The App Helping Africa’s Midwives Save Lives

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

A mobile health project in Ethiopia gives any health worker with a smartphone access to the information they need to deal with emergencies during childbirth. Now it’s being scaled up to reach 10,000 health workers across Africa and Southeast Asia by 2017.

A midwife at Gimbi Health Center in West Wellega, Ethiopia, uses the Safe Delivery App to help her carry out an examination on a patient. Photo by Mulugeta Wolde

For Ethiopian mother Mitike Birhanu, the birth of her twins almost ended in tragedy. She was unconscious when the second of her babies was delivered, and the newborn seemed lifeless. But her midwife quickly consulted an app on her smartphone, diagnosed the problems, and used emergency procedures to save both Mitike’s life and that of her child.

Every year, over 300,000 women globally die from pregnancy-related causes, and over 5 million babies die during birth or within the first weeks of their lives. Yet the vast majority of maternal and newborn deaths could be prevented if health workers attending births had better emergency skills and knowledge.

Many health workers in low- or middle-income countries work in environments where there is no electricity or running water. But one thing they do have is smartphones.

The Safe Delivery App (SDA) was created as a simple tool for health workers such as midwives and nurses to access basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care skills. Developed by Danish NGO Maternity Foundation in collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Copenhagen, the app aims to train and instruct birth attendants on how to manage potentially fatal complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Based on global clinical guidelines, the SDA contains four basic features: animated instruction videos, action cards, a drug list and practical procedure instructions. The five- to seven-minute videos teach lifesaving skills such as how to stop a woman bleeding after birth or how to resuscitate a newborn. When there is no time to watch the full video, the action cards give clear, essential recommendations and immediate care information – such as how to mix an alcohol-based hand rub.

The SDA is free to download from Google Play and the App Store. And it can be preinstalled on phones, so once it’s downloaded, users don’t need a network connection or internet access to view the videos or other features.

Meaza Semaw, project coordinator at the Ethiopian Midwives Association, says the app is ideal for places like Ethiopia, where women’s access to quality maternal health services is challenging, especially if they experience complications in birth. “The Safe Delivery App is a great tool to improve maternal health in Ethiopia. Most midwives, if not all, have a mobile phone, so accessibility is very high,” she says. “The app is easy to use because it is supported by animations and videos. In addition, it uses local languages.”

With the support of the MSD for Mothers program, the first four of the app’s 10 videos were tested in a one-year, randomized controlled trial across 78 facilities in Ethiopia during 2014. Results show users’ skills in handling most common complications such as postpartum hemorrhage and newborn resuscitation more than doubled after 12 months of using the app.

The app was officially launched in April 2015, and a year later was chosen by the Women Deliver conference as an example of how a partnership-based innovation can help end maternal and newborn mortality. SDA is now currently in use in Kenya, with plans to roll out to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Laos and India in the coming months.

So far, the app has been funded with help from over $50,000 in donations through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and Maternity Foundation is working with partners in individual countries to fund the translation and rollout of the app. The hope is to be able to fulfill the commitment Maternity Foundation made to the U.N.’s Every Woman Every Child to reach 10,000 health workers with the app by the end of 2017, so ensuring a safer birth for 1 million women.

At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)

Maternity Foundation CEO Anna Frellsen says the organization is working in partnership with governments, midwives’ associations and larger NGOs to achieve its goal. “We really want to see the app integrated as part of the existing health system in countries, and we are starting to engage with the [health] ministries and stakeholders in each country to find out how it can be used and adapted,” she says.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association is currently working on integrating the SDA into its ongoing training program. Frellsen hopes other health organizations in participating countries will do likewise.

There is also a new version of the app in the works, which will feature quizzes and a test (rewarded by a certificate) to “push” learning to the user and make the experience more interactive.

Frellsen says one of the key components of Maternity Foundation’s “backbone” support for its partners will be disseminating learning around the SDA and mobile health in general. “We are looking at how we can publish some of the learning for sharing with others who would like to use the app, but also more broadly as a case for how to scale up an mHealth [mobile health] tool,” she says.

