Oumou, a bright 8th grade student, was asked to leave school mid-term when the school authorities requested her birth certificate before sitting an exam. Oumou, like nearly 625 million children around the world, had no documents to prove her identity. Her father, a farmer, and her mother, a small goods seller, were unable to obtain birth certificates for their five children when they were born. Fortunately, Oumou’s school was participating in a Plan International program, which provided her with a birth certificate, free of charge. Today, Oumou is no longer afraid of being asked to leave school and dreams of becoming the Minister of Education.
For millions of children, a birth certificate is more than a piece of paper. It is an essential first form of identification that allows them to fully access their rights and reduce their vulnerabilities. Birth registration also allows governments to know that children, like Oumou, exist and plan for their health, education, and social needs. Yet more than 100 countries lack the civil registration and vital statistics (CRVS) capacity to track major life events such as births, deaths, and marriages. Without this capacity, governments do not have a way to accurately plan for their citizens or effectively formulate policies to provide protections.
In 2016, the MacArthur Foundation asked organizations to think big and propose $100 million solutions to solve a critical problem of our time. With partners Accenture, Jembi Health Systems, and Vital Strategies, Plan International proposed to transform the CRVS systems in two countries, bringing direct benefits to tens of millions of children and families across Ghana and Zambia and providing a model for other countries to follow. Our open-source platform system would integrate both identification and health data, and our holistic program of software integration, capacity building, and grassroots registration drives would exponentially accelerate registration and statistical reporting in a sustainable, cost-effective manner.
This month, from more than 1,900 submissions, our proposal was recognized as a “Best Bet” for the greatest potential for social impact by the Center for High Impact Philanthropy (CHIP) and profiled in its Bold Ideas for Philanthropists to Drive Social Change giving guide. To select the 11 Best Bets, a panel of CHIP senior staff, analysts, fellows, and experienced funders—with expertise ranging from community development to public health, education to impact investing—identified 11 projects that it felt had the greatest potential for impact. CHIP analyzed the applications based on “the problem the organization was trying to solve, who would be impacted by the solution, and how their lives would be improved,” explained Katherina M. Rosqueta, the Founding Executive Director of CHIP.
At Plan International, we are not waiting for the next $100 million prize competition to start to bring our bold vision to reality. Our Birth Registration Innovation Team continues to progress work on a standards-based software solution to provide for civil registration and population data needs in low resource settings and is poised to implement the software in a first country context. Our Open-CRVS platform will be free, fully compliant, and adaptable to different country needs to deliver real results.
For the past two decades, we have supported 32 governments to register more than 40 million children. We know how transformative birth registration can be for children like Oumou and the game changing potential for the Open-CRVS platform. Our work is not just a bet but a commitment to make every child visible and to allow every child to realize their rights.
To read more of the proposal to the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition, please visit: https://100andchange.foundationcenter.org/profiles/5142/.