Consider this: 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children. And at the same time, they are often the last people to receive the care they need. For women who are pregnant, having access to a clean, safe environment in which to give birth is a critical priority, but one that few in crisis situations are able to secure on their own. Circle of Health International (COHI) acts as a connector between women in crisis settings and the organizations trying to reach them and be of service.
Realizing the importance of basic necessities for new and expectant mothers, ranging from clean diapers to safe places to give birth with assistance from trained professionals, COHI makes grassroots connections on the ground, placing aid directly into the lives of those who need it most. Operating out of Impact Hub Austin as a cohort of UnLtd USA, COHI’s founder, Sera Bonds, and deputy director, Anna Franceschi, took some time to talk with us about what they do, how they do it, and why.
Making a Difference
When asked what people might be interested to learn that can’t necessarily be gleaned from a quick glance through COHI’s website or social media channels, Sera and Anna explain, “We're proud that our work takes us around the world, expanding our reach and impact to the communities most in need. A story that isn't always evident is how much work we do domestically as well. We support a clinic in the Rio Grande Valley for refugee mothers and children, provide expert training for clinical professionals here in Austin and in the Rio Grande Valley, in addition to our domestic emergency responses including the Central Texas floods last year, the Oklahoma tornadoes and Katrina.”
“Another point less evident,” they continue, is that “we have a powerhouse of hundreds of volunteers, both clinical and professional, who represent COHI in our field emergency responses and help move us forward internally. Without these valuable, committed and passionate individuals, COHI would not be the organization it is today.”
One of the key approaches COHI uses to make a difference is partnering with midwives to give women the support they need surrounding the process of childbirth. In a video featured on Refinery29 in 2015, Sera explains, “We’ve targeted midwives as our primary partners because in 2004 when we started the organization, one of the things that we had observed was that midwives were often left out of the large humanitarian responses. And they are key stakeholders. If you are introduced to a community through their midwifes, there’s a level of trust embedded in that introduction that cannot be replicated.”
Unlimited ImpactCOHI’s relationship with UnLtd USA
Sera and Anna say, has been a key factor in its recent acceleration toward additional projects that help women and children around the world. When asked how that dynamic has served COHI’s growth and evolution, they respond with palpable enthusiasm. “We are so lucky to be a part of this cohort of UnLtdUSA. Through the mentorship we are getting there, we are expanding and deepening our social enterprise focused network, making new friends and partners in different industries. There is a great deal of shared learning amongst professionals from differing backgrounds, and it's exciting to see our ambitions and motivations overlap. We've learned just how COHI's adaptive humanitarian response is perfectly suited for our fast-paced social enterprise. Our twelve years of experience problem solving and meeting the demands of maternal and newborn health in the field have shaped COHI into a very responsive and dynamic organization. In just five months with UnLtdUSA, we're launching our pre-orders for our eco-friendly and socially impactful cloth diapers!”
And speaking of positive dynamics, Sera and Anna explain that their time at Impact Hub Austin has been en enjoyable one both personally and professionally. “We LOVE working at Impact Hub Austin + Vuka,” they explain. “This is an amazing community, seriously. Amazing. As a nonprofit we are stronger working in an environment with such diverse talent ready to roll up their sleeves and help out to help us expand and deepen our impact. We feel so lucky to be here.”
The feeling’s mutual, of course, and Impact Hub Austin members who want to support COHI’s latest efforts can do so by spreading the word about two current endeavors:
Its second annual “In Her Shoes” campaign, which addresses maternal malnutrition and its health complications through participants eating the same diet as the pregnant mothers COHI has served across the globe. For this campaign, Sera and Anna would particularly love to chat with Austin-based chefs, food bloggers and foodies of every stripe to gain local support and awareness. (If that’s you, drop the COHI team a line at firstname.lastname@example.org today.)