Thoughts from the Last Mile Welcome to the VillageReach Blog

Category Archives: Funding

11.23 2011

In 2012, we expect to increase the number of our initiatives, adding to existing programs that are continuing from 2011. Financial support goes to helping us further develop our expertise in improving access to quality healthcare for remote, underserved communities by investing in research and development, collaborating with new partners, and conducting programs.

VillageReach’s initiatives are funded by a combination of individual donations, foundations, and similarly focused technical organizations in the global health community. All of our supporters share a common goal: to improve the capacity of health systems in developing countries in order to serve the millions of underserved.

In 2012, VillageReach’s goal is to raise $950,000 to support a total organizational budget of $3.16M. Contributions we receive will enable us to continue achieving impact in our current programs, and help us develop additional expertise and expand our work into new programmatic initiatives. Contributions received will be applied across our various initiatives, covering both direct and indirect costs.

Following is a summary of the scope and support of these initiatives. If you prefer to download this update, visit here.

PROGRAM INITIATIVES –

Malawi: Community-Level Health System Strengthening Program
2012 Budget: $408,000

VillageReach has been working at the district level in Malawi since 2008 to improve the health of children less than five years of age by decreasing childhood illness and mortality in the southern region of Malawi. The focus of the program is to strengthen the health system at the community and health center levels by supporting community health workers, implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce malaria and diarrheal diseases, supporting immunization and other preventative health programs, implementing community-based treatment programs, and improving communication between community health workers and health centers. The majority of this program is supported by a single anonymous funder, who provided initial support in 2008 and has continued supporting the program in subsequent years. For more information on this program, visit here.

Malawi: ICT to Improve Health Services for Mothers and Children Program
2012 Budget: $450,000

We are entering the second year of a multi-year program to increase access to maternal, newborn and child health (MNCH) services by developing an integrated set of information and communications services. The program includes a toll‐free case management hotline for maternal and child health advice and referral, and uses mobile phones to send personalized voice and SMS health messages to women regarding their pregnancy and the health needs of their children. VillageReach is also working with the ministry of health to test a facility‐based scheduling system for antenatal and postnatal care in order to reduce wait times and improve health center readiness for maternal and neonatal health. This project is supported primarily through an agreement with an international nongovernmental organization. For more information on this program, visit here.

Mozambique: Dedicated Logistics System Program
2012 Budget*: $1,400,000

VillageReach is engaged in a multi-year program to improve the performance of the health system in Mozambique, focusing on rural communities that represent over 60% of the country’s population. The program, started in January 2010 and run in partnership with the Mozambique Ministry of Health (MISAU), aims to reduce vaccine preventable diseases and improve health system performance by implementing dedicated distribution channels for vaccines and other medical commodities to community health centers. The program is expected to cover eight of ten provinces, with more than 12 million people served. The focus of the program in 2012 is in achieving results for four provinces. Opportunities for expanding into additional provinces will be evaluated in mid-2012. The program is supported by both individual donations and private foundations. For more on this program, visit here.

(Note: this program is expected to extend to 2014 at a minimum. The current estimated program budget is $5.6M, with a current funding gap of $3.05M.)

STRATEGIC INITIATIVES –

VillageReach seeks opportunities to improve its technical capabilities and capacity to strengthen health systems in order to improve the health for rural, underserved communities.

mScan Project: Digitizing Paper‐Based Data Via Mobile Image Technologies
2012 Budget: $105,000

We are working with the University of Washington Computer Science and Engineering Department to develop and test mScan, an android-based mobile phone application. The research is evaluating the potential to automate and make more efficient the collection of data in low‐resource field environments by digitizing paper‐based data into usable information via low‐cost, image‐based, mobile technologies. The project leverages the growing supply of lower‐cost smartphones to bridge the gap between the mHealth movement, focused on digitizing all content, and the current paper‐based systems that prevail in low‐income countries. Members of the research team recently spent two weeks in Mozambique testing the new application in the field with our Mozambique DLS program. See here for further details on this initiative.

