Tag Archives: partnership

Evidence-Based, Data-Driven

Calcutta Kids has always been focused on a data-driven approach to improve the status of maternal and child health and nutrition in Fakir Bagan. We have been collecting, monitoring and evaluating data from the field regularly to inform our programmatic interventions. We teamed up with a creative and passionate group of individuals from the Social Impact Program at ‘Thoughtworks’, a software company in the US with offices across India. They worked with us to enhance our old database, review the existing monitoring systems and helped create an updated and user-friendly tool.
The new ‘MYCHI database‘ is a tool to enhance the provision of health and other services to groups of pregnant women, mothers and children. The database collects and stores health and other information about women and children, displays the information on individual dashboards and uses visual representations of data and series of predefined reports to guide program management on the ground. The database is open source software, meaning its code is free and with the help of a developer, it can be tailored to the needs of a wide range of organizations.

The MYCHI database was developed around three overarching objectives

    1. To empower implementers with the tools to practice “developmental evaluation” and make evidence-based adaptations to a program, and maximize the impact on the beneficiaries.
    2. To monitor and guide day-to-day organizational operations and focus on beneficiaries in need of special attention.
    3. To identify beneficiaries who may fall through the cracks as they may not independently show up to receive the preventative care.












MYCHI’s foundation is built around information most public health organizations collect about their beneficiaries such as: i. monthly weight and height of children and pregnant beneficiaries, ii. attendance at immunization sessions and iii. incidences of illness to name a few. Once uploaded, MYCHI displays this information on graphs and in reports and uses it to guide day-to-day program management.

Building on this foundation, MYCHI can be tailored to collect a vast amount of additional information about beneficiaries relevant to an organization’s focus and interests. Using beneficiary survey data collected in adaptable online forms, an organization can capture data points as varied as socioeconomic status, medical history and access to government services. This information can be analyzed to identify correlations between demographics and health indicators, red flags in beneficiary health and health seeking behavior, even the success or failure of a programmatic intervention.

Key Features



A personalized dashboard is generated for every beneficiary immediately following his or her registration. The dashboard displays basic information, familial relations and links to any previously submitted forms. A child’s dashboard displays weight and height records from all GMP sessions on growth charts for growth tracking and captures a child’s personal immunization schedule in a color-coded table that indicates immunization status, (i.e. given, due, critical, overdue.)slide3










Growth Monitoring and Promotion (GMP) and Immunizations

MYCHI makes tracking and encouraging attendance for GMP and Immunization sessions easy using reports that display the names of all beneficiaries due for an upcoming session. Over the course of a three-day GMP session, a report is filled with the height and weight or absent reason of every beneficiary. An Immunization report will be similarly filled during an immunization session as beneficiaries receive their inoculations. When the reports are uploaded, GMP and Immunization data is stored, displayed on beneficiary dashboards and accessible for analysis.

Jasper Reports


Data is pulled from the backend using reports written in SQL and generated in Jasper. These predefined reports fall into three broad categories, program management reports, status reports and reports for analysis. The first category includes reports that track our progress completing regular tasks like ANC visits for all pregnant women over the course of a month. An ANC status report will identify those beneficiaries who have not been visited so we can complete their visit in the time allotted. These reports help us stay accountable to our beneficiaries in providing the services integral to our program.

The second two categories, status reports and reports for analysis, display information pulled from forms and uploaded reports that a program manager can use to develop new programs and organize work flow.

The MYCHI Database has streamlined the work and improved the monitoring and evaluation systems at Calcutta Kids. As a result, our approach is more targeted and we are able to focus our attention to those who need it the most.

– Post by Lilian Olson

The CK-AIF Partnership

The partnership with the America India Foundation’s Clinton Fellowship Program has become an integral part of Calcutta Kids and a rich addition to our operations. In a field which has become infamous for its infighting and noncooperation, this partnership represents the best in international development cooperation. Here are two organizations which have their own distinct objectives, but share a common goal—to create positive social change in India. And together we have been doing just that…creating positive social change through eager young people committed to helping India bring about change that will help empower traditionally disadvantaged populations and, in turn, bring about sustainable poverty alleviation.

