With #HonorYourMom, Samahope Wants To Fund Medical Treatments For Women In Need Around The World

Posted: May 12, 2013 in GT, Social, Technology
Tags: ,

This Sunday, there’s a lot you can do in honor of the
woman who raised you. There’s TheMomtract, a
project out of the ad agency Mother New York to give
your mother authority back over some part of your
life. There are flowers and promises to let fewer of her
calls go to voicemail. But the San Francisco-based startup Samahope
hopes that funds usually reserved for cross-state
chocolate delivery might be used to finance medical
treatments for women in need around the world. Its
#HonorYourMom project is soliciting donations for
medical treatments for women along with tweet-length anecdotes about participants’ own parents’
uniqueness. And while funding fistula repair surgery
may not have been part of some users’ plans this
year, the non-profit organization’s founders hope that
providing safe birth kits in a mom’s name won’t take
much convincing. Samahope CEO Leila Janah is the founder of
Samsource, a company that offers work opportunities
on enterprise data projects to poor individuals around
the world. Janah said that while she was on a State
Department trip to Sierra Leone for women tech
leaders recently, she quickly realized that Samasource was unlikely to work in a country with a
60 percent illiteracy rate. But she was also disturbed
upon realizing that a systematic failure to provide
basic medical care to many Sierra Leonean women
had resulted in people like Dr. Darius Maggi, a Texas-
based doctor in his 60s, spending their retirements fundraising for and performing surgeries for women
who had undergone traumatic childbirths. “I thought doctors should focus on providing medical
care,” Janah said,”and tech entrepreneurs could be
focused on creating tools to raise money for them.” Samahope’s day-to-day work to provide medical
treatments for disenfranchised women is being led by
co-founder Shivani Garg Patel, a McKinsey and
Microsoft alum. It is particularly focused on “last mile”
populations in rural areas where care can be difficult,
if not impossible, to find. (Maggi’s organization, the West Africa Fistula Foundation, has become one of
its first beneficiaries.) Users can help pay for medical
treatments in Sierra Leone, Zambia, Nepal, and
Mexico. Like microfinance organization Kiva.org,
partner organizations that work in those countries help
connect funds with individuals in need, and users can similarly connect their Facebook profiles and PayPal
accounts. Samahope says it uses charity researcher
GiveWell among others to assess prospective
partners and researches their budgets and
effectiveness. The World Health Organization estimates that two
billion people worldwide have no ability to access
basic surgical care. Much of the focus of Samahope-
funded operations is on fixable conditions that can be
treated with surgeries. Users can help pay for cleft
palate and burn surgeries resulting from close proximity to open flames used for cooking. Angel investors including Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen,
founder of the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund,
and Scott Banister, founder of Cisco-acquired
IronPort Systems, have helped the organization raise
$100K to date. Patel says that 100 patients’
procedures have been funded by 250 users to date with monthly donations growing an average of 60
percent this year. Since #HonorYourMom launched
last week, they say that donations on the site have
more than doubled. The team has an ambitious goal of making scary-
sounding surgeries philanthropically funded, but
they’re not alone. Watsi, the first non-profit that Y
Combinator welcomed to one of its famed accelerator
program classes, operates in a similar space of
funding operations for people in need. The Red Cross continues to be a popular resource for giving in cases
of massive disaster-related medical needs (and one
many individuals think of first). And the explosive
growth of crowdfunding and donation sites, while
enabling more options, may have created a sense of
donor fatigue amongst people who are asked to give to different contacts’ causes daily. When asked about the competition for dollars, Janah
said that it provides validation that what they’re doing
is valuable and viable. “Given the number of people
who don’t have access to acute care, there is
definitely room for multiple players in this space,” she
said. “We should be competing to provide the best service. If you can provide access to health care, you
can solve a lot of other problems. Our challenge is to
show how powerful this investment in someone is.” There is an also an employment story underlying the
cause: by helping women in need get well, they can
get back to work. In the future, the site may try to
provide opportunities to fund education on the path to
jobs in medical fields. Training women and enabling
increased career opportunities creates a “ripple effect of opportunity” amongst their families and
communities, according to Half the Sky, a women’s
rights organization inspired by the work of The New
York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl
WuDunn. Samahope says it will plan to expand geographically
based on places where its medical partners can
deliver low-cost medical treatments with the highest
impact. It has its eye on South Asia and sub-Saharan
Africa, where more than two million women are
thought to live with untreated obstetric fistula. Screenings for cancer and other detectable conditions
are said to be fundable soon as well.

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