In western Ethiopia’s Gimbi rural district, the midwife who saved Mitike’s life says the Safe Delivery App has already made her better at her job. “I am confident that from what I have learned from the app, I can stop [a mother] bleeding,” says Yane Ababaw. “I can save her life.”

From conflict to California: a journey through cooking and food

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

Sharing food from their homeland is helping the San Francisco Bay Area’s women refugees to resettle in a new country, while raising awareness of migration and its difficulties.

As a single mother living in the world’s largest refugee camp for 21 years, Somali-born Halimo supported her family by running her own small restaurant. From 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. each day, the mother of three fed more than 100 residents of Kenya’s Dadaab camp, serving up her signature dish of malawah – a sweet Somali pancake.

It’s a recipe Halimo shares – along with her story of resettling to the U.S. in 2011 – in “Between Meals,” a cookbook celebrating the food and lives of California’s refugee women.

Welcoming some 1,400 refugees each year, the San Francisco Bay Area is home to people fleeing conflict or deprivation across the globe, from Afghanistan and Burma to Nepal and Sri Lanka. And for more than 30 years, Bay Area nonprofit Refugee Transitions has been supporting newcomers through education, family engagement and community leadership programs.

The “Between Meals” cookbook project grew out of Refugee Transitions’ home-based tutoring program – a core plank of its work that connects low-income, high-need newcomers with community volunteers who teach them English and life skills. Through sharing meals with their host families and new communities, refugee women share their traditions and much-loved foods but also talk about the experiences that have brought them to their new home.

From Halimo’s Somali malawah pancakes to Naw Htoo’s coconut chicken soup from Thailand, from Arezo’s Afghan meat dumplings to Devi’s goat curry from Nepal, every single recipe tells a story.

Arezo and her family arrived in California from Afghanistan in 2010, when it was no longer safe to live in their native Kabul. Arezo misses her homeland, and the feeling of being surrounded by a large community. So she cooks to remember home and creates meals to connect with new friends. Her meat dumplings (mantu) are made with Japanese gyoza skins from a Mexican market in San Jose in California.

“Mantu is special to me because my mother made it for me the day I found out I was pregnant with my first child,” says Arezo. “I make mantu in California, especially when I miss Kabul and my family in Afghanistan.”

Laura Vaudreuil, executive director at Refugee Transitions, says food plays a significant part in the refugee journey: “Culinary traditions are a thread that connects these women to their homeland, to the personal and cultural history. ‘Between Meals’ is our contribution to preserving these (often disappearing) traditions, and highlighting refugee women’s experiences and expertise, which are so often undervalued.”

To create the cookbook, the volunteer tutor would spend between two and four hours a week with their student to hear their story, cook together and turn their dish into a recipe. Volunteers are trained in the “language experience approach,” which uses familiar subjects such as a food to accelerate language learning.

“Between Meals” author Lauren Markham says the process of recipe and story gathering led to “deepening connections” between volunteers and their students. “When Refugee Transitions matched refugee students with a new volunteer, families were often really excited to have visitors and met them with tea, snacks or even a four-course meal,” says Markham.

“The food was so delicious and the gestures so loving. [Refugee] women may not have worked in their home country so they don’t think of cooking as a skill. In an age of celebrity chefs, all of these wonderful home chefs are under-recognized.”

One of the hardest parts of the cookbook project was turning the student’s instinctive process of creating a familiar dish into a more precise process of measuring ingredients and cooking times. “You have to see the techniques for yourself and a lot of them were new to the volunteers,” explains Markham.

Another challenge was sourcing ingredients for these traditional dishes – from locating a goat farm an hour’s drive from Oakland to make goat curry to tracking down galangal root ginger in a Chinatown market for a Burmese chicken stew.

Vaudreuil says cross-cultural bonds like those created through the cookbook project are hugely beneficial to newcomers seeking to become self-sufficient and integrate into their adopted communities.

But it’s a two-way street. “Often, volunteer tutors tell us that they have benefited as much from the partnership as their students did. After all, tutoring exposes one to new knowledge, intelligence and perspectives that newcomers bring with them to the U.S.,” says Vaudreuil.

The project has been supported by Cal Humanities, an independent nonprofit state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities. All profits from sales of “Between Meals” are distributed among the women who contributed to the cookbook, which has just printed its second edition.

