Building on a Good Thing: Old Phones Help New Lives


Founder, Every Mother Counts

Million Moms Challenge Partner

When I set out to make the documentary NO WOMAN, NO CRY, my hope was that once more people knew the facts and saw the women behind the shocking global statistics, they would ask, “what can I do?” I had asked myself this very same question when I learned that hundreds of thousands of women die needlessly each year around the world from pregnancy and childbirth-related complications. For me, the part that inspired me to take action was learning that almost all of these deaths are preventable. In fact, 90 percent of them!

I realized that there was tremendous potential to make a difference simply by sharing these stories with my friends and then figuring out how we together could contribute in a meaningful way to a global movement that could make a lasting impact for vulnerable families.

I founded to build a movement of support around maternal, newborn and child health.  Every Mother Counts is an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase support for maternal and child health.  Every Mother Counts seeks to engage new audiences to better understand the challenges and the solutions while encouraging them to take action to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide. The keystone of the campaign is,an interactive platform providing the tools to raise awareness, education, and action.

Last spring, to commemorate Mother’s Day and the television premiere of NO WOMAN, NO CRY on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), we kicked off a campaign called “Count Me In!” which was designed to give people different ways to get involved in addressing some of the major barriers to maternal health. One of those barriers of course is communication—being able to link health workers better through cell phones so that they can extend their own capacity to serve women in need. Our friends at ABC put us in touch with Hope Phones and we immediately jumped on the potential to collaborate. Hope Phones is a fantastic organization that collects the cell phones we no longer use, recycles them and then uses the resources generated through recycling them to purchase phones on the local market for health workers.

The average donated phone will generate two to three phones that can be used in the field, while smart phones can yield between five and ten phones. They also upload the software needed so that once those phones are in the hands of healthcare workers, they can better communicate back to the clinic and even upload information from the field.

Hope Phones was already extending their support to several corners of the world so we asked if we could identify a project to work on that would specifically address maternal health. Not only were they open to this idea but they embraced it wholeheartedly. They identified a clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has a very high rate of maternal deaths, and set a goal of collecting 10,000 phones through our campaign.

They’ve tweaked their own model to look at how phones can help prevent maternal and newborn deaths. The program trains and equips mothers, families, communities and community health workers to ensure skilled attendants attend births, track high-risk pregnancies, and gets mothers with complications to emergency medical care within the critical first two hours after birth.

Since we started this spring, Every Mother Counts supporters have exceeded our initial target and have collected 15,000 cell phones. This partnership has been a tremendous success but the needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo are vast. CARE estimates that for every 100,000 live births, 1,100 women die. There are more clinics nearby in need and if we expand on the collection we’ve already assembled, we can reach more women and save more lives.

That’s why I’m so excited to be heading back to DC today. This week the students of George Washington University (GWU) are joining our effort. I’ll be visiting the campus along with Chelsea Clinton and Juju Change to help kick off ”GW Phones for Hope” in an effort to collect 20,000 used cell phones by March 2012. These phones will help us further address the needs in the Democratic Republic of Congo and will also be used to start a new project with Hope Phones in Nepal. From what I hear, the students are already making a huge difference. I’m excited to see what we can do with 20,000 more phones and hope that their commitment inspires other universities around the country to follow suit. More proof that together, we CAN make a difference.

For more info on the Every Mother Counts and Hope Phones campaign, click here.

For more info on the GW + Phones = Hope Kick-Off Collection Day Rally, click here.