It’s not clear whether Marie Stopes International (MSI) chose its iconic blue logo because it stands out so well against sand and scrub, or if it was simply our good fortune. But either way, we were relieved to see the brilliant blue logo on a banner hanging from a tree the moment we turned the corner toward the mobile clinic, many miles north of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

We were an hour-long drive from a paved road, and countless forks in the dusty track past a friendly farmer who had pointed the way. There, gathered between a few low-slung buildings, were three dozen women – each dressed in typically spectacular color, each with an infant strapped to her back, and each waiting to see the nurse.

Margot Fahnestock, a Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, had arranged this visit to one of MSI’s three mobile clinics in Burkina Faso. We had come to meet the nurses and other MSI employees who spent their days travelling to the most remote corners of the country. Their purpose was simple: to offer women the contraception they so desperately wanted. Many in West Africa believed there was little demand for longer-term methods of birth control, especially in rural areas where large families are prized. The line of women extending out the door suggested otherwise, just as it had in Senegal and elsewhere in the region.

The proud nurses we met that afternoon are the front line in a family planning revolution in Francophone West Africa. The region long has registered the highest birth rates in the world, and, relatedly, shocking poverty and dismal social and health outcomes. But in recent years – spurred by investments from the Hewlett and Gates Foundations, USAID, the French government, UNFPA, and many others – governments in West Africa have turned their attention to reversing these tragic trajectories through counseling and services for family planning. Nine neighboring countries that together form the core of the family planning-focused “Ouagadougou Partnership” either have developed ambitious action plans to increase contraceptive use, or are in the midst of doing so. Early results are staggering: In Senegal, where funding is relatively plentiful for this work, use of contraceptives rose by about a third across the country in just one year. And results are likely to be even more impressive in other countries like Niger, where few people outside the capital previously had any family planning services within reach.

Redstone is privileged to work with the Hewlett Foundation on its Family Planning and Reproductive Health strategy, both internationally and in Francophone West Africa, where we travelled with Margot to Senegal and Burkina Faso in September. Our work is designed to help the Foundation and its many partners – both other donors and many inspiring NGOs like Marie Stopes – as they support the governments in these efforts. The goal is to increase the quality and availability of family planning services immediately and sustainably while ensuring that the world capitalizes on the momentum created through the Ouagadougou Partnership. As always, analysis and research guide our advice and support, and our focus remains on practical investments and actions to meet our client’s needs. But this time, three dozen women (among tens of millions of others), visionary nurses, committed partners, and a new generation of government decision makers in West Africa also had something to say. We’re listening.

    About the Author
  • John Whitney

    John has worked across health, education, conservation, and climate topics, helping focus investments and building impactful partnerships among philanthropies, governments, and the public.