“‘Between Meals’ boldly strikes new ground by centralizing the stories of the powerful women featured and elevating them as historians, keepers of culture and preservers of food traditions, as well as cooks,” says chef, educator and author Bryant Terry.

Arezo learned to make jalebi – a deep-fried syrupy sweet served at birthdays, weddings and other special occasions – from her mother at the age of 13. “In our religion, Islam, it says to eat together – to talk, to enjoy. This goes, too, for cooking … Everyone loves jalebi. When I make it in California, it reminds me of many happy times.”

 

How charities win employees from the world’s top businesses

 

Business Man walking into horizon

While some secondees return to the corporate world, 70% on the ProInspire programme stayed at their chosen charity. (Photograph: Cultura Creative/Alamy)

Charity secondments have become a popular way for private-sector employees to share skills and explore interests with the safety net of a job to return to. But one US organisation hopes to take the secondment model a step further and nurture the next generation of charity leaders.

 

ProInspire facilitates year-long fellowships for private-sector professionals to work with nonprofits in the San Francisco Bay Area and Washington DC region. Since its launch in 2009, ProInspire says it has placed more than 120 fellows in 60 local and national organisations including Community Housing Partnership,Global Giving and Meals on Wheels America.

 

While some ProInspire fellows return to their job, more than 70% of fellows remain with their charity at the end of their placement – most for at least one year.

ProInspire founder Monisha Kapila (recently named by the Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of its 40 under 40 influential nonprofit innovators) set up the matching scheme in response to what she saw was a lack of opportunity for private-sector professionals to easily make the transition to a nonprofit career.

“A lot of people want to use their business skills for good, and nonprofits need commercial skills,” says Kapila. “We look at how to better connect this supply and demand.”
Fellows typically have between two and five years of business experience and come from a wide range of employers, including Accenture, Google, JP Morgan and Zenith Media.

Selecting the best

Applicants go through a competitive, competency-based selection process (less than 4% are accepted), then the charity interviews finalists to select their ideal secondee. Fellowship roles can include communications, fundraising, finance, project management and technology.

Business people at conference table, portrait. Job interview panel.
Applicants for the ProInspire fellowship go through a rigorous selection process before the charity chooses their ideal secondee. (Photograph: Phil Boorman/Getty Images)

 

Isayas Theodros, a 2013 ProInspire fellow, swapped his job as a senior auditor at Deloitte’s Costa Mesa offices in California for the role of portfolio manager at Washington-based Partners for the Common Good (PCG), a community development funding organisation. After two-and-half years in the private sector, he was looking for a sense of purpose in his work. The fellowship involved managing borrower-lender relations and loan portfolios.

“By far, the best part of my job was assisting real people who longed to make a tangible difference in their respective communities,” says Theodros.Inspired by the experience, he remained as portfolio manager with PCG for a further year.The nonprofit host covers the fellowship cost – currently $49,000 (£34,000) in the San Francisco Bay Area and $46,500 in Washington DC. The host also pays a $7,000 fee to ProInspire for fellowship training, coaching and mentoring.

Filling skills gaps

Neha Patel, associate director of strategic planning and analysis at FHI 360, a Washington-based health and education nonprofit, says secondments help to widen the recruitment pool: “Nonprofits do need the heart but we also need the business sense, the management approach and the expertise that comes from the private sector.”A recent survey of 300 heads of digital in UK charities found that 95% had no HR strategy for improving digital skills of their employees. So could investing in secondments now pay long-term dividends?
Skilling up the sector is the focus of UK-based On Purpose, which matches business professionals with charities, typically for two six-month placements. Hosts pay an annual salary of around £21,000 and a one-off fee to On Purpose of between £5,500 and £11,000, depending on size and legal structure.For a £1,000 (plus VAT) brokerage fee, the Whitehall and Industry Group’s Charity Next will place employees on the Civil Service’s fast stream graduate programme on year-long secondments with charities such as Leonard Cheshire and Place2Be.John Lewis Partnership employees can apply for a charity secondment of up to six months via the firm’s Golden Jubilee Trust.

Nurturing volunteering

While most secondees on these schemes will return to their previous jobs, many remain involved in the voluntary sector. Benet Northcote, director of corporate responsibility at John Lewis Partnership, says: “Seventy-five per cent of our secondees continue to volunteer for the [host] organisation, or another one.”

