Midwives: Innovators on the Front Lines of Care

With simple but resounding words, Frances Day-Stirk, President of the International Confederation of Midwives, reminded 4,200 people gathered in Toronto that midwives are the engine of creativity and care that can deliver for mothers, babies, and families around the world.

Always aiming to best serve mothers, babies, and their communities, midwives’ human-centered approach to delivering care drives them to find ever-new ways to improve, adjust, and improvise when needed. Innovation is fundamental to midwifery. Enabling that ingenuity is fundamental to how Johnson & Johnson supports and champions midwives and others on the front lines of care as they improve the trajectory of health for humanity.

This week marked the launch of the GenH Challenge, a social venture competition designed to accelerate everyday solutions to health challenges. We were honored to launch the GenH Challenge at the world’s largest gathering of midwives, the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) Triennial Congress. But of course, championing innovation on the front lines means not only fueling innovation within midwifery – it also means bringing midwives to the table with health innovators and entrepreneurs as they design new approaches to health care.

Samara Ferrara, a participant in Johnson & Johnson and ICM’s Young Midwife Leader program, as well as an Aspen Ideas Festival “Spotlight Health Scholar,” has had the opportunity of being part of both sides of this conversation. Samara has been a practicing midwife for eight years, and plays a leading role in redefining what it means to be a modern-day midwife in Mexico. As ICM wrapped, and in anticipation of Spotlight Health, we spoke with Samara about this unique intersection.

Zack Langway (ZL) What does leadership mean to you, and what would you say is your leadership style? 

Samara Ferrara (SF): A leader is someone who leads by example – someone who inspires and touches other people to act, do, or think in new ways. I try to lead by example by bringing the community and midwives together, and by sharing information so people can better understand what midwives do, not just in Mexico, but around the world. I want people to understand that it’s not enough to survive birth, and that the experience of the family during the birth has a large impact on that human being for the rest of their life. I also share moments and stories from births I witness with inclusive language so that everyone, whether they currently understand midwifery or not, can see themselves or someone they know in the story.

ZL: How do you use your role as a midwifery leader to identify community needs, and come up with innovative ways to solve them?

SF: I create opportunities for dialogue between midwives and other decision-makers in my region. For example, I recently organized a regional conference for midwives, government representatives, medical schools including nurses and doctors, as well as non-profit organizations, to bring all sorts of different perspectives together on the role of midwifery in improving the health of our women and children. The definition of what it means to be a midwife is still unclear in Mexico, and because of the conference, I am now engaged in a discussion with government representatives about midwifery law and what it will take to open a midwifery school.

Creating these links with the community and decision makers is incredibly important to establish that midwifery is an option for quality care. Whether through a conference, or smaller classes, I try to continuously offer educational opportunities for my fellow midwives to reinforce the importance of continuous education and participating in advocacy efforts. It’s not a new profession, but we are pioneering new areas that have not been defined in the community and country.

ZL: What are some of the little, everyday things that have made a big difference in the community you serve?

SF: I’m working hard to give new meaning to what midwifery is nowadays, because there are many misunderstandings around what it means to be a midwife, like the planning and support we provide women and their families during, before, and after pregnancy. I’ve also started partnerships with a pediatrician and a gynecologist which have been very successful. People sometimes think that midwives and doctors are adversaries, but working together, we can offer families the best of both worlds and the clients can really have a choice in how they receive care. So, something as little as a partnership that builds new relationships can have a big difference for families and health.

ZL: As Frances emphasized, how can midwives be the pioneers developing new approaches and methods to provide the best possible care for mom and baby?

SF: We need to put women first. We can start by asking them directly what they need so innovations based on their ideas will be rooted in their needs as the “end user.” As midwives, we also need to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones. We need to expand our education beyond midwifery and learn new skills that can help us better advocate for our profession and demand change from our leaders. As midwives, we need to take on many different roles in our communities – care provider, counselor, leader, advocate, innovator – and we need to be prepared to do so with the highest level of quality.

I also want to encourage my fellow midwives to take part in competitions like the GenH Challenge because our ideas are the fastest roads to innovation in our countries. I definitely plan to regroup with my team back home, as well as the women of my community, to hear their voices and determine the best innovation we can submit to the GenH Challenge.

ZL: What is do you enjoy most about attending conferences like the ICM Triennial Congress and Aspen Ideas Festival?

SF: I look forward to connecting with new people and creating alliances on shared goals. I also love to learn about the latest innovative ideas and information out there and think through how that might apply to my work. We need innovation so we can change and create new possibilities in my community and my country.

Zack Langway is senior manager of experiential philanthropy in social innovation for Global Community Impact at Johnson & Johnson. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson, Zack led the global development team at Fenton, the social change agency. He has served as a consultant and in-house digital strategist for organizations including the United Nations Foundation, Save the Children, and Bread for the World. 

This blog post was originally published on the Healthy Newborn Network.

Franka Cadée Calls for Midwives to Take Action

”All midwives here know when it’s time to breathe and when it’s time to push. This is our time to push!”

Franka Cadée, the new President of the International Confederation of Midwives closed the 31st Triennial Congress by addressing midwives from around the world with the main message that it is time to “humanize midwifery care – together”. She mentioned that many women across the world are at risk of receiving care too little too late or too much too soon. 

