenty of freedom and creativity exist within the requirements of the challenge.

For Rhondeau, the most meaningful part of the challenge was taking her team’s ideas to the people themselves. “When you meet people, it puts a story to a name,” Rhondeau says. “We got to hold a baby who was eight hours old. We met a mother whose one-year-old baby had just died. You meet real people and realize that these solutions are for people just like us; they are just living under different circumstances.”

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Saving Babies and Mothers
Social Venture Maternal Health Challenge participant Naomi Rhondeau holds a newborn baby in Ghana.

Media Contact: Alicia Gettys (801) 422-9009
Writer: Heidi Phelon