OpenLMIS: Logistics Management Information System Initiative
2012 Budget: $305,000

This is the first year of a two-year initiative to improve the quality and level of collaboration in developing of information technology for health systems, specifically the logistics management information systems (LMIS) that collect and report data on the performance of distribution networks for health systems. OpenLMIS is a community-lead initiative dedicated to furthering collaboration and development of logistics management information systems to support improvements in health system supply chains in low-income countries around the world. The majority of the project is supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. For more information on this initiative, visit the OpenLMIS website.

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09.24 2010

After spending nearly two weeks in an intensive course offered by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation for its incoming fellows (and a couple of fortunate UW graduate students like me), I have an even greater appreciation for the role of evaluation in our work in global health and for the complexity and difficulty in doing it well. In her lecture on Evaluating Health Programs, Dr. Emmanula Gakidou, pointed to what is called “The Evaluation Gap” where billions of dollars from international donors and national governments are being channeled into health programs in low and middle income countries but we know relatively little about what programs are working and how well they are working. The reason being is that most of them are not rigorously evaluated.

Even while researchers continue to develop and test new interventions such as vaccines, diagnostic tools, and drugs through thorough clinical research, we don’t know how best to deliver them in countries with weak health systems. The result is an innovation pile-up where proven interventions to prevent and treat disease are available yet millions of people are dying because these interventions don’t reach them.

As a graduate student in public health, it seems to me that the field of global health is turning in this direction and placing a lot more value on measuring impact. As President Obama said in his speech at the MDG Summit; “let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending and let’s instead focus on results-whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives.” We need to know what is working and what isn’t so we can better our efforts and get the interventions out to the people who need them.

Unfortunately, evaluation is difficult to do well. As I quickly learned in the IHME course, there are some serious limitations to deal with ranging from poor data quality and availability to the fact that the methodology of conducting a rigorous evaluation just sometimes isn’t possible or is really expensive. As expressed in a Lancet editorial: “Evaluation matters. Evaluation is science. And evaluation costs money. It’s time that the global health community embraced rather than evaded this message.”

VillageReach makes a sincere commitment to evaluation of its programs and has ever since its inception. For example, as we begin to scale-up the Dedicated Logistics System in Mozambique, we are engaged in operations research to inform our program decisions. In addition to routine monitoring, we are conducting baseline evaluations in every province followed by process and outcome evaluations. We want to know what is working and more importantly, what isn’t working and why, so we can ensure that the resources we put into our programs really make improvements in people’s lives and that those interventions make it to the people who need them. We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Jessica Crawford, MAPS, MPHc
Program Associate
VillageReach

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01.11 2010

Previously, VillageReach held a discussion on the strategic balance between emotional donation appeals versus more systematic explanations of our work.  NGOs such as Kiva have utilized the advent of the growing social media and net space to reach a wider audience through the vehicle of a recipient to lender connection. Are there unintended consequences that will flow from an over reliance on social media vs. traditional face-to-face connections?  How have NGO strategies and messages changed with the introduction of a more pervasive web and social media presence?  How can NGOs best promote their work and gain connections through the web and social media?

Ultimately, what role does social media play in promoting the work of NGOs?

My name is Alexa and I am first year college student currently volunteering for VillageReach.  I have spent the last week researching different blog sites maintained by practitioners (examples researched include The Acumen Fund and Frontline SMS), research centers (The Center for Global Development), foundations (The Skoll Foundation), academic blogging vehicles (The Stanford Social Innovation Review and The Duke Sanford School of Public Policy), donor communities (GiveWell and Tactical Philanthropy) and independent blogging sites (Good Intentions are Not Enough and Blood and Milk).  The purpose of this research was to identify online communities where VillageReach could engage with practitioners, researchers and donors, raise awareness of VillageReach and network with different organizations and individuals.