Young Midwifery Leader, Samara Ferrara, from Mexico had the opportunity to speak with Franka Cadée prior to the end of the Congress. She asked how the new president is planning to continue the work to ensure universal access to maternal, newborn and child health care, as well as, how she will support midwives in Mexico to have improved quality education. Franka Cadée also sends her key message to midwives as they return home to their communities. See the two videos below.

Celebrating 100 Interviews with Inspirational Women

My interview with Women LEAD Co-Founder and Former Executive Director Claire Charamnac, published on March 7, 2017, marks my hundredth Inspirational Woman interview. The realization that my hundredth interview coincided almost exactly with International Women’s Day 2017 surprised me and made me think deeply about how far Inspirational Women Series has come.

Back in September 2013, I started interviewing women leaders weekly for Women LEAD, and since then, I’ve had the unbelievable opportunity to launch Inspirational Women Series, which is dedicated to showcasing the experiences of women leaders in social impact, international development, and historically underrepresented fields for women.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2017 was “Be Bold for Change”. This intrigued me, because all of the women I’ve interviewed boldly use their actions and words to effect change in their everyday work. And nowhere does their boldness shine more clearly than in challenging situations. In my recent interviews, I started asking questions about the biggest obstacles my interviewees have faced –  whether professional, sector-related, or personal. For some women, their biggest challenge was scaling a multinational organization in a region where abject poverty limited business development; for others, it was working with unreliable or incomplete data. Some women shared the risks they faced when they quit their private sector job to launch a social enterprise, while others discussed the difficulties of designing programs for populations ravaged by violence and trauma.

Through this vast range of experiences, it is self-evident that the women I have interviewed for Inspirational Women Series embody an intrepid, relentless spirit in the pursuit of impactful causes that often jeopardize their physical, psychological, or intellectual safety. For many of the women I’ve interviewed, a conscientious boldness provided the original impetus for their unabiding responsibility to the causes they work towards, the communities they serve, and the lives they influence.

Naturally, this boldness was not devoid of worry or fear, but it equipped many of my interviewees with both the stamina to pursue hitherto untraveled paths, and the inability to give up when reaching a dead end. In many ways, boldness is crucial to the most unpleasant parts associated with making a positive dent in the world – making unpopular decisions, immersing oneself in the unfamiliar, making trade-offs between time, costs, and quality, and revisiting failures over and over.

Narratives of my interviewees’ challenges have made me realize how profiles of inspirational people should not focus solely on their successes, but also on the difficulties they have faced and overcome. The success stories contemporary culture exalts are often needlessly optimistic, framing an unrealistic depiction of achievement bereft of all-nighters, painful deliberations, crippling anxiety, and fractured relationships.

Boldness is essential to navigating difficult situations, but another noteworthy point is that the difficult situations themselves can strengthen one’s boldnessI am in awe of the experiences and accomplishments of all the women I’ve interviewed as part of the Inspirational Women Series. I am equally in awe of the challenges they have faced, and how these challenges have molded the inspiration they have imparted to me. I can only hope that by foregrounding their personal and professional boldness, I can inspire others to Be Bold for Change too!

Cover photo credit: Arkady Lishifts 

Our Voices Matter – More Than Ever

As I woke up this morning to a layer of the first snow on the rooftops across my bedroom window, with my daughter cuddling close to see the white watery powder in delight, I had forgotten that the election across the Atlantic had come to an end. We walked into the kitchen and my husband greets our daughter with a smile and then looks at me with shock in his face – and tells me that Trump is probably going to be the next President of the United States.

As the final news unfolded during the morning hours here in Sweden, the layer of snow slowly started to melt, and I was hit by shock that felt like a punch in my abdomen. A womanizing, racist, fear-feeding man, who has acted on his self-interests has been elected President of the United States, after a campaign smeared in scare tactics and hate speech.

This feels like a heavy bomb hitting one of the world’s largest countries, following a range of ever-louder assassinations on our human race – the continuous attacks on civilians in Syria, the genocide of Yazidis by ISIS, and turmoil in South Sudan. The list continues closer to home with Brexit, the EUs horrific paralyzation to act on the human rights of refugees as people continue to die in the Mediterranean, and Sweden’s vote earlier this year, which led us to trade openness with fear – closing our borders and overstepping the human rights of refugee families.

I feel like I’d like to move with my family to the moon, just leave this planet – it’s doomed anyways. But, that just isn’t right – or feasible.

There are many things happening in our world, which require us to stay stronger than ever and now we must show solidarity. We cannot let fear lead us to care only for ourselves and our nearest – it is that exact fear that has been fueled for far too long and got us to where we are today. It is time to fight fear and hatred – ensure that we uphold human rights in every situation, for everyone – and you need to be a part of it.

Now, my main thought is this: Girls’ Globe’s mission is more important than ever. We cannot stay quiet, we need to continue to raise our voices, hold decision-makers accountable and protest. We are the people, and we can demand our rights to be upheld, and the rights of those who can’t demand theirs.

Let’s connect, mobilize and act together – stronger than ever – a global voice demanding peace for everyone, now!

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Photo: NASA (CC).