By Preethi Venkat | July 18th, 2016
I can’t believe a month has already gone by, but today I packed up my bags to say “see you later” to Udaipur once again. Every time I find myself in front of the Maharana Pratap airport, I can’t help but feel a rush of emotions…of determination, wonder & excitement at the prospect of working on the ground with my good friends, or with a heavy heart at the thought of leaving. Today my heart is just a bit heavier than the last time. I found myself reflecting on my time with Khushi Baby on the drive to the airport; I thought of all the good things – of old city, morning hikes, field days, fresh masala chai, and Udaipur sunsets on the roof. We passed a School of Social Work and I thought of Alam. I wish he could have been around to enjoy all of these things again, too.
As I walked to the entry of the airport, I was asked to present my travel documents to an airport security officer. He immediately asked what kind of work I was doing in Udaipur, and said that he recognized my Khushi Baby necklace. He said that last year, a man had given him one just like it and had explained its purpose for immunization data storage. As if that wasn’t weird enough, I had had this same conversation with an airport security officer last summer, when I was leaving Udaipur. It turns out that this was the same man I had encountered 1 year ago, and the person who had given him that Khushi Baby necklace was none other than our field director, Md. Shahnawaz. This man still had this necklace and still remembered his encounter with Khushi Baby a year later! I took this as an omen for good things to come & a testament to the power of the KB necklace as an engaging social symbol. I told him that it was nice to (re-)meet him, and that maybe we would cross paths again in the future.
Here’s the thing. There are countless other mobile health solutions in existence that capture data in an accurate and efficient manner. So what’s the big deal about Khushi Baby? Well for one, it has a lot to do with that anecdote I just shared about the airport security officer. Our system is wearable – and more importantly, people can see it and are intrigued by its design. We truly believe that that is a very powerful thing. We apply a local lense to everything that we do, making sure that the look and feel of our system integrates seamlessly into the lifestyle of our end user. Secondly, people talk about it – and we’ve got data to prove it. If more mothers are talking about our system because of this wearable, protective symbol, then perhaps more mothers can be convinced to take ownership of their health & to prioritize that of their children. We want mothers to be proud to wear the KB necklace – to be able to show others that they care about health just as much as we do.
From a more technical perspective, our system was essentially built for the last mile. Because the data is decentralized, there is no need for cellular connectivity or wifi; the KB system can work anywhere & everywhere. Secondly, decentralization allows the patient to take ownership over their data & keep a copy of their medical history with them at all times. It’s possible to build a much grander technological solution to digitize data, but if it’s not built for practical use & isn’t adopted by the community, it cannot succeed. Almost everything we do at KB is built around this premise.
Things have changed a lot. It still boggles my mind that within a year, Uber has taken over Udaipur & people look at you weird if you say you don’t have WhatsApp. Our team has changed, our focus has shifted, and now we find ourselves building an app that spans the continuum of care, from mother to baby. This expansion to antenatal health status monitoring was quite literally an idea, less than a year ago…and now it’s actually happening. And 2,000 mothers & babies in over 300 villages will soon be touched by our system. Wild.
I like to think that, in a good way, I’ve changed too. It’s weird to move so rapidly from a position of learning to a position of leading & teaching others. But the reality is that this will always be a constant learning process for me…for all of us. While it might seem like much has transpired, sometimes I have to remind myself that we’re only 2 years old. It takes a long, long time & a lot of energy to nurture a baby into a full-fledged adult. We’ve still got a mighty long ways to go.