Social entrepreneurship: Connecting the worlds of education and healthcare

ByRichard Barth and Jonathan Jackson

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Social entrepreneurship is a rising tide around the world. In the past several years, we’ve seen an upswell of new organizations tackling complex social problems with ingenuity and passion. Our two organizations are proud to be part of this vibrant and growing community.

While we operate in different fields — Dimagi is experienced in the world of global healthcare, and KIPP in that of public education in the United States — both organizations are committed to doing what it takes to improve the quality of life in the communities we serve. That commitment has meant being willing to work beyond the traditional boundaries defined by our fields.

Through our work, Dimagi and KIPP have learned that the same child struggling with poor health is often unable to access a good education. There’s no single solution that will improve their quality of life, and we can’t fully address one challenge at the expense of the other. This is why we’ve begun investing in each other’s areas of expertise: Dimagi is branching out into education, and KIPP is incorporating healthcare into its approach.

Dimagi’s CommCare mobile technology platform is designed to help organizations build mobile apps that support their work on the ground in developing countries. Dimagi’s primary experience with CommCare has been in global healthcare, where community health workers in rural communities use mobile apps built with CommCare to register, diagnose, and treat patients in rural villages.

But education has also become a major part of this medical initiative, with health workers now sharing educational content on their CommCare apps in addition to health information. Today Dimagi is working with healthcare organizations to construct new education-based apps using CommCare, while also supporting education organizations to use CommCare in schools that may lack wireless internet, phone connectivity or electricity.

KIPP, a national network of nearly 200 open-enrollment public charter schools in educationally underserved communities, has realized in recent years that their students’ health plays a major role in shaping their learning and happiness. KIPP has explored this aspect through projects like Houston’s KIPP CONNECT campus, which offers an on-site health clinic for students and parents alike. Just a few months ago, KIPP also launched their latest partnership with the Rales Health Center, a full-service medical clinic for students and families that is staffed by Johns Hopkins University medical staff and located inside the KIPP Baltimore campus.

Both KIPP and Dimagi have seen the value in forging relationships with families through home visits. For example, community health workers in Indian villages visit the homes of pregnant women, using CommCare to engage and inform husbands and mothers-in-law about their family’s care. Simiarly, when KIPP educators prepare to open a new school, they visit the homes of prospective students and talk with them and their families, laying the foundations of a relationship that can support students all the way to — and through — college.

Health and education are two sides of the same coin. They interact intimately. In the communities where our two organizations work, we recognize that we must explore each other’s worlds, explore the expertise of our partners, and reject the idea that there is a single “silver bullet” that will solve the challenges that children and families face.

Our experience illuminates how social entrepreneurs can and must find common ground and build partnerships across industries to maximize impact. We’re excited to see more and more of this collaboration taking place, and eager to witness the greater change it brings.