Your first act is school, your second act is work, but have you thought about what you’re going to do in your third act? Join host Liz Tinkham, a former Accenture Senior Managing Director, as she talks to guests who are happily “pretired” – enjoying their time, treasure, and talent to pursue their purpose and passion in the third act of their life.
Inspire others to get more and to do more later in life.
Athena helps women achieve executive-level leadership expertise, polish their boardroom and executive knowledge, get closer to board seats, and make leaps in their careers.
On today’s show, Liz talks with Laura Stachel—the light of maternal health. What do you do when you’re born with an abundance of intellectual curiosity? If you’re Liz’s guest Laura Stachel, you become a pianist, OB/GYN, and doctorate in public health. She also founded of a non-profit that provides critical light to African hospitals and clinics so women can safely deliver babies.
And, Laura’s not done yet. Her nonprofit, We Care Solar, is working to light every birth in 5 countries in Africa with clean solar power. That’s in addition to the over 9 million mothers and newborns they’ve already served with their solar suitcases. Impressed? Keep listening for this extraordinary interview with Laura Stachel.
2:09 From pianist to doctor
4:44 Practicing as an OB/GYN
7:12 Learning how difficult birth can be outside the United States
11:08 “Why am I here?”
16:04 The first solar suitcase
19:11 Founding We Care Solar
22: 57 How do you start a nonprofit in Africa?
25:40 Launching the Light Every Birth initiative in Liberia
30:49 Lighting every birth by 2030
33:33 What drives her success
You can follow Laura on LinkedIn.
You can donate to the We Care Solar Mother’s Day campaign here. Note that all donations will be matched through the end of May.
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:06):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham and welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:21):
Hi, everyone. On today’s show, I talk with Laura Stachel, the light of maternal health. What do you do when you’re born with an abundance of intellectual curiosity? Well, if you’re my guest, Laura Stachel, you become a pianist, an OB-GYN, a doctor in public health, and the founder of a nonprofit that provides critical light to African hospitals and clinics so women can safely deliver babies. And Laura’s not done yet. Her nonprofit, We Care Solar, is working to light every birth in five countries in Africa with clean solar power, and that’s in addition to the over nine million mothers and newborns that they’ve already served with their Solar Suitcase. Impressed? Well, keep listening for this extraordinary interview with Laura Stachel.
Liz Tinkham (01:12):
Hi, Laura. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Laura Stachel (01:14):
Hi, Liz. Thank you so much for having me.
Liz Tinkham (01:17):
We’re fortunate to have another Forbes 50 Over 50 Impact winner as the founder of We Care Solar. Congratulations. When and where were you when you found out about your award, and how did they tell you?
Laura Stachel (01:26):
I think they wrote to me and I was just kind of surprised. I wasn’t sure if it meant I was being nominated or I was having a prize. They actually asked me to come to a photo shoot and they were very crafty. They didn’t really say that we had won. I kind of found out after a while when they did a whole video for me. I thought they were still collecting information. But in any case, it was quite an honor and very unexpected.
Liz Tinkham (01:50):
Well, it’s fantastic, and I’m really happy that we’re able to interview you. Because from pianist to saving lives during childbirth, there’s a lot to cover between where you started and when you got this award, so let’s get into it. So you went to Oberlin to study to become a pianist, but ended up going to medical school. So what happened there?
Laura Stachel (02:09):
Well, when I was in high school, I was really interested in the arts, I was interested in potentially opening up a school for disadvantaged youth that was in the arts. So I went to Oberlin Conservatory as a piano major. And in the main college, I was there as a theater arts and dance major.
Liz Tinkham (02:24):
Oh, wow. So multi-art?
Laura Stachel (02:26):
Yeah, I love them all. I was very afraid of academics however. And when I was a student, it turned out that I had a growth on one of my ovaries, actually, both of my ovaries. And I went to see a doctor and they said I needed surgery. And so that’s actually what introduced me to the field of medicine was the fact that I became a patient.
Laura Stachel (02:49):
In those days they couldn’t do quite the same diagnostic testing that they could nowadays and they told me that I needed a surgery and that I was going to be put to sleep and when I woke up, if I had a large bandage, it meant that I had cancer and all of my reproductive organs were going to be gone. If it was a small bandage, it meant they did it more of a diagnostic surgery where they used what’s called a laparoscope to look at the pelvis. And so I remember waking up in the recovery room, putting my hand on my belly, and being very grateful that I had a small bandage and not a big bandage. And when the doctor came to see me, I asked so many questions, they literally said, “If you have so many questions, why don’t you become a doctor?” And so I took my first pre-med class as a junior in college.
