By: Zandria Johnson
The CodeToHope team has many contributors, leading to an extremely diverse team. We stepped into the world of CodeToHope team member Steve Ruhmel, who contributes to the CodeToHope team by using his passion in public health and analytics. Steve started volunteering with CodeToHope and became a part of the team in August of 2018. Furthermore, he visited Cotonou, Benin in June of 2019 with CodeToHope volunteers to teach students and donate technology to villages. Steve also had the opportunity to participate in a six-month secondment program with the Aga Khan University School of Nursing & Midwifery, whose work centered in Nairobi, Kenya. Combining his experiences with CodeToHope and the Secondment program, he provided insight on how CodeToHope can touch more than gaps in the world of technology by making good health and prosperity more accessible in the participants’ communities.
Given your background in research and work in analytics, how have you been able to support CodeToHope’s mission?
Steve: My goal in CodeToHope is to help us understand what we are doing today in order to define what we want to do in the future. We are accomplishing this through what is known in the public health world as “monitoring and evaluation.” Essentially, you create a model to lay out all aspects of the organization like its activities and resources, then define what happens with those resources from the immediate output (like conducting workshops) to the long-term impact (like career pathways into technology and economic empowerment). Thanks to my previous experience in public health, I have been able to work with my CodeToHope colleagues to create this model and start tracking metrics against it. In Kenya, you worked with nine nursery/midwife associations.
Are there any differences that you see by working with students and children directly with CodeToHope in Benin?
Steve: In order to be successful in public-facing programs, you must involve people at all levels and walks of life. My work in Kenya focused on professional associations of nurses and midwives. However, we were only able to design the program with the input of nurses and midwives themselves, the Ministry of Health, patients, doctors, key opinion leaders, and many others. CodeToHope is no different. We have heard directly from the students that they aspire to do/be great things – pilots, pop stars, chefs, artists, technologists – and we work with community members, school teachers and leaders, local governments, and technology leaders to help pave a path for these adolescents. We have continuous discussions with these stakeholders to further guide our organization’s activities and focus.
What is one of the biggest takeaways from the work you did in Kenya and work you did with CodeToHope?
Steve: My personal key takeaway from my work in Africa is to not make assumptions on the talent that already exists. As Westerners, we are very far removed from the lives we are hoping to impact in Benin and are quick to make generalizations from what we see on TV or hear in the news. However, once you are on the ground you will quickly realize that an enormous amount of talent and passion already exists. We must focus on what the communities truly need – not what we think they need – and empower them to lead healthier, happier lives through our work.
How do you see CodeToHope impacting health and wealth long term?
Steve: There is an ongoing debate of what causes the other, health or wealth, but it’s clear that they are strongly correlated. As of today, CodeToHope is not focused on directly linking individuals to healthcare services. However, we aspire to contribute to the economic growth of Benin. Through our school programs and university workshops, we equip young leaders with technical skills required to compete in our global environment which we hope will lead to more jobs and ultimately, higher income for the country. In turn, this enables individuals to not only afford healthcare services, but lead healthier lives and receive a higher quality of care.