I found it compelling to learn more about how different organizations and individuals utilize blogs to promote new ideas, engage with their donors, make announcements and network.  Additionally, some of the most successful non-profits have revolutionized the new social media/network space for fundraising and to create awareness. For example, Kiva’s and Heifer International’s on-line models parallel a function offered by Facebook.  In its configuration, sending a friend a birthday gift of a goat graphic over Facebook does not differ greatly from giving a goat in the name of a friend through Heifer International. Kiva draws its strength through an emotional connection a donor draws through a photo of a recipient and through lender groups. The ever evolving web has changed the rules of the game when it comes to how non-profits structure their models, raise awareness of their cause and fundraise.

My research has guided me to raise several questions on how VillageReach should further engage and connect with other organizations, individuals and donors through the web as well as how other organizations view the web/social media as a tool for their overall mission.

1.)   How has your NGO modified their marketing/communications approach to engage in online opportunities and culture as well as to establish a social media presence?

2.)    What role do social networking sites such as Facebook/Facebook causes play in the work of NGOs?

3.)    How can the blogosphere help to unite fragmented divisions such as public/private sectors, multi-lateral sectors and NGOs?

4.)    Many non-profits such as Oxfam, Charity:Water and Amnesty International, etc. offer opportunities and resources for high school and college aged students to become informed on issues pertaining to poverty and human rights, to take action for a cause and to fundraise on behalf of the NGO.  What role should youth play in VillageReach’s mission/work?


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12.22 2009

Peter Singer’s new book, The Life You Can Save, has sparked a growing debate amongst VillageReach staff. In his chapter, Why Don’t We Give More, he writes about the power of an identifiable victim — as opposed to group or mass need.  He describes Paul Slovic’s research that identifies two distinct ways that we process a call for action. The first is derived from images or stories real or imagined that target an emotional response. The second is based on logic and abstract thinking and can take much longer before we act. Consequently, “the identifiable person moves us in a way that more abstract information does not.”the_life_you_can_save.large-732235

Certainly this concept is not new as non-profits flood their year-end marketing appeals with individual sponsorship programs and passionate stories of hardship and suffering. Kiva is a perfect example of the power of connecting to the individual as they market to donors with a personalized story and photo of each borrower.  So what is our debate about you ask? The question in the office is: If this type of marketing works, and research shows that it does, shouldn’t VillageReach change its message to focus more on individual stories and less about systems?

Up until now, VillageReach has presented its message and for that matter, our brand, as a social enterprise. We are capacity builders and have been recognized as one of the top non-profits for our cost effectiveness in strengthening healthcare systems.  Our work directly impacts those children who so successfully appeal to donors. Yet, this is our challenge. If we focus on the child who we are able to save through immunization, do we lose the opportunity to educate donors on the critical importance of systems building and social change? Do we lose the chance to describe the complicated and sophisticated nature of what we do?

Perhaps this is not black or white and just as any good fund development or marketing manager knows, you need different messages for different audiences. Yet, Professor Singer’s book has given us an opportunity to step back and discuss how we tell our story to current and potential donors.  And wherever we land at the end of this debate, we know either way the most important message of all is in our ability to save a life. That we all agree on. What are your thoughts?  Join us in this debate.

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09.01 2009

Canister_StacksAs the Social Capital Market Conference (SoCap) begins today in San Francisco, VillageReach is very excited to announce that Oasis Fund, a European investment fund, has committed a $1.375 million investment in VidaGas, the propane energy company owned by VillageReach and the Mozambique Foundation for Community Development (FDC).  SoCap is full of social entrepreneurs, investors and innovators excited about using private money for social good- but thus, far there are few true real-world examples of large scale, social investing.  This investment is a landmark transaction that demonstrates the potential for channeling private investment capital into commercially viable social businesses in developing countries.  Furthermore, the investment affirms the effectiveness of VillageReach’s model for enacting sustainable, systemic change to global health by establishing for-profit businesses to fill gaps in infrastructure.  The investment will enable VillageReach to expand its customer base and energy service offering to impact a greater number of households and businesses in remote areas of northern Mozambique.

