On 15 November 2016, the UNICEF Innovation Fund announces its first portfolio of investments in open source technology solutions – Rah-e-maa, from the Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab at the Information Technology University is among the first five companies to receive investment.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in technology start-ups from developing markets that are working on open source solutions to improve children’s lives. The Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions in emergency and epidemic response, transport & delivery, identity, finance, learning, personal data and related fields.
Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org for more information – including real-time data – on each investment.
Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) at the Information Technology University: Developing Rah-e-maa
By: Faran Sikandar, Kim Chatterjee, Sacha Ahmad, Claudine Chen
How would you describe your solution to a child?
When fathers call our hotline, a voice named Dr. Saba will answer and teach them how to care for their wives during pregnancy and the delivery. Dr. Saba tells dads important information that can help keep the mother and baby safe and healthy. This can include what food a mom needs to eat when she is pregnant, and what the possible costs are a family might have during the delivery. Callers can also listen to other fathers share stories about when their babies were born so they can learn from those experiences.
We believe that fathers are not currently part of the conversations around maternal care. Lack of information makes it harder for fathers to make informed decisions and provide necessary support. We aim to bridge that information gap between fathers and doctors through educating men in Pakistan about maternal health in this way.
What is unique about your solution?
Many programs targeted at reducing maternal mortality focus on women and few consider the role of expecting fathers. In Pakistan, men often decide whether or not to access healthcare and how to pay for it, yet they are least involved in pregnancy because it’s considered taboo. So while they are the decision-makers, the fathers are not expected to know what is best for their wives – it’s the woman’s role. Rah-e-maa tries to involve the fathers more during the pregnancy, and at a deeper level, tries to bring families on the same page about maternal and women’s health in general.
What inspired you to start your company?
Rah-e-maa is a group of professionals from four continents and diverse backgrounds: a public health practitioner, software engineer, designer, economist, social entrepreneur, and data scientist. We came together at the 2016 International Design Development Summit in Lahore where we were tasked with finding a workable ICT solution to reduce maternal mortality. To the kindred spirits this wasn’t an academic exercise – this would go on to change their career paths, the life choices they would make, and the specializations that would hold meaning for them. Rah-e-maa is hosted by the Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) at the Information Technology University.
How does your solution help accelerate results and improve the lives of the world’s most vulnerable children? How did you come up with your solution?
The most vulnerable children belong to the lowest income groups and by association, the lowest literate groups. We wanted our ICT to be attainable to as many people who might benefit from it as possible. Since cell phone penetration was at 79% in 2015 in Pakistan and is on the rise, we chose an IVR (interactive voice response) system as our medium.
We met with healthcare providers and it was clear that their most desperate wish was that patients and their families be educated on what care needs to be afforded to mothers during the pregnancy and delivery. We saw a gap in the education of fathers, so we are informing fathers using a hotline.
How will the investment from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund help you?
It is our most sincere wish that the hotline becomes a seminal source of information for fathers and the information translates into behavior change and results in improved health outcomes. The UNICEF Innovation Fund will help us design and test the receptiveness of the hotline on our population and will get us to the next phase of our project: impact evaluation.
Looking for seed funding for your open source tech startup? Check out www.unicefinnovationfund.org to find out more about the process and to make a submission by 1 Jan 2017.