Elle Bradley-Cox spent four days a week over four months on secondment from her role as PR and marketing co-ordinator at John Lewis Sheffield to the learning disability charity Work Ltd. During her stint, which gained her a Business in the Community award, she developed a marketing strategy, PR plan and branding for the charity. “I also helped them launch their own social media presence which allowed the charity to better promote the great work they do,” says Bradley-Cox. “I was thrilled to be awarded the [BITC] award … not least because it helped to give the charity even greater exposure.”

Dare to be different: why foundations should take risks to tackle social problems

Surfer shooting the curl of Jaws at Peahi on Maui

By taking a risk, foundations are able to support charities in achieving sustainable change. Credit: Ron Dahlquist/Corbis

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

The news that giving by the UK’s top 300 charitable foundations has increased year-on-year to £2.5bn is a welcome chink of light amid the gloom of public sector spending cuts. But a new study into what foundations fund says more should support innovative or risky projects if they want to tackle the root causes of social problems and not just plug funding gaps.

The report by Cass Business School’s Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy (CGAP) examined how much philanthropic foundations are contributing to support research and innovation. While research is widely funded, only just over a third of respondents fund innovation.

The report concludes: “In an era of social, economic and political turbulence, there is an opportunity to increase the contribution of foundations to new approaches and solutions.”

The UK report is part of a Europe-wide study, funded by the European Commission, into research and innovation spending by foundations. Professor Cathy Pharoah, report co-author and CGAP co-director, suggests foundations should share knowledge more systematically and work more closely with partners to deliver their programmes. “It’s getting harder to take risks because money is so tight and there is an increasing demand for evidence,” she says. “Collaborative funding – where the risks are shared – is one way out of that.”

Funding root causes

In the UK, LankellyChase Foundation is one of the most visible proponents of tackling social problems in partnership with statutory and non-profit partners. By targeting people who face severe and multiple disadvantages, the foundation aims to support “systems change” – which is defined in a 2015 publication from New Philanthropy Capital as “altering underlying structures and supporting mechanisms which make the system operate in a particular way”. In other words, tackling root causes.

Alice Evans, director of systems change at LankellyChase, says the problem with traditional interventions is that they only paper over the cracks. “We are funding people to look far more at the root causes and systems,” she explains.

Launched in 2013, Love Barrow Families is a partnership between Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Cumbria County Council to improve the way adult and child health and social care services work together to meet the complex needs of families in Barrow. Backed by a £90,000 annual grant from LankellyChase, the project has improved school attendance, reduced anti-social behaviour and involved families as volunteers in their communities.

“We are funding this because we think it should be the blueprint for how Barrow and Cumbria can redesign services,” says Evans.

LankellyChase is also funding System Changers, a six-month pilot to gather insight from frontline workers in homelessness and drug services in the north of England, to improve the way clients are supported. Evans says these voices are often unheard but can help shape what needs to change. The results will be shared locally and nationally next year.

Daring and different

The Lipman Family Prize is an annual global award that celebrates innovation with an emphasis on impact and transferable practices. First awarded in 2012, it is administered by the US University of Pennsylvania through Wharton School, the school of award founder Barry Lipman.

The recently-doubled prize offers $250,000 of unrestricted funding to one main winner, and $25,000 each to two runners up. The 2015 winner, Riders for Health, manages motorcycles, ambulances and other vehicles to ensure smooth delivery of health care in seven countries across Africa.

Breakthrough, winner of the 2014 award, is a global human rights organisation working to make violence against women and girls unacceptable. Much of its work involves quick-response, multimedia campaigns to mobilise communities.

Umi Howard, director of the Lipman Family Prize, admits Breakthrough could be seen by traditional philanthropists as a “risky pick” because of its “huge mission” to prevent violence against women by transforming the norms and cultures that enable it.

Howard says: “We won’t know if they achieve their culture change goals for a decade or more. Relying on hard numbers in terms of outcomes, the prize committee could have easily gone another way, but instead selected Breakthrough as a group doing something daring and truly different.”

