In September, the UN General Assembly voted to adopt a new set of development goals, which will shape our path to a better future over the next 15 years. At the same time, the UN Secretary-General launched the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health, and in the wake of this unprecedented momentum the very first Global Maternal Newborn Health (GMNH) Conference took place in Mexico City.

Researchers, implementors, policymakers and donors came together to discuss, strategize, collaborate and learn. Representatives from 418 organisations across 74 countries heard inspiring and often very moving stories from speakers and panel members with one uniting passion; improving the health of women and children worldwide.

At a gathering of this scale, and at a moment in history so pivotal, the opportunity to gain new knowledge was vast.  Here are 3 things I learned from the GMNH Conference:

  1. FAIL is not a 4 letter word – it’s First Attempt in Learning

Despite the progress made during the Millennium Development Goals, it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of the gravity of the task ahead. The health of women and children links intrinsically with every single other element of the global development agenda and our unacceptable rates of maternal and newborn mortality drastically impede the realization of healthy and sustainable societies. Of course, let’s always make sure that we celebrate success, but let’s also be willing to acknowledge and learn from failure. As Dr Priya Agrawal told us – “leaning in to and learning from failure can be transformative in improving maternal and newborn health outcomes”.

  1. Monitoring, evaluation and accountability lie at the heart of high quality care

Save the Children’s Robert Clay put it simply: “we need better data to make better decisions for women and babies”. As we tackle these ambitious new goals we need to streamline our measurement and data so that the right information is available and accessible to the right people, to allow for real change to take place for families, communities and societies. Community-led and people-driven monitoring and evaluation can help to ensure that no woman, baby or child is left behind along the way.

  1. Young people can be powerful advocates for maternal and newborn health

Along with the positive momentum around the SDGs has come another welcome shift in attitudes; an increasing awareness of the role young people play, and have the potential to play, in the creation of a better and fairer world. There’s a growing realisation that young people can act as catalysts for behaviour change, and that as experts on the on the issues that affect them, their voices cannot be ignored. Unfortunately, maternal health issues too often equate to adolescent health issues, and so young people’s perspectives on health systems are indispensable. Desire to see genuine change commitment to learning, questioning and investigating – these are the qualities to which youth add enthusiasm and passion. They are the qualities which make young people not only beneficial but essential to the maternal and newborn health conversation.

Cover photo: Eleanor Gall interviewing Katja Iversen, CEO, Women Deliver at the Global Maternal Newborn Health Conference

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