Since its inception, Calcutta Kids has enjoyed the chance to mentor and provide valuable learning opportunities for the next generation of western development workers through our internship positions. We’ve had dozens of young people from the United States and Europe work with Calcutta Kids to learn about and participate in our mission to improve the health status of pregnant women and children in slum areas of Kolkata. These internships have proven overwhelmingly positive for both the interns and for Calcutta Kids. At the same time, we’re aware that doing it right requires a lot of work on our part to identify the right interns, link them up with needed tasks that will utilize their skills, and then organize logistical support for them.

2012-2013 AIF Fellow, Pranav Reddy

Last year we began partnering with AIF’s Clinton Fellowship Program. And it was a terrific year indeed. AIF carefully selects Fellows who are not only eager to learn, but who also show considerable potential to benefit the small organizations with which AIF partners. AIF also organizes funding for the fellows, and facilitates housing for them. Taking care of these logistics allows Calcutta Kids the time to focus on the Fellow and the task, and to figure out the best means of linking the two. Last year, AIF sent us Margy Elliott who had recently finished her MPH at Columbia University. Margy spent ten months with us, quickly became part of the Calcutta Kids family, and, in the process, solidified our relationship with AIF.
Margy took on an array of professional tasks at Calcutta Kids—and in each served as a healthy bridge between the community health workers and the main office administration. She also developed our beautiful website and conducted a SWOT analysis which has provided invaluable insights, and, in turn, has resulted in significant morale boosting among the Calcutta Kids team.

In September of this year, AIF sent us two new fellows—Pranav Reddy and Sriya Srikrishnan—both of whom are quickly becoming part of the Calcutta Kids team and family. Still early on in the fellowship, Pranav and Sriya are getting to know the organization with the idea of identifying limiting factors and means by which they might best be addressed. Sriya is spending a substantial amount of time in the field with our community health workers and participating in our community meetings. She also is working to increase the effectiveness of our behavioral change communication efforts. And she is examining means by which Calcutta Kids might establish a more meaningful and sustainable collaboration with government programs. Pranav, meanwhile, is carefully examining Calcutta Kids data and looking for cost-effective means of expanding our coverage area—one of the organization’s major goals for the coming year. He has a particular interest in examining the inner-workings of an Indian NGO, and then helping to mainstream administrative tasks.

2012-2013 AIF fellow, Sriya Srikrishnan

As was the case with Margy last year, we are expecting valuable results from the work Pranav and Sriya are doing. They’re off to a great start!

All of us at Calcutta Kids are grateful to those individuals who have helped to make this partnership with AIF possible. We look forward to the next 9 months with Sriya and Pranav, and then to many more years with such bright and eager AIF Fellows.—Noah Levinson

(A similar blog written by the same author was submitted to AIF to be posted on their website.)

Milena Commits Another $50K to CK

During my first summer in Kolkata in 2000 while working at Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitutes I met Milena Kotys, a social worker from New Jersey. Milena has remained a dear personal friend and is also a close friend to Calcutta Kids. In 2007, Milena’s father Wasyl passed away and a year later to honor her father, Milena started the Kotys Memorial Fund—a permanent endowment in the name of Calcutta Kids to fund our weekly health camp. In 2008, the weekly health camp cost around $5,000 per year to run. And safe investment returns in India are around 10% so Milena set a goal to raise $50,000.

Three years later, at a Kotys Memorial Fund fundraiser hosted by Ginny and Ravi Akhoury, I shared the following toast with Milena:

“Milena: Congratulations! You have done it. You’ve delivered on your promise to raise $50,000 for the Calcutta Kids endowment in honor of your dad. Fundraising is not easy and you should be incredibly proud. I feel so fortunate to have had you as a partner in raising funds for Calcutta Kids—and even though the goal has been met and your commitment has been fulfilled—I hope your assistance will continue. It’s been beautiful watching you through this process as every solicitation you send out; every phone call you make; every event you plan is done with such love, such intentionality; because you treat each of these acts as a tribute of love to your dad. I’m sure Wasyl is among us right now with a big smile on his face—the smile surely represents pride in what you have accomplished; and gratitude for the way you and your family have chosen to honor his life. On behalf of the many women and children in Fakir Bagan who receive free life-saving services because of your work.”