Brave, bold and daring … the new US group challenging charities’ bad press

Billboard ad defending charities. Pic by Dan Pallotta

Billboard ad defending charities. Credit: @danpallotta

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

“Braver, bolder and more daring than anything the [US] charity sector has at the moment.” That’s how seasoned US fundraiser and nonprofits advocate Dan Pallotta describes the Charity Defense Council (CDC), the organisation he founded which recently launched its first campaign.

Pallotta feels that umbrella organisations such as Independent Sector and Council on Foundations have legitimate roles, but believes the US sector is “missing some functions”. Established in 2013, CDC’s mission is to defend the work of US charities by countering negative press, positively promoting the sector and providing a legal defence fund.

The Massachusetts-based CDC threw its first punch as a charity “anti-defamation force” in August, with the issue of a media advisory criticising US news organisations ProPublica and NPR over their investigation of the American Red Cross’s reconstruction activities in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

The ProPublica/NPR story claimed that the charity’s excessive overheads and lack of expertise had produced disappointing results in Haiti. CDC argued that the overheads were justifiable and alleged that the reporting was flawed.

CDC president Pallotta says regular publication of advisories – at least 20 a year – will be a big focus over the coming months. “We didn’t figure NPR or ProPublica would issue an apology,” he says. “But it’s about creating a voice for CDC so people begin to respect it.”

With a 21-strong advisory board drawn from nonprofits and sector consultants, CDC is currently seeking its first executive director who will be expected to raise a $1m (£660,000) annual operating budget in the first year through grants, membership and individual major gifts.

The new hire will also oversee an extension of the ad campaign CDC launched earlier this year to defend charity overhead costs. Using donated billboard space across major roads in the Boston, Massachusetts area, the poster campaign stated: “Don’t ask if a charity has low overhead. Ask if it has big impact.” The campaign rolls out in New York and Washington DC later this year and will feature “overhead heroes” (charity employees) explaining why their costs make a difference to their cause.

[tweet: https://twitter.com/danpallotta/status/552251969315028992%5D

Pallotta has long-argued that overheads are a necessity in the nonprofit sector and not a waste of donor dollars. His for-profit events company, Pallotta TeamWorks, created the Aids bike ride and breast cancer walk fundraising events, which netted charity clients $305m (£201m) over nine years.

But the company closed in 2002 when sponsors wanted to distance themselves because, as Pallotta says in his 2013 Ted talk, “we were being crucified in the media for investing 40% of the gross in recruitment and customer service and the magic of the experience”.

Tessie San Martin, president at development agency Plan International USA, welcomes CDC’s mission to educate about overheads. “Nonprofit spending on training and IT is a fraction of what for-profits spend in these two areas,” she says. “Is it because nonprofits do not need as sophisticated an investment in these and other related areas as for-profits? Of course not. It is because of the misguided belief that a low overhead is somehow virtuous and a high overhead is a sign of waste.”

CDC’s defence of competitive remuneration is something San Francisco-based resource development consultant Jill Linwood considers to be vital. “Here in the Bay Area, we are competing for some of the same folks that consider working for a great salary in tech,” she says. “We need to be able to offer a wage that is more than a quarter of the corporate offer.”

Andrew Watt, president and chief executive of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, which represents over 30,000 members worldwide, admires CDC’s aim of getting “top-level issues out there” but is “a little dubious” that adverts can influence mindsets unless individual charities are proactive, saying: “When there’s a negative issue, it’s a real opportunity for the charity to educate the public about how they work.”

In the UK, public concerns about aggressive fundraising techniques and excessive overheads have continued to dent confidence in the sector, and the recent government-commissioned review of fundraising has proposed a tougher regulatory regime.

Like the CDC, the recently-formed Understanding Charities Group (UCG) hopes to change public opinion. Coordinated by CharityComms and NCVO, the cross-sector group of charities, umbrella groups and agencies has devised a “theory of change” involving the public and the media. Activities include a closed LinkedIn group to act as a rapid response unit to media stories and a plan to improve generic charity coverage across a range of media.

Alan Gosschalk, fundraising director at Scope and chair of the UCG, says that, unlike the CDC, the UK group is not about the sector defending itself from attack and hopes to emulate the work of Imagine Canada, a 1,250-member organisation that supports and promotes charities. He says: “We want to enable charities to be more positive and on the front foot about what we do and the amazing things we achieve, rather than fighting off attacks.”