Liz Tinkham (03:34):
And you just fell in love with that as well?
Laura Stachel (03:36):
Well, I think I came about it actually from bit of a political standpoint. I was really interested in women’s rights. The feminism movement was very popular then, and I really felt like women should be partners in their own healthcare, so I became very active on campus on trying to improve healthcare for women students. And I also was very interested in psychology and in psychiatry, I began to work summers in a halfway house for schizophrenics that used nutrition as the way to approach mental illness.
Laura Stachel (04:04):
So there were a lot of things that got me interested in learning more about medicine and healthcare, but in particular, once I was in a delivery room, working with women that were in labor, I just fell in love with that entire process, and I saw it as such a joyous event. And I had such a strong kind of psychological bent for my interest in psychiatry as well that I just became very interested in a very holistic approach to women’s healthcare. And so that’s really what brought me on that route.
Liz Tinkham (04:35):
You practice as an OB-GYN for several years. Tell us a little bit about your practice, and then eventually you stopped, and tell us about why you stopped.
Laura Stachel (04:44):
I was in a wonderful practice for many years that combined OB-GYN and midwifery. It was called women’s obstetric gynecology and midwifery. And the thing that I really liked was that the doctors in the practice acted like honorary midwives. We took a very holistic approach and family-oriented approach, but if someone had a complication and needed a C-section, we could pull the scalpel out of our back pocket and sort of do the complete care. But we would spend a lot of time with people during labor, we had very lengthy appointments, we included family members. I got fathers and other partners to help deliver the baby. So it was a beautiful, beautiful practice.
Laura Stachel (05:25):
And I really loved what I did and got very close with my patients and their families, and I was doing a cesarean section one night when I felt a searing pain go down my back. I was trying to deliver a baby that was actually a little bit difficult to deliver, even with a C-section and had so much trouble. I had my partner help me to finish the C-section and then went for a test. They did an MRI of my spine, and I was about 40, they told me that my spine looked like a woman who was in her 70s. I had degenerating disc in the back of my neck, and it turned out that having been like a midwife sitting on the bed during deliveries and having terrible ergonomics was not very good for my spine. So I actually had injured my own body in the process of being a health provider and I needed to do rehabilitation, I had to do physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, rest, and they told me not to come back to do my clinical practice until I no longer had pain.
Laura Stachel (06:26):
And at that time, I couldn’t sit up for very long. I was always needing to recline. And about a year later, I still had not regained the capacity to do deliveries without having pain. And so I had to leave that profession. Now, when I had been in medical school, it was a huge change. I must say that. When I had been in medical school, I had always, in the back of my mind, been interested in public health. And I was so busy as a medical provider that I really never could take the time to go take classes in public health. But after I’d done enough rehabilitation to sit up long enough to be in a classroom, I actually went back to school and as a seasoned doctor, went back to get my Master’s in Public Health at University of California, Berkeley.
Laura Stachel (07:12):
And that’s where I was introduced to some of the challenges facing women worldwide. So I myself had thought of pregnancy as a very happy event, but it turns out around the world, half a million women die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth every year, at least they did in those days. The rates are a bit better now. There was a group of researchers at UC Berkeley that was actually studying maternal mortality in one of the countries with the highest rates of maternal death, and that was Nigeria. They were working in a part of Nigeria where young women faced a lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy of one in 13.
Liz Tinkham (07:53):
Wow. And just to contrast, in the U.S., what was it at that point? What would you think?
Laura Stachel (07:58):
100 times higher. I mean, so it was a hundredfold higher chance of dying in pregnancy. And what I didn’t know until I went there was that they weren’t dying of rare diseases, they were dying of complications that I had been trained to treat as a physician in this country, they just didn’t have either good access to care, good provision of care. But as part of this research project, some of the researchers in Nigeria had done interviews of family members when women had died and learned that many of them were being turned away from health centers, or they arrived at health centers and couldn’t get the care they needed. And so I was asked with my background in OB-GYN to see if I could go and do observations in the health facilities themselves to see why women were being turned away.
Liz Tinkham (08:43):
Yeah. What did you find when you were there?
Laura Stachel (08:45):
I was in a state hospital doing 150 deliveries every month and I spent 10 to 14 hours a day doing what’s called participant observation, meaning I watched what was happening, but I also could participate and be part of the team as well. And these women were coming in with some of the most acute complications I’d ever seen. So what happens in some parts of the world is that women try and deliver at home, they may not have access to care, and it’s only when they fail to deliver that they actually come to a hospital, with twins or bleeding, or they’d been in labor so long that their uterus had actually ripped. It’s called uterine rupture. Or they would come in with different parts of the baby kind of protruding, rather than it being the head or the buttock.
