In late August, VillageReach welcomed a team of Wharton Business School students to work on a short-term pro bono consulting project, aiming to develop a diversification strategy for VillageReach in Mozambique. Although the team spent only nine days on the ground in Maputo, the project had been months in the making, starting with an initial dialogue between Ruth Bechtel, the Mozambique Country Director, and Wharton team leader Joelle Birge back in fall 2015. Coming from a variety of backgrounds, these four students were inspired to travel to Mozambique by their common interest in international development and global health. Joelle describes the work this team accomplished:
Project planning began with a series of calls between VillageReach and the Wharton team to refine the project scope and map out work plans and deliverables. Together with VillageReach, we decided that one of the best ways to leverage the team’s time in Maputo would be conducting interviews with public health stakeholders to gain an outside-in perspective on current areas of need and opportunity. Over the course of the spring and early summer, we conducted research on donors, NGOs and government organizations operating in Mozambique public health and used this research to work with VillageReach on defining a list of priority stakeholders to interview. This interview list served as the jumping off point for structuring the our on-the-ground work in Maputo.
Once our team arrived in Maputo on August 22, we got straight to work on a packed and growing schedule of meetings. We conducted interviews with a number of public and private donors, NGOs and government organizations, including UNICEF, CDC, UNFPA, USAID, Save the Children, Embassy of Ireland, NAIMA, World Vision, CMAM and more. Each meeting focused on discussing areas of greatest need in Mozambique public health, opportunities to address these needs, perceptions of VillageReach strengths, and logistical details such as funding, timelines and partnerships. Throughout the interviewing process, we were joined by former VillageReach Malawi Country Director Barbara Singer, who helped to provide detail on VillageReach’s Malawi projects. In between meetings, we met with VillageReach employees to learn more about current projects such as SELV, mVaccination and the transportation partnership with Medecins Sans Frontiers. Each conversation brought us one step closer to weaving together various recurring themes and ideas into a set of cohesive recommendations.
In addition to conducting interviews, we also had the opportunity to visit a community health facility in Boane and the provincial health center in Matola. These visits helped bring to life some of the challenges which interviewees had described: long lines in the maternal and child health ward, mothers clutching their children’s paper vaccination records, stacks of binders holding several years of patient health data.
It was incredibly interesting and valuable to witness firsthand some of the issues facing Mozambique’s community health facilities and to envision how VillageReach can help address these difficulties.
At the end of a short yet enriching nine days in Maputo, we delivered a diversification strategy report: suggestions to VillageReach about potential future projects and recommendations of how they might move forward. From our interviews and research, we identified recurring themes around areas of greatest need in the Mozambique public health system. Taking a high-level look at these needs helped us create a list of projects VillageReach could consider working on in the future. We took our recommendations one step further, using five key criteria to rank these ideas. We looked at the urgency of the unmet need, how well it fit with VillageReach strategy, VillageReach’s experience and capacity to work on the idea, potential partners and funding sources, and how interested the Ministry of Health was. These were all used to help VillageReach identify short, medium, and long-term areas of potential impact. Finally, our report provided some perspective on the current economic situation in Mozambique, and how this might impact funding of these potential projects.
Overall, it was an incredibly enriching and valuable experience for everyone involved. We very much enjoyed our time in Mozambique and look forward to seeing some of their work put into action as VillageReach continues to grow and expand.