Learning From the United Nations General Assembly 2014

As we've learnt from the MDGs, progress cannot occur in silos. We need to learn from each other, we need to educate each other, and we need to work together to achieve real change.

A week after the Wellbeing Foundation Africa's (WBFA) fourth year at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), I am still inspired by the commitment of my fellow attendees. Over UNGA week, WBFA was honoured to attend events ranging from the African Philanthropy Forum to the Global Breastfeeding Initiative's Workshop on Nigeria.

Hearing from influential figures and partners like Graca Machel at the Social Good Summit, Mo Ibrahim at the Africa Rising Forum, and Michelle Obama at the Global Education First Initiative's event on 'Quality Education for the World We Want' was an incredible experience and one that will continue to inspire the WBFA as we enter the final stretch towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Our biggest takeaway was the power of learning from one another and establishing new partnerships that could truly change the world. From little pink phones to big funding initiatives, the UNGA showcased innovative ideas and cross-sector partnerships that could save the lives of mothers, newborns and children.

This spirit of sharing and learning is central to the WBFA's approach. Our flagship frontline programme, the Personal Health Record (PHR) is a simple idea that has been in use in the UK for years but was groundbreaking in Nigeria because it placed real-time patient data in the hands of mothers. We took a lesson from the UK and shared it within a Nigerian context with great success.

Learning - whether it is from each other at a UNGA event, or as a young child in school - has the potential to change the world. Learning what works, and what does not work, is vital in recalibrating our approach to achieving the MDGs and setting the agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Learning, for me, as the founder-president of an international charity, is a constant process, and one that has empowered me throughout my life.

The empowering nature of education was the foundation of my speech at the fifth annual Women's Leaders Forum held at the UN headquarters. Speaking on a panel titled 'Using the Power of Youth to Create Transformational Impact', I called on the international community to break down the barriers facing girls' education because I know that education could unleash untold potential and empower communities - both in my motherland of Nigeria and across the world.

Educating communities about health is an important aspect of my work. During the UNGA week, I was honoured to speak at the Johnson & Johnson panel on Partnering Beyond Health - What is needed to ensure maternal-newborn survival? and the Global Breastfeeding Initiative's Nigeria Public-Private Partnership Workshop. These events emphasised the importance of educating men, women and the wider community in developing countries about their health because it empowers them to make life-saving decisions regarding healthcare. After all, you cannot reach a hand out for the help you need if you do not know what it is.

That is why the Zero Mothers Die initiative, launched at the Women's Leaders Forum, is so significant. The inspiring project harnesses mobile technology to provide pregnant women in low-resource settings with access to health information throughout their pregnancy. This is a great way to connect women in low-income or rural areas with health workers. When 13% of women in Nigeria give birth without anyone present, these phones could become a lifeline. I believe that we could learn from the Zero Mothers Die initiative on m-health and draw on both technology, and the insights of midwives, to impart information to expectant mothers and the wider community. With the right support from governments, civil society organisations, and private sector partnerships, midwives and technology could become crucial channels for educating communities about health.

Educating our communities could be the game changer we need as we approach the end of the Millennium Development Goals. Just as sharing our ideas with others, and educating ourselves in the process, has been so valuable for WBFA, communicating and imparting valuable health information within our local communities will save lives. I will take this lesson back with me to Nigeria, where I will not only apply insights from the UNGA, but also learn from my local community on how to adapt new initiatives to achieve the best possible results for our people. As we've learnt from the MDGs, progress cannot occur in silos. We need to learn from each other, we need to educate each other, and we need to work together to achieve real change.


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