Laura Stachel (09:28):
So everything was a complication that I was seeing. And they didn’t have, of course, all of the equipment that I was used to in a tertiary hospital here in the United States. I expected that and I expected that they wouldn’t have as many staff people, but I hadn’t expected that they might not have electricity for as much as 12 hours a day. So what does it mean to be a hospital without electricity? It meant that C-sections were conducted by the ambient light of windows during the daytime, or people would rush to try and finish procedures before night because they didn’t know if the power would be on or off. It meant they couldn’t use cautery machines, which are used to coagulate blood vessels and reduce bleeding. They didn’t have suction machines. They couldn’t use incubators when babies were born prematurely. They didn’t have a blood bank refrigerator because that required electricity.
Laura Stachel (10:20):
So if women were hemorrhaging, which is one of the most common causes of maternal mortality, the only way they could get a blood transfusion was if one of their family members were identified who had the same blood type, who could then donate blood, who didn’t have other infections. And only then after hours or days, could they even get life saving blood products. It meant that at night the health providers were using kerosene lanterns or candles. They were unable to immediately start intravenous lines. It might be very hard to get medications and read the labels and see what’s needed to give someone lifesaving medication. And there was one night when I was observing in the labor room where a woman had eclampsia. Do you know what that is, Liz?
Liz Tinkham (11:05):
Yeah, I do know what eclampsia is, but maybe explain it to our audience.
Laura Stachel (11:08):
Well, it’s when the blood pressure has become elevated because the blood vessels are constricting, and it means there’s not enough blood flow to the uterus, to the liver, to the lungs, to the brain, and a person has seizures. In this case, a woman was having seizures, her lungs were rattling because they were filling up with liquid, her urine was no longer being produced because her kidneys weren’t getting good blood flow, her baby was in distress, and there was no light in the room. She was literally on a metal table with no monitors. And I thought I was going to watch her die and I said, “Why am I here bearing witness to these situations?” And I said, “Here I am, an OB-GYN at a really good school of public health, and I had no idea this problem existed. Maybe other people don’t know as well, and maybe they’d want to do something if they did know.” And at that moment, I decided maybe I was being a voice to these women who were dying in silence, or I could be a voice to them.
Liz Tinkham (12:07):
Preeclampsia is something that if she had been in a U.S. hospital, likely you would have been able to fix or treat, correct? With the proper electricity and everything else?
Laura Stachel (12:18):
Yes. So in the United States, we tend to see women many times during a pregnancy and try and diagnose preeclampsia. So when we start to see the blood pressure rising, we monitor someone very closely, we check to see if there’s blood in their urine. We hospitalize them before it gets to eclampsia and try and induce a labor so that someone doesn’t get as sick as a woman does in the case that I described, or if she did come in like that, she’d be in an intensive care unit being monitored extremely closely. Probably there would be an induction, the baby would be delivered, and she would get a lot of medication. But here she was in a hospital where there wasn’t the ability to provide that kind of monitoring, where medications were in short supply, and it was just tragic to see this type of a situation. So I said to myself, “Maybe I need to be a voice for these women who are dying in silence.” And so that was the moment that I think changed my life.
Laura Stachel (13:15):
I began writing home to my husband, to other family members, and later to friends about the situations that I was witnessing in this hospital. And my husband who was teaching solar energy to young people in California at the time said, “Look, I think solar electricity could help. When you come back, let’s see if we can encourage family and friends to put together the resources to help the hospital.” And so at that point, our goal was just to try and help this one hospital. We did not know that energy poverty was a pervasive problem in the Global South. And so when I came back to the States, there was a competition, 11 days after I arrived, for students at the University of California, Berkeley to provide a technology for social good. And so I entered the competition, pulling together a few other students, hoping to get enough money to help the hospital. And the day the competition arrived, we won honorable mention, which was really not a very large prize. It was about $1,000.
Liz Tinkham (14:17):
What did you do? What was your entry?
Laura Stachel (14:20):
The entry was to design a solar electric system for the hospital that would target the areas that were most related to maternal survival. So I wanted solar electricity for the operating theater. I wanted a system for the maternity ward, for the labor room, and I wanted to bring in a blood bank refrigerator. And the top prize was going to be about $12,500. And we went honorable mention, which was 1,000. Called my colleague in Nigeria and said, “Dr. Muazu, I’m so sorry. I was hoping to bring solar electricity to your hospital, but we didn’t win enough money.” And he said, “Don’t worry, Laura, you planted a seed. And from that seed, a great tree will grow.” And within 24 hours, one of the judges of the competition called me and said, “You should have won. How much do you need?” And I doubled the amount of the prize. And within three weeks this administrator had found funding from the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, and we were on our way.
