After the birth of her first child, in 2003, former supermodel Christy Turlington Burns experienced post-partum hemorrhaging, a life-threatening complication. She recovered quickly, but the experience got her thinking, “What would have happened to a less fortunate woman?” What she discovered changed her life: There are 287,000 pregnancy-related deaths each year and 90% of them are preventable. She set out to tell the story of some of these women in her documentary, No Woman No Cry. Following the film’s success, she launched a nonprofit, Every Mother Counts, dedicated to reducing mortality globally through education and mobilization. Their “mama kits” are distributed to pregnant Ugandan women and include the basic medical supplies they need for safe, hygienic delivery at the hospital, a solution that dramatically reduces the risk of death.
How has Twitter positively impacted global maternal health?
Twitter was one of the first tools we used when we completed No Woman, No Cry. Following the completion of the film, I launched Every Mother Counts, which is the action and mobilization campaign to increase education and support for the reduction of maternal mortality. For EMC, social media is an incredible resource for me and my team to compile information from all over the world as well as an outlet to engage new audiences and advocates by sharing the alarming statistics and success stories related to maternal health. We have also been able to build relationships through Twitter to help expand our reach. For example, our partnership with the women’s running apparel company Oiselle came about after Sally Bergesen, founder and CEO of the company, reached out to me on Twitter. The synergy was there but social media brought us together and the conversation continued as we found a way to help one another and more awareness about women and health to a broader community.
How would the impact of Every Mother Counts be different without the universality of social media? And what can you achieve using your voice on social media that you couldn’t otherwise?
Social media allows us to reach an extraordinary number of people all over the world with a single post or tweet. Every time we have an event, enter into a new partnership, or have a new date to share, social media allows us to disseminate this information easily and instantly with everyone we are connected to on any of our social media platforms. It also makes it easier for them to share it with their communities.
What advice would you give social media activists on getting their message heard?
I think people respond to authenticity and consistency. Be sure to have a clear mission and stay on point with your tweets. Listen to others in your space and support those working on your or related issues. Allow your audience to inform you too.
Why is giving time different than giving money?
We like to say that “every action counts,” whether it’s joining us on a walk to raise awareness for maternal health, tweeting data, or even if it is just a monetary donation, any act can make a world of difference. That is why we are always looking for new and unique ways to allow people to get involved. Not everyone has the same amount of time or resources to dedicate to the cause and any level of involvement is crucial for a cause that affects every single person in the world. We invite people to give what they have an abundance of, be it talent, time, or ideas.
Was there a moment that you realized your life would be dedicated to giving back, to giving more than you received? What was that moment?
I have always been committed to giving back to others, and always hoped to make a difference in the world. There have been many causes that I have been passionate about and most of them because of a personal connection. I became passionate about maternal health after delivering my daughter in 2003 when I started to hemorrhage. While I was lucky to have access to great care, hundreds of thousands of girls and women die from the same or similar complications and almost all of these deaths are preventable. Once I knew the facts I couldn’t turn away. As a result, I came up with the idea to make the documentary, which I felt was the best way to connect moms around the world and share their stories with wider audiences. The creation of Every Mother Counts was a natural next step. The film was a conversation starter and the organization is the mobilizer.
What does generosity mean to you?
It means openness, inclusion, participation.
Tell us the names and stories of three individuals who inspire you most with their generosity.
Jenny Joseph is one of the most generous women I know. She is a midwife and mother who we profile in the film. She not only delivers babies in the birthing center she founded, but she never turns anyone away regardless of their ability to pay. She understands that too many women fall through the safety nets in our society and she offers them the support they desperately need to access the best maternity care possible for mom and baby.
Dr. Linda Valencia is an OB/GYN living in Guatemala City. She was pregnant when we filmed there in 2009 but that didn’t stop her from traveling hours away from home by herself to mentor health workers across the country and delivering health care for indigenous people who don’t otherwise have access. She also advocates for reproductive rights in the capital and leads her colleagues in the fight to improve women’s health in her country.
Senator Hillary Clinton has been tirelessly generous with her commitment to girls and women for her entire career. She has shown all women that we are capable leaders and change makers and the impact of this is beyond fathomable and I am personally grateful.
Read our next profile, on Charity:Water’s Scott Harrison.