Doing the funny business: why Red Nose Day USA paid off

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Seth Meyers onstage at NBC's

Red Nose Day host Seth Meyers onstage at the NBC telethon (Photo: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

This article originally appeared in The Guardian

Launching a national fundraising event in a country of 320 million people and multiple time zones may seem like an ambitious gamble. But UK charity Comic Relief hopes the first Red Nose Day USA, which culminated on 21 May with a telethon raising over $21m (£13.6m), will prove to be worth the risk.

Red Nose Day USA builds on the success of its UK namesake which, since its launch in 1988, has raised more than £1bn to help 50 million people in the poorest communities at home and abroad.

The biennial Red Nose Day UK fundraiser encourages people to “do something funny for money” in their school, community or workplace. It concludes with a live TV show and telethon on BBC1, which in March 2015 raised over £78m and attracted 8.5 million viewers.

Around 3.2 million viewers watched the inaugural Red Nose Day USA’s slick, three-hour broadcast from New York featuring live comedy sketches, musical performances and pre-recorded acts.

The US show also included pre-recorded celebrity reports from the field (Jack Black in Uganda and Michelle Rodriguez in Peru) and household name hosts (Seth Meyers, David Duchovny and Jane Krakowski) to urge viewers to donate during the show.

Twelve non-profit organisations in the US and worldwide will benefit from the first Red Nose Day USA, from Boys & Girls Clubs of America to international vaccination organisation, Gavi.

Red Nose Day USA is run by Comic Relief Inc as an independent sister organisation of Comic Relief UK – the charity set up in 1985 by screenwriter Richard Curtis in response to famine in Ethiopia.

Comic Relief innovation director, Amanda Horton-Mastin says the idea of a US Red Nose Day had been percolating for some time: “We share the same language, the US is an amazingly generous population and we have a lot of shared comedy.”

Campaign challenges

Given the scale of the US, it was essential to have an effective network partner so the team was delighted to secure NBC, which worked with its affiliates to promote the event locally. “With the BBC and two or three media partners you can reach everyone in the UK,” Horton-Mastin explained. “The fragmentation of the media [in the US] is a massive challenge.”

Another challenge was building brand awareness in a country where red noses mean Rudolph, not raising money: “Nobody knew us – we were starting from zero awareness.”

Walgreens – the pharmacy chain with 8,232 outlets across the US – was chosen as exclusive retailer of the campaign’s trademark red noses and other select products from vendor partners such as Mars, Kraft and Coca-Cola. Sales of these items, combined with fundraising by Walgreens’ employees and customers, raised over $8m while embedding the campaign at community level.

Bringing a new fundraising brand to market within just a few months meant that social media was a crucial element of the campaign. NBC created a dedicated app which enabled users to add a red nose image to a new or existing photo, then share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Building on this, Red Nose Day USA partner M&M’s asked people to make someone laugh then share their story with the hashtag #MakeMLaugh, in return for a $1 M&M’s donation to Red Nose Day. The campaign hit its $250,000 target and raised $1.25m from M&M’s.

Additionally, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged $25 for each photo posted on Twitter or Instagram by 1 June with the hashtag #RedNose25, up to a total $1m.

RED NOSE DAY -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: Gwyneth Paltrow onstage at NBC's

Gwyneth Paltrow makes an entrance at the Red Nose Day telethon (Photo: David Giesbrecht/NBC)

Content is king

Creating a rich source of newsworthy content that could go viral was another priority. “Content is king so we wanted to make the entertainment really strong,” Horton-Mastin added.

Telethon night highlights included a Game of Thrones mock musical by Coldplay that has attracted over 7m hits on YouTube, The Voice winner Sawyer Fredericks’ rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine and an acoustic duet by Ed Sheeran and Kermit the Frog of the Muppet Movie song, Rainbow Connection.

The strategy appears to have paid off. According to Nielsen’s Twitter TV ratings – which map the social conversation around a telecast three hours before and after the event – four million people across the US saw 149,000 Red Nose Day tweets, making it the third most social TV event of the week, behind only the NBA Draft Lottery and David Letterman’s final Late Show.