Between the establishment of the Fund and 2011, the weekly health camp turned into an outpatient daily clinic with a full time female doctor. The costs therefore increased, but the interest from the Kotys Memorial Fund has substantially helped in covering the operating expenses of the clinic.

Milena is currently in Kolkata for a few weeks and she’s been spending a lot of time at Calcutta Kids. Yesterday, she shared some observations with us about the clinic which I have paraphrased below:

Milena Kotys with members of the Calcutta Kids team (August 2012).

“The weekly health camp has been turned into a high quality primary health clinic open five days a week. It makes me so happy that more patients can be seen more frequently. The weekly health camp was in a dingy room in the slum and now it’s in a clean, spacious, well-organized space with privacy for all patients; food and drinks are provided as well as all necessary medicines and yet there is still no charge to the patients and their families. There is even a security guard who keeps the clinic safe and welcomes the patients. Doctor Mukherjee is lovely and the staff is professional and kind. And the data system is just awesome. It’s wonderful to see the digital growth charts marking the progress of each child.”

Milena also sang the praises of the community health workers knowing that none of the work we do is possible without them.

Pleased with what Calcutta Kids has been able to do with the money she raised in honor of her father, Milena announced that over the next few years, she will raise another $50,000 for the Calcutta Kids endowment—again in honor of her father Wasyl.

All of us at Calcutta Kids are deeply moved by Milena’s generosity, and grateful for her commitment to the mothers and children we hold so dear. Thanks Milena. –Noah Levinson

C-Section Blog Series (3 of 4)

In 2007, a young man visited Calcutta Kids from abroad. He was interested in exploring why Calcutta Kids at that time was working with the private health sector rather than the government sector. Instead of explaining the deplorable state of government hospitals and going into the gory details of government bureaucracy, I asked the young man if he might like to join me in visiting a nearby government hospital. He agreed and we hopped into a cycle rickshaw and headed for the hospital.

Fifteen minutes later, we stepped out of the rickshaw, walked into the hospital, and were greeted by a line of stretchers carrying corpses waiting to be picked up by the morgue. We stood there for a few moments trying to get our bearings. When we moved forward, our guest tripped over a large rat that was scurrying across the floor. The young man told me that he now understood why we worked with private hospitals and clinics.

For the most part, our experiences with private clinics and hospitals over the years have been positive ones. Our beneficiaries prefer the private sector as does most of the population of India. And, given the fact that Calcutta Kids was covering the cost of this private hospitalization partially or fully, the beneficiaries were overwhelmingly pleased with this arrangement.

Over the years, however, our understanding of both the private and public health sector in India has evolved, and as we recruited more medical staff on our team, we began to seriously question our exclusive partnership with the private sector.

Part of the evolution in our thinking resulted from a better understanding of C-sections in our area. The rising cost of C-sections our beneficiaries are paying combined with our understanding of the dangers of unnecessary C-sections frightened the Calcutta Kids team and we began to examine our options carefully.

We realized that we were facing two major issues: the first a potential major operational threat to Calcutta Kids; the second an ethical dilemma: Because we have had relationships with particular clinics and were paying the fees for deliveries at these clinics, we were in essence accrediting them; beneficiaries who trusted us throughout their pregnancies were trusting the facilities with which we partnered. This meant, in turn, that if something at these clinics were to go wrong, we would be blamed. Such a situation could create major problems for Calcutta Kids. The ethical dilemma was that since we were paying for the deliveries at these clinics which practiced excessive use of C-sections, we were partially responsible for any deleterious effects of an unnecessary C-section on a mother or child. Was it possible that while we believed we were providing the best possible care for pregnant women and children, we might be exposing them to unnecessary risk?

Below is a brief synopsis of our discussions.

  • We could speak with the private sector clinics, encourage them to follow WHO protocols on the appropriate conditions for C-sections, and then request medical reports for each C-section financed by Calcutta Kids. This option was tried without success. After all, C-sections are increasingly the norm, and the clinics did not want to follow a protocol inflicted upon them by an NGO.
  • We could open our own maternity clinic, although at an exorbitant cost. This was never really an option. Our focus is on nutrition, BCC, and preventive care and that is where it should remain.
  • We could encourage our patients to advocate themselves for normal deliveries unless a C-section is clearly warranted. This we also do but with limited success. Rarely will a poor uneducated family go against the advice of a doctor.
  • We could stop paying for C-sections altogether. But what about those rare cases where C-sections are indeed necessary and families cannot afford them?
  • We could partner exclusively with the government hospitals. But this goes against the preference of our beneficiaries.

