Innovation has always been central to who we are and how we operate at mothers2mothers (m2m). From the beginning of our journey, we have committed to doing what it takes to support the families and communities we serve—even, and especially, if this means doing things differently. As our work has scaled and evolved over the past two decades, one thing that has remained true is that the Western Cape in South Africa continues to be the heart of our innovation through our dedicated Innovation Hub.
The Innovation Hub is pivotal in shaping the direction of our work. It’s where we can explore the relevance and effectiveness of the Hybrid Peer and Allied Health Worker model across different disease profiles and different audiences as laid out in m2m’s 2022-2026 strategic plan before taking them to scale across our countries of operation.
Nomonde Tengwa, m2m’s Innovation Hub Program Manager, shares:
“These sites are where m2m’s commitment to excellence takes tangible form, testing innovative programmes and conducting implementation science research to ground programme innovation in facts and best practices. At these sites, we refine and package them for scale up and roll out.”
The Innovation Hub serves multiple purposes:
- Experimentation and Testing: It’s a safe space for experimenting with new programme innovations in service delivery and health systems strengthening, where fresh ideas take their first steps towards making a tangible impact.
- System Improvements: In the era of digital health, the Hub also experiments with digital solutions like m/eHealth and digital training, promising improved healthcare accessibility and efficiency.
- Synergies and Efficiencies: The Hub facilitates harmonising different programme elements, such as prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT); reproductive, maternal, newborn child health (RMNCH), early childhood development (ECD), sexual and reproductive health rights, and adolescent health, towards m2m’s overarching mission.
- Operations Research: Responsive Operations Research informs programme innovation scale-up, ensuring innovations are evidence-based and ready to make real-world impacts.
- Refinement and Packaging: The Hub refines best practices and incorporates them into m2m’s curricula and standard-of-care, benefiting the entire organisation.
As important as the Innovation Hub sites are to m2m, it’s also an exciting and challenging experience for the frontline team involved. Busisiwe Papu, one of the community health workers employed by m2m at the Hub, says: “I’m excited to be part of the Innovation Hub since I know I’ll be working with a team that sets the bar for our programmes. Setting such a high bar and perhaps the gold standard can be difficult but we’re always up for the challenge. We analyse everything we do to make sure that, when it is finally implemented at other m2m sites, we get the desired outcomes.”
Currently, the Innovation Hub implements several programmes:
- Improving retention in care and adherence to treatment—through a two-year partnership with Johnson and Johnson (J&J), m2m focuses on integrated RMNCH, ECD, and noncommunicable diseases programmes, supporting clients on PMTCT.
- EngageSpark initiatives to improve retention in care and anti-retroviral therapy adherence among enrolled m2m clients—EngageSpark is a web-based platform designed for automating and scheduling SMS blasts, making it cost-effective for communicating with clients.
- Expanding to LGBTQI+ populations—a four-year programme funded by The Merck Foundation assesses whether m2m’s peer-based models can be effective in supporting the mental and psychosocial well-being of key populations like gay, bisexual, other men who have sex with men, and their families.
In addition to these programmes, the Innovation Hub also partnered with Jhpiego to promote Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) uptake among HIV-negative women and promoting use of the Virtual Mentor Mother Platform to increase knowledge and awareness of the safety of PrEP among pregnant and breastfeeding women, and promoting uptake amongst the same target group.
Other completed Innovation Hub projects include: the mother-baby clubs’ pilot to enhance retention in care, which were integrated into the South African Ministry of Health’s standard of care at completion; addressing maternal mental health, in partnership with StrongMinds, where m2m piloted a programme to support pregnant and breastfeeding women experiencing signs of depression through interpersonal psycho-therapy group sessions; and many other projects aimed at improving access to health care services and retention in care.
The Innovation Hub is more than just a physical space; it’s where m2m’s commitment to innovation thrives, ensuring the organisation remains at the forefront of global healthcare and development. Through experimentation, research, and collaboration, the Innovation Hub drives m2m’s mission forward, one innovative idea at a time.