Grow and Replicate: Why One Funder is Giving Big to Bridge the Gap in Last Mile Health

There is no doubt that a great deal of progress has been made toward improving global health. International agencies, national governments, foundations, and other key actors have made some Herculean efforts in recent years. But time and again, no matter how big the actor or how much money is invested, health initiatives encounter the daunting "last mile" challenge of reaching people living in isolated places. For example, just half of Africa's sub-Saharan population lives near a paved road and 600 million don't have access to electricity.

Among the most promising tools for widespread impact in last mile health are advances in technology. Funders have invested millions of dollars to advance research, development, prototypes and pilot programs implementing technological solutions to some of the most ubiquitous problems in last mile healthcare and delivery.

A key goal in many efforts is to use technology to leapfrog traditional methods of diagnostics, care, and communications. One standout organization in this space that's garnering increased attention from funders is Medic Mobile.

Medic Mobile’s innovative, user-friendly design, and its ability to reach people living in even the most remote areas of developing countries around the world, are just a few of the reasons it’s secured the support of a funders including the Greenbaum, Skoll, and U.N. foundations. Among its biggest recent supporters is the Peery Foundation, which recently awarded Medic Mobile a $1 million, four-year grant.

Medic Mobile has been a member of the Peery Foundation’s family for a couple of years. And if you know anything about Peery, you know that this is a very hands-on, “grantee-centric” funder that understands the value of building strong and lasting relationships with its grantees.

Related: Scale and Sustainability: An Inside Look at the Peery Foundation’s Global Giving

However, $1 million investments aren't so typical at Peery, a funder of modest size. So we decided to catch up with Jayson Morris, Social Entrepreneurship Portfolio Director at Peery to talk about what drew the foundation to make such a large grant in an outfit that most of us haven’t really heard of up until now.

First, a little bit of background. Medic Mobile designs human-centered healthcare delivery software to “make healthcare delivery more efficient, effective, and able to reach more people.” The company offers its software toolkit, which includes messaging, data collection, and analytics free of charge to health workers around the world. The software supports any language, works with or without Internet connectivity and is available for basic phones, smart phones, tablets and computers.

One of the factors that drew Peery’s increased funding attention according to Morris was the ability for Medic Mobile’s products to reach a broad range of actors across the entire global health landscape from government agencies to the community health workers.

Morris explains, “The fact that they had products that appealed to all of the different audiences really appealed to us.” He dug a little bit deeper, saying that Medic Mobile’s toolkits are designed “for the really small grassroots nonprofits at the last mile that need improved systems and improved data integrity and want to be able to streamline some of their monitoring and health protocols,” as well as the “governments or large organizations that want to deploy a product across thousands of community health workers.”

As I mentioned, $1 million grants aren’t really the status quo at Peery. While seven-figure grants aren’t about to become the norm here, they are becoming more common, thanks to Peery’s Growth and Replication platform.

Every year, the foundation will examine its portfolio to single out the grantees who are meeting milestones and producing metrics giving a strong indication that they are ready to scale. Peery will then conduct due diligence to see which groups on the list of candidates are the right fit for growth and replication funding.

A major condition, here, is that the organization “has to have achieved a proof of concept and has to have a roadmap to scaling out.” These groups don’t have to be near the finish line, or even have it in sight. They just have to know how they plan to get there. And of course, Peery has an eye on measurable outcomes. As Morris puts it, “We’re really looking at ‘what’s the ultimate impact?’ We want to know how it’s changing lives.”

Right now, it sounds as though the growth and replication platform is still incredibly fluid, but the blueprint has been in place for about a year, with inaugural grants going to Medic Mobile, MyAgro, and Living Goods. This will be an ongoing program at Peery, but these big grants aren’t open to everyone. According to Morris, “The funding is only for organizations that are already in our portfolio because relationships are so important to the foundation.”