Finding none of these options satisfactory, and recognizing the danger to our beneficiaries and to Calcutta Kids, we ended up terminating our formal partnerships with the private sector. What we put in its place is a delivery savings scheme—a financial incentive to ensure a facility-based delivery. The delivery savings scheme enables women to save money in a safe place and to receive a matched amount from Calcutta Kids of up to 2,000 rupees. The beneficiaries then can choose to spend this money at a private clinic (Rs.4000 will likely cover a normal delivery, but not the full cost of a C-section) or they can go to a government hospital where the delivery will be free and use this savings for postnatal care.

Along with the delivery savings scheme, we’ve begun a program of intensive counseling for pregnant women to help assure that they understand all that they need to know about deliveries and can make an educated decision about whether to have a C-section if the doctor recommends one.

The last blog post in this four part series will speak about Calcutta Kids’ experience with the delivery savings scheme as well as the curriculum mentioned above. –Noah Levinson

Calcutta Kids in Kathmandu

As one of 21 recipients of the 2009 South Asia Region Development Marketplace Awards to “Innovate for Nutrition” Calcutta Kids was invited to participate in a World Bank sponsored conference titled “Knowledge Sharing Forum on Infant and Young Child Nutrition” which took place in Kathmandu Nepal on June 12th and 13th. I went with our director, Noah to represent Calcutta Kids.

Along with representatives from the other 20 award winning organizations, the forum was attended by nearly two hundred representatives from governments, international NGO’s, and civil society organizations working to alleviate the horrific nutrition indicators which plague South Asia. The forum was also attended by journalists from throughout South Asia with the idea that in order for the public to care about nutrition, media information must be accurate and urgent.

The conference was jointly organized by the World Bank, UNICEF, SAFANSI, and presentations were made by representatives from all those organizations as well as those from organizations such as FAO, CARE, DFID, and the Micronutrient Initiative. It was interesting and fun to meet some of the world famous nutritionists and development workers whose work we regularly use and are inspired by at Calcutta Kids.

While nothing particularly new to those of us committed to improving nutrition, some of the important and shocking truths which we were reminded about and which should be shared whenever possible were:

  • Julie McLaughlin, Sector Manager for Health, Nutrition and Population in the South Asian region of the World Bank informed us that the latest estimates show that over 336 million people in South Asia are facing chronic hunger.
  • It was also discussed that the South Asian region, has the highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world and the child malnutrition in the region is estimated at 46 percent. It is worse than in Sub-Saharan Africa where the corresponding figure is 26 percent.
  • Melanie Galvin, Regional Director of MI, reminded us that that entrepreneurship cannot be possible without healthy population. If the population is deficient of vitamin A and iodine for example, how they can move forward for entrepreneurship?

Noah and I found two of the presentations particularly exciting.

The first by Tina Sanghvi, the Bangladesh senior country director of Alive and Thrive said, “The crisis (of malnourishment) is here and the solution is in our hands”. She continued by saying that the knowledge gap is the main reason of high rates of malnutrition in South Asian countries. Another point she highlighted was that many mothers have no idea that a malnourished mother can also breast feed properly and that is a serious problem. Tina also shared some terrific TV commercials on health messages that Alive and Thrive has created and now show regularly on Bangladeshi television channels. Calcutta Kids was able to get copies of some of these high quality commercials and we plan on using them with our beneficiaries.

The second was by Leslie Elder, Senior Nutrition Speci alist at the World Bank who gave a fantastic presentation on responsible and effective ways to scale up programs. When Calcutta Kids is ready to scales up its programs, the framework that Leslie shared with us will certainly be an invaluable resource. Leslie’s presentation can be found here.

For those of you who might be interested, you can see all the presentations given at the forum by visiting here.