VidaGas was started in 2002 to support the health system improvement program developed by VillageReach and FDC.  More than 80% of Mozambique’s population is rural and depends on charcoal and wood for basic cooking and heating.  Safe and reliable propane from VidaGas enables health centers to provide critical health services including vaccinations, equipment sterilization and nighttime birthing.  Additionally, propane from VidaGas is a clean and affordable alternative to charcoal and wood for households, small businesses, and light industry clients.  VidaGas has grown over 500% since 2002 and is now the largest propane distributor in northern Mozambique.

Oasis Fund is a Luxembourg investment fund which finances innovative, growth stage, commercially viable enterprises that deliver basic goods and services that improve the lives of low-income communities.  This investment is the first investment in Africa for the Oasis Fund.  Oasis Fund is advised by Bamboo Finance, a Geneva based investment advisory firm.

VillageReach’s Social Business Director, Craig Nakagawa, will be speaking with Keely Stevenson, of Bamboo Finance, about the investment at SoCap tomorrow.

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08.06 2009

Over at the GiveWell blog, they’ve been asking some difficult but incredibly important questions about international aid projects.  Back in July, they explored the goal of sustainability.  Like GiveWell, we’ve noticed that sustainability is more and more often included as a requirement from funders yet it often remains vaguely defined and difficult to quantify.  VillageReach decided to establish businesses precisely because we believe that for many infrastructure gaps in the health system, they are the only truly sustainable way to address the problem.  And our social business VidaGas is a self sustaining organization, but as GiveWell notes, it has been a larger challenge achieving sustainability on the program side.  Even though we attempted to plan for long-term sustainability from day one in our Mozambique program, it has been challenging to convince the government to maintain the system even when we can show evidence of significant success.  The inertia of the status quo is a powerful obstacle to sustainable change.

So, this begs the question- how do you define and measure sustainability and how important should it be as a goal of a program?  This is especially important when you consider that sustainability often ends up being a trade-off with other qualities- for example, in order to make our program as sustainable as possible, we try to only include elements that we know the government is capable of carrying on after we leave- this can mean sacrificing impactful elements  because they are too expensive, too labor intensive or just too unprecedented for the government to assume control of.   GiveWell concludes that sustainability should be considered “a desirable goal, but not a reasonable requirement.”  The goal of sustainability is fundamental to VillageReach but a more candid conversation about what this truly means could be of enormous benefit to funders and implementers alike, both of whom tend to through the word around without really questioning its value.  On a similar theme- Phillip LaRocco has a humorous note to the “development posse” about lightening up- admitting when things are difficult and cutting through the clichés (of which sustainability certainly must be one of the most ubiquitous!) to truly impact the communities we serve.

GiveWell also explores investing in a small charity.  They note that “giving to VillageReach is a high-risk, high-upside proposition” and honestly, we couldn’t agree more.  VillageReach is proud of its dynamic and innovative approach- our President Allen is fond of saying that our theory of change boils down to “we see, we do, they see, they do.”  Basically, we recognize the problem and because we are small and agile we can create a customized model to address it and then advocate for both the recognition of the problem and the adoption of our model to others.  GiveWell was impressed by our rigorous monitoring and evaluation of our program, an expensive proposition that many small non-profits forgo because they view it as a luxury.  We, however, see quantitative evidence of impact a fundamental necessity in order to convince others of the value of our model.   But it is true that the same things that make us high-impact and allow for change on a scale disproportionate to our size also mean that we don’t have the security of a large, highly diversified non-profit working in a well understood area.  We rely on donors to recognize both the problem of last mile health system strengthening and the value of our solution.  We are thrilled to have GiveWell endorse our approach and we hope to report more success in the future.

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06.19 2009

Interesting article today in the Seattle Times! Even in the eight years since VillageReach was established, it’s been amazing to see how global health funding has fundamentally changed- we blogged before about GAVI and The Optimize Project, two enormous initiatives that would never have happened without the “balance of power shift” mentioned in this article…

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Malawi healthcare worker