Liz Tinkham (15:26):
Your husband helped you craft a kit. So talk about that kit that you took to Nigeria.
Laura Stachel (15:31):
So we knew we wanted a large solar electric system for the hospital, but we also knew that it was important to engage the end users. Like not just us designing this, but I should go back and talk to my colleagues in Nigeria about our design and see what they wanted. So I asked my husband to come with me so he could describe what he was planning. He had seen photographs and heard multiple stories of the situations I described when I was there and he said, “There’s no way I’m coming. You’re going to need to go back and tell them about solar energy.” And I said, “But I don’t really have enough information.”
Laura Stachel (16:04):
So he designed a kit that was a demonstration kit, that was like a miniature of what the larger system was going to be, but it had all the same components. It had smaller solar panels, it had what’s called a charge controller, which regulates the energy coming in from the solar panels, it had a battery, and appliances. It had some sample lights. And in those days, we brought walkie talkies because cell phones were not ubiquitous yet in that part of the world. So I brought all of this and I packed it inside my suitcase and unpacked the suitcase in the operating theater and said, “Here’s what we’re thinking about. We’re going to bring in this larger system. What do you think?” And they said, “Can you leave this equipment right now?” And I said, “No, no. This is a demonstration kit. You’re going to get a much larger system. You don’t understand.” And they said, “No, you don’t understand. This could help us save lives right now.”
Laura Stachel (16:57):
So that was the first inkling we had that a very limited amount of energy packed in a compact format of a suitcase might be of benefit to a clinic. And so we did do the larger system eventually where we did support all the large units of the hospital I mentioned. The maternal death rate went down by 70% in the next year. They used to lose three to eight women every month at that hospital, and it went down to two, less than two. And I actually called them last year, they said they were two deaths in the entire year. They were no longer turning women away at night, which is something I had witnessed when I was there. So the capacity to see patients increased.
Laura Stachel (17:37):
And I really thought we were done, but my colleagues in the hospital began bringing me to surrounding clinics where the health provider said, “Hey, we’re in the dark as well.” They started calling me the solar doctor. “Can you bring us solar electricity as well?” That’s when my husband and I began to think that maybe we should intentionally bring these suitcase-sized systems to the health facilities.
Laura Stachel (18:00):
So our house was turned into an assembly line. Our backyard was filled with equipment. People would come over, we would have Solar Suitcase assembly parties. Lean upon friends and family to give us donations and pull together equipment. And each time I went back, I would bring another prototype of what we began calling the Solar Suitcase.
Liz Tinkham (18:20):
And you were literally carrying them on the plane?
Laura Stachel (18:22):
Yeah, I have great pictures of just … And we would basically use our neighbors to donate their old suitcases so that I could pack the equipment in them and I could leave a suitcase in each of these clinics.
Laura Stachel (18:33):
We were continuing along this vein, and then I went to a global health conference at Yale University called Unite For Sight. And the keynote speaker that year was Nicholas Kristof, who talked about his work doing humanitarian aid in Africa. His stories had actually been very inspirational to me. So I met him and told him how much I had appreciated the stories that he had shared about maternal healthcare, and I shared with him the project that we were doing and the Solar Suitcase project. And unbeknownst to me, he wrote about it in The Times the next day, in a blog, and I started getting both donations and requests.
Laura Stachel (19:11):
So people started writing to us from around the world. And that’s when I began realizing this was not a problem unique to Northern Nigeria, this was a problem that was happening in so many parts of the world where electricity is rationed, where there is a very limited supply of electricity from the utility grid. And so there’s what’s called load shedding. The utility grid operators have to choose which neighborhoods get electricity when. So if you were lucky, you were on the grid and got some electricity. If you were unlucky, there was no grid at all. And so it turns out that there are tens and thousands of health facilities that don’t have any electricity and hundreds of thousands that have sporadic electricity. And so learning about that really was what motivated us to start an organization, a nonprofit that we called, We Care Solar.
Laura Stachel (20:04):
It’s actually part of an acronym. We Care stands for Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Electricity, but it also was about caring. I really felt that if we could introduce this issue to people like you and me that just might never think that our sisters in another country might be suffering trying to deliver in darkness with a health provider who cannot see what she or he is doing, that we would care to do something about it. And so we started this nonprofit and began getting donations and wrote to foundations to try and get grants. And through that, began scaling up. And by scaling up, we needed to do things like create Solar Suitcases that could be manufactured not just in my backyard, but actually in a factory.
