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This investment builds on the existing South African National Department of Health mobile messaging platform called MomConnect. MomConnect sends stage-based SMS health messages to mothers and secondary 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 of age to 18 months of age.

The need

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 topics of conversation or common knowledge.

All moms 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 for her pregnancy up to the first year of her baby’s life. Over 1 million mothers have been registered to date. The ChildConnect pilot evaluated an ECD-focussed 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.

Technological and content learnings are being used to shape and improve the current MomConnect offering. The intervention concluded in December 2017 and the final reports will be published soon.

Key insights

The two main factors affecting the success of the pilot is message delivery and data cost.

Message delivery is a major factor affecting the success of SMS messaging programs like MomConnect. This can be attributed to the fact that users change their numbers regularly for a variety of reasons which could include: operating multiple SIM cards to take advantages of promotions across network operators and the incidence of damage, loss and theft of mobile handsets.

The second factor, and a challenge faced by many mobile interventions that aim to scale in poor communities, is the prohibitive cost of data.

For this reason the fee to end-user model for data was one of the main enabling factors towards the success of the pilot. Findings indicated that user engagement levels were hugely influenced by the fact that the service was free.

As a result of the significant SMS inventory costs, the NDOH has identified two additional delivery channels for implementation which include Whatsapp messages and reverse-billed messages through their Road to Health parent-support app.

In partnership with the NDOH, we are supporting the testing and experimentation of these new delivery channels.


The project team

The’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 have been contracted to assist with content design and as the evaluation research partner.

Last updated 6 April 2018