Post authored by Isaac Holeman, Medic Mobile's co-founder and Research Lead. Above, Medic Mobile’s local staff and board members outside the Nairobi office.
Earlier this month, Medic Mobile’s Nairobi office hosted our full board of directors, several of whom were visiting Kenya for the first time. Nairobi has become our largest office with more than thirty staff, so this opportunity to forge new relationships, dream big and have fun together was very timely. As a co-founder of Medic Mobile (along with CEO Josh Nesbit) I’ve had the pleasure of seeing both the board and this office grow over time and I wanted to offer a few reflections on this first coming together.
Medic Mobile’s U.S. office is in San Francisco and most of our directors are based in the Bay Area. The board meets four times a year for a 4-5 hour face-to-face meeting, with briefer conference calls in between. With expertise spanning global health and US-based philanthropy, venture capital, corporate law, diversity initiatives and digital health efforts at startups and major tech companies, we’ve assembled a team that is highly engaged in the organization’s strategy process. Medic Mobile’s leadership has benefited enormously from the board’s advice and ability to foster critical and imaginative conversations. We saw an on-site board meeting in Nairobi not only as an opportunity for the board to learn and feel the pulse of our organization, but also for our growing leadership team in Nairobi to benefit from these strategic advisors.
For this reason we spent the first few days based in the Nairobi office. Our local staff deserve credit for delivering a set of stellar presentations about our local partnerships process, the mHealth projects we’re managing and demos of the latest versions of our toolkit. Regina Mutuku, who leads the Africa team, led a handful of small group sessions charting out operational issues for our growth in the region. The board members also hosted “office hours” and enjoyed many informal conversations over chai or chapati.
The second part of the board trip involved meeting people who use our tools, including some of the community health workers (CHWs) who form the backbone of our work. We started with visiting our partner Living Goods’ branch office in Thika, a peri-urban community about an hour from Nairobi. In addition to learning about how branch office staff use our analytics for personalized performance management, breaking into groups and doing house calls with four community health workers was a highlight.
A Living Goods CHW in Thika borrows her supervisor’s phone to call a patient who is not at home.
The next day we were up before dawn for the much longer trip to Isiolo, and a rural community called APU (short for Anti-Poaching Unit--it’s near a wildlife area), where we partner with the Ministry of Health and Christian Aid. Here we met with community health workers and their facility-based supervisors. In four focus groups we had long conversations about what it means to be a community health worker and to be called Daktari (“doctor” in Swahili) in their communities, about the challenges they face and their perspectives on working with the Medic Mobile team and toolkit. An unexpected highlight was being asked to pose with CHWs for selfies, taken using the built-in cameras in the phones we had deployed here.
Medic Mobile Deployment Manager Philip Ngari and board member Brittany Hume Charm sit with CHWs in Isiolo.
Following these visits with community health workers, we talked a lot about what we can do to understand the last meter of door to door care. Even with the support our tools provide, providing care door to door is a complex challenge. It requires particular skills and often incredible effort. These contributions aren’t always fully recognized by health systems and policy makers--CHWs are well aware of this and we heard again, not for the first time, that Medic Mobile’s byline “we are all health workers” has a certain resonance for them. The board discussed this throughout the week and board member Roni Zeiger shared some of these reflections on his own blog. Clearly the motto has a distinctive resonance for board members, too.
Community Health Workers in Isiolo demo the Medic Mobile app for board member Amy Norris. In a follow up email Amy remarked, “What a fantastic week! The sheer grit and determination of those health workers (all of them) is registered in my memory banks forever. I have a keener, more intimate sense of the mission and a greater sense of the urgency of the mission.
Board chair Greg Ennis and Medic Mobile Research Lead Isaac Holeman sit with local health workers during a focus group in Isiolo. Greg had never accompanied a CHW for house calls and he later remarked, “intellectually I knew we were doing all of this and I knew it matters, but to see first hand what CHWs actually do day in and day out has a totally different emotional impact.”
Medic Mobile CEO Josh Nesbit talking with one of our partners in Isiolo. He later shared with the board that he had hoped to “gear up for the next year, five years, and decade by connecting with the people we're serving and supporting, deepening our understanding of the challenges we're facing together, and building relationships with the people who advance Medic Mobile's mission every day. I think we accomplished this and much more. You're a unique board and this was a appropriately-special board trip... as a quick list of things that aren't normal (but made a huge impact): being embedded with the team for a full week, traveling 10 hours by van to meet community health volunteers, listening to and supporting individuals and small groups of teammates, gathering the whole board one way or another, and helping our leadership team relax and reflect.”