It was a fantastic experience to participate in the forum and to be surrounded by so many people who deeply care about the very same issues we care about at Calcutta Kids. -Sumana Ghosh

Beating the Heat with Mangoes

It’s hot here in Kolkata—incredibly hot. Humidity levels are hovering around 95%, and the mid-day temperatures are reaching as high as 112 degrees Fahrenheit. With such weather, one would expect productivity to reduce, but with so much going at Calcutta Kids these days, productivity remains high and much is being accomplished. I’d like to use this blog post to catch you up on our news and give you snapshots of what is keeping us so busy.

• A new MCPC—Since 2005, we have used the same Mother and Child Protection Card (MCPC) to keep track of the growth of pregnant woman and children; remind families of best healthcare practices; and track their immunization status. Over the past several months we have revised and improved upon these MCPC cards. The changes include updating the growth chart to be consistent with that of the government of India and WHO; sections added for monitoring deworming, home visits, breastfeeding/complementary feeding; and additional space allocated for measles vaccine and for non-CK immunization information. Our Community Health Workers have collected the old MCPC cards from our beneficiaries and are tirelessly transferring information from the old cards to the new cards. 

• Medicine database overhaul—Evan Mullen, our summer intern through the Skolnik Internship Program arrived in Kolkata last week after completing his sophomore year at Yale University. Along with overhauling our medicine database to ensure the most efficient use of medicines, Evan is also working with our doctor, Dr. Mukherjee, on learning and then implementing the WHO/UNICEF-created Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illnesses (IMNCI ) protocol so that all of Calcutta Kids’ curative care is done following this established protocol.

• Music for our beneficiaries—as part of the launch of their second album, the well-known Bangalore-based band Swarathma will be performing a free concert for the beneficiaries of Calcutta Kids. (This is a real honor for Calcutta Kids and our beneficiaries—the night before, the band will be playing at the most prestigious music club in Kolkata, Tantra, at the Park Hotel.) Especially for the women and children of Fakir Bagan who rarely venture outside the slum, this concert will be a special treat. Our blog next week will be a review of this concert.

• A new HR manual—Having years of HR management experience at the Akanksha Foundation in Pune, the Child In Need Institute in Ranchi, and ITC in Kolkata, Evangeline Ambat has joined Calcutta Kids as a consultant to design a new Calcutta Kids human resources manual. The Calcutta Kids staff has asked for a comprehensive HR manual and we are confident that Mrs. Ambat will be able to deliver this much-needed document.

World Bank Development Marketplace Nutrition Award wrap-up—MYCHI Project Coordinator Sumana Ghosh and CK Director Noah Levinson, are planning their presentation to share in Kathmandu about CK’s experience with the World Bank funded Diarrhea Treatment Center . The conference takes place on June 11th and 12th and is titled “Sharing Lessons from Community Experiences: Improving Infant and Young Child Nutrition”.

• AIF Fellowship transition—this is Margy Elliott’s last week at Calcutta Kids concluding her ten month William J. Clinton Fellowship through the American India Foundation.  Along with building the new Calcutta Kids website, Margy has created a field-level manual for illness assessment and treatment guidance for use by our community health workers, she has been an essential part of designing and implementing our new community mobilization program, she has helped to raise funds for Calcutta Kids, and she is now wrapping up an intensive SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis among key CK stakeholders. Margy has become a member of the Calcutta Kids family and we will sorely miss her. That being said, however, thanks to Margy’s marvelous experience at CK, AIF’s Clinton Fellowship Program is providing us with two fellows for the 2012-2013 year. We are excited about welcoming Pranav Reddy, and Sriya Srikrishnan who will begin working with us in September.

So while we are drenched in sweat and continuously drinking plain and coconut water to keep ourselves hydrated, there is one saving grace to this weather— mangoes. For those of you who have experienced the intoxicating flavors of the wide variety of mangoes in India available at this time of year, you’ll understand that the mangoes are almost worth our suffering from this heat. For those of you who have not…you may enjoy reading this New York Times article which nicely explains how fantastic these mangoes really are. -Noah Levinson

The Next Generation of Development Workers

While not a primary objective of Calcutta Kids, one of the roles we have found ourselves embracing is that of a mentoring organization for the next generation of western development workers. The organization is, in fact, flooded with applications from students seeking internships with Calcutta Kids (from which, unfortunately, we’re able to accept only a limited number.) Maybe this burst of interest is because Calcutta Kids was itself started by a young Westerner with whom young people can identify, perhaps it’s because Calcutta Kids embodies for some, what Nicholas Kristof refers to as the D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) Foreign-Aid Revolution , or maybe it’s simply because of our clear objectives and proven track record. Whatever the reasons, we have, in taking on interns, been entrusted with an important responsibility, one we take very seriously.

