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ChildConnect.

Focus Area

Daily Brain Building Interactions

Innovation Lever

Existing product, platform or service

Stage

 Research & Development

Status

 Closed

This investment built on the existing South African National Department of Health (DOH) mobile messaging platform called MomConnect – a service that sends stage-based SMS health messages to mothers and caregivers until the first birthday of the child.

ChildConnect tested the efficacy of including additional messaging on how best to support early learning. It also set out to gauge the feasibility of an extension of the MomConnect service for 6 months – from 12 months to 18 months of age.

The Problem.

First-time motherhood is often challenging, particularly to mothers living in under-resourced communities. They often have a great deal more than ‘simply’ being a parent to worry about. Concerns about access to finance, food, safety and security are usually top of mind. Matters like the positive influence of exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months or the brain-building power of talking with a young child are not often common knowledge.

All mothers need a useful, culturally appropriate and empathetic source of information and advice on early childhood development. One that will support them playing an active and empowered role in building the kind of early foundations that will allow their children to thrive for life.

The Innovation.

Through the National Department of Health’s MomConnect platform, every pregnant woman in South Africa can register to receive free, informative, stage-based messaging right from pregnancy. Over 1 million mothers have been registered to date. The ChildConnect pilot evaluated an ECD-focused extension of MomConnect for an additional 6 months, sending messages to mothers and secondary caregivers of children between the ages of 12 months to 18 months.

The pilot was launched in April 2017 with a total sample of 735 mothers and 164 secondary caregivers across 5 provinces in South Africa. They received 3 SMS’s per week, across three cycles of 8 weeks. The message content acknowledged the often-challenging conditions of South African mothers by providing informational and motivational support and practical tips for the optimal care and development of their young children. Messages were available in 3 languages, which included Afrikaans, English and isiXhosa.

A steady stream of messages means that the content is reinforced through repetition and caregivers could opt in for additional bursts of information on selected topics. Engagement strategies were also woven into the design and users also had the option to opt-in for additional message burst on a particular topic.

Design and iterative research methodologies with experimental research design were used. This allowed for fast learning cycles and responsive iterations within the proof of concept period. Constant development and testing of content is essential to establish the best possible ways of connecting with parents and caregivers in the interests of the child.

The overall results of the pilot were positive and indicate that mobile messaging can strengthen the role of caregivers in the support of their child’s holistic early development.

The intervention concluded in December 2017 and technological and content learnings have been used to shape and improve the MomConnect offering.

The evaluation research report for the pilot can be found here.

Why we invested.

The opportunity was attractive to us for a number of reasons, including being able to leverage the reach (more than one million mothers) of an existing platform endorsed and supported by the South African Department of Health (DoH). The platform already had a captive audience who are representative of our target market. Instead of creating a separate platform to deliver Early Childhood Development messages, the existing content only needed to be expanded.

Despite the reach of the platform, there were a number of opportunities for content and technological enhancements that if implemented could improve the quality and reach of the overall programme. In light of Innovation Edge’s lean, agile and experimentative approach, the DoH was supportive of the pilot.

The Project Team

Praekelt.org’s mission is to use open source technologies to deliver essential information and inclusive services to millions of people around the world, especially in Africa.

Kelello, in partnership with the Centre for Education Practice Research (CEPR) at the University of Johannesburg were contracted to assist with content design and as the evaluation research partner.