Other countries including Iceland, Finland, Germany and South Africa have hosted their own events based on Red Nose Day or Sport Relief, usually run under licence from Comic Relief. In Australia, a Red Nose Day has existed since 1987 as the main annual fundraiser for SIDS and Kids, a national charity supporting families affected by infant death. Horton-Mastin said Comic Relief will continue to look at opportunities to expand the brand where there is a giving culture and a TV culture.

In the meantime, Horton-Mastin hopes Red Nose Day USA will become an annual event: “We’ve been very optimistic and have huge aspirations, because our mission is about driving positive change using the power of entertainment.”

A Year of Service: From small screen to big picture

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The Middle is the first-ever network television show to feature a character serving in AmeriCorps (Pic credit: ServiceNation)

As featured in The Guardian’s Pick of the blogs

TV programmes, movies and social media will help attract a younger, digital-savvy generation in the US to take a ‘year of service’, claims a new campaign backed by former president Bill Clinton. But are story lines about community service really enough to inspire a new generation of pre- or post-college gappers?

Chelsea Clinton recently teamed up with US chat show host Jimmy Kimmel to launch Serve A Year – the Clinton Foundation-backed drive by advocacy organisation ServiceNation to get one million young people volunteering in the US by 2023.

The goal: to harness the talents of millennials to tackle a heap of social issues including food poverty and youth unemployment. With a longer lens, the campaign hopes to inspire and nurture the nation’s future leaders and problem solvers. More ambitiously perhaps, Chelsea Clinton’s aspiration is that a service year after high school or college will become “the expectation, not the exception”, part of growing up in America.

Beyond volunteering

Campaign spokesman Tim Smith says a service year “is not a volunteer opportunity, but a year-long service commitment”, through programs like AmeriCorps that come with a paycheck. AmeriCorps members are supported with a living stipend of an average $14,000 a year  (depending on the particular program), plus a $5,500 education award received upon completion of their service year that can be used for educational purposes (tuition, books, student loans etc).

Airbnb will donate accommodation and support for approximately 1,000 AmeriCorps members as they move to new cities for their year of service. There are 80,000 AmeriCorps positions available this year. One goal for Serve A Year is to expand these opportunities, says Smith.

Compelling campaign

Serve A Year is a well-connected campaign that unites non profits like AmeriCorps and Teach for America with some of the biggest US media and entertainment companies such as Comcast and NBCUniversal, Tumblr, YouTube and FunnyOrDie. 

As part of the Serve A Year campaign, ABC’s The Middle recently featured a character (Brad) deferring college to spend a year with AmeriCorps (“It’s kind of like the Peace Corps, but for America!”). When he finishes his service, ‘Brad’ can use his Segal AmeriCorps Education Award to reduce his college costs.

The campaign is based on a similar initiative that helped popularise the concept of the “designated driver”. Harvard School of Public Health worked with Hollywood writers to insert drunk driving prevention messages into popular shows over a four-year period; more than 160 prime-time programs incorporated this concept and the country saw a 30% decline in drunk driving fatalities between 1988 and 1994.

YouTube is among the channels that Serve A Year hopes will attract its target market. Latest research shows that three-quarters of millennials have an account on a social networking site, compared with only half of Generation Xers, and less than a third of the Baby Boomers.

Service nation?

Clinton et al hope that this will be a compelling argument for their new breed of national service, in a country where almost six million 16-24 year olds are not in school or employment. According to government data, millennials now represent the largest generation in the US, comprising around one third of the total population in 2013.

In the UK, organisations such as CSV and Year Here continue to attract UK millennials to community service opportunities. But with total student outstanding loan debt in the US over $1 trillion at the end of the second quarter of 2014 (the second largest category of household debt), is it really feasible to have post-grads doing voluntary service rather than getting a job?

Absolutely, says ServiceNation executive director Zach Maurin: “Today, the expected path is high school, college and then a career.

“We want to redefine growing up to include a service year that will help tackle our nation’s challenges and empower the next generation. We envision a day when you’re as likely to hear young people ask each other, ‘Where will your year of service be?’ as you would, ‘Where are you applying to college?’”