Since Calcutta Kids Trust commenced its work in 2005, we have had the opportunity to work with over 20 undergraduate, graduate, and post graduate student interns from Europe and the United States, most of them having a public health interest or background. These interns usually spend between 2 and 10 months working on a specific project with clear objectives and an achievable if strict timeline. Projects range from illness-specific training and treatment protocol development to project evaluation to website development. The internships to date have been overwhelmingly positive for both the interns and for Calcutta Kids.

Apart from the value of their projects – which have invariably been valuable to our on-the-ground operations, these students have often opened their networks to Calcutta Kids for fundraising purposes, an unexpected but much appreciated by-product of the internship. When queried about it, they indicate that having seen the inner workings of the organization at close quarters – having participated in such a range of activities, been privy to managerial deliberations and financial records and having seen first hand the effects CK are having on these disadvantaged families, they believe sincerely that this is an organization they’d now like to support financially.

So along with providing an opportunity for this next generation of development workers to put into practice the theories and concepts they’ve learned in school, the Calcutta Kids’ internship program allows young persons to see and experience the workings of an organization guided both by values and by evidence. We hope that through our role in mentoring this next generation we can not only encourage replication of some of CK’s successful models, but, perhaps more importantly, inspire these young people to take the lessons and values gleaned from CK into their future work. – Noah Levinson

Low Cost Health Insurance – Too High a Cost

Originally posted in the Fall 2011 Newsletter

One of the basic tenets of Calcutta Kids is that we are willing to be innovative and take responsible risks, making sure to carefully monitor and evaluate everything that we do. When these innovations work, we scale them up, but when a program or project doesn’t prove cost-effective or in the best interest of the families we serve, we have a responsibility to discontinue it. One such case is our micro health insurance program, which we are ending after many months of careful consideration.

Although the initiative proved inadequately effective, we were able to assist hundreds of families in managing the fees associated with healthcare; and we also worked with some wonderful colleagues who have since turned into friends at the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United India Insurance Company (UIIC) and the Center for Insurance and Risk Management (CIRM).

While many of our Calcutta Kids beneficiaries purchased and benefited from the insurance program, many more did not. We discovered, sadly, that most of the families who purchased the insurance were economically better off than most of the desperately poor slum dwellers; they would have purchased health insurance anyway, and simply found Calcutta Kids’ product less expensive than what’s available on the market.

Another unfortunate discovery was that the micro health insurance program threatened to compromise the trust which the community has had    for Calcutta Kids and which we cherish. The reasons for this are twofold: first, that the door-to-door sales by Calcutta Kids health workers led some beneficiaries to think that Calcutta Kids was now trying to make money from the community; and second, because what had originally been a cashless product had, without our permission, become a reimbursement product with claims often taking more than 3 months to settle. Ultimately, it became clear that Calcutta Kids is neither an insurance company nor an insurance agent and is simply not in a position to run such an operation single handedly.

We had hoped that we could use our comparative advantage as a trusted presence in the slum to educate about, promote, and sell inexpensive health insurance to slum dwellers and then rely on partners – expert organizations in the field of insurance – to manage the office work, including claims. However, those partners were unable to change their systems (created as part of a for-profit industry) to address adequately the needs of the poor. The difficulties we faced with regard to claims management, oversight, and partner cooperation – with the costs heavily outweighing the benefits – simply made it impossible for us to continue running this program.

Calcutta Kids is committed to the proposition that every experience of an organization like ours, positive or negative, needs to be shared with the larger development community. Accordingly, we are most pleased that CIRM, a research group in Chennai, is carrying out an in-­‐depth study of our program and the challenges that made it inadvisable for us to continue its operation. The publication and dissemination of this work will certainly enable other groups to learn from our experience, and, in turn, move forward this important area of international public health.