Liz Tinkham (20:51):
Yeah, and not your neighbors’ old suitcases?
Laura Stachel (20:54):
And not my neighbors’ old suitcases, and ones that had lights that were good enough to last for years. And we did what’s called user design research where I’d go back to Nigeria multiple times and not just see what worked, but see what failed, see what things broke, see how people use the equipment. And if I saw, for example, that the light switch was very close to the solar on switch and by turning off the light, they would sort of knock out the power, I’d say, “Okay, hmm, I have to separate those two switches.” Or if a connector was sort of stripped thin because it was used multiple times, we had to get better connectors, one that were designed for thousands of uses, not just for several uses.
Laura Stachel (21:34):
So we began to design Solar Suitcases for clinics in many countries that really were in remote communities that face rather harsh conditions. And so we needed to make things that were robust and long lasting. The lights that are included in the Solar Suitcase are designed to last for 70,000 hours and to be strong enough that they can be dropped, they can have fluid splash on them, they can be cleaned, but they really, for my criteria, as a doctor, I wanted to know that a doctor could do a C-section and have the light they needed to finish the surgery.
Liz Tinkham (22:08):
Given that you were in Africa and you’re working with governments and NGOs and different cultures. I mean, how did you know what to do? Did you have advisors over there? I mean, it just seems very overwhelming to think about expansion outside of one hospital.
Laura Stachel (22:21):
You’re absolutely right. And I knew nothing about running a business, running a nonprofit, international development. And so there was a real evolution of my own understanding, and we could never have done it without bringing together a team of people that were also passionate about this mission and willing to be a great help. So right now, I have people on the team who have worked in Africa for many years, who have directed programs. And now that we’ve really expanded, we have team members that are African, that live in Africa and headquarters that are in Nampula.
Laura Stachel (22:57):
But it’s a really good question, how does one get started? Because when I tell the story, it sounds like there was some intentionality and somehow I knew where we were headed and we didn’t. We just knew that one hospital needed help, and I was so determined for that hospital and my new colleagues to get the support they needed, that I was willing to reach out to people to say, “How do we design a system there? How do we get equipment in Africa?” And I’d go back and forth and meet with people to learn. And then when the next clinic started asking for help, we had to say, “Well, can we make Solar Suitcases for those clinics?” And initially, my shipping modality was me being the courier, bringing them back.
Laura Stachel (23:36):
So I didn’t know how to ship things, I just knew how to put luggage on a plane. And then the World Health Organization contacted us in the end of 2010 and said they needed 20 Solar Suitcases for Liberia. We had never made 20 of anything. I mean, we just didn’t know how to standardize things. And we brought in a wonderful engineer, Brent Moellenberg, who had worked with Engineers Without Borders, who helped us design something that could be replicable. And that’s when we started working with a yellow case. I’m happy to share photos if you want to put on your website for this.
Liz Tinkham (24:10):
Oh, yeah. We’d love to see some, yeah.
Laura Stachel (24:13):
Yeah. So that’s when we began creating something that could be replicated. And then after that, that could actually be manufactured in a factory. And then we needed to learn about shipping logistics. And so we started shipping things out, and that was a very painful process. I mean, I was used to things that you could carry and take with you that day. I didn’t know that I could sort of let my precious cargo go and be taken by other people and then cleared by customs.
Laura Stachel (24:37):
So what we did is we partnered with other organizations that were already working in maternal healthcare. So I think the first time we did a shipment to Liberia, we worked with World Health Organization Liberia. Then we sent things to Uganda. We worked with a group called Amref. That was an international healthcare organization. So we piggybacked onto existing structures. So the healthcare organization, Amref, knew how to teach health workers how to provide better care, but they didn’t have the electricity component taken. So we worked on that part and worked with them.
Laura Stachel (25:13):
And the way that a lot of countries are in Africa, they may have specific organizations covering a region or a certain district. So maybe UNICEF covers three to five districts in Uganda, and UNFPA covers several others, and a group called Doctors with Africa CUAMM covers several others, and Amref covers several, Pathfinder covers several, Save the Children covers several. So it’s like a patchwork quilt.
Laura Stachel (25:40):
Initially, we would work with a specific agency and cover the districts that they were in support of. And then we realized, it was a bit of an equity issue. Why should a woman in one district have access to safer deliveries with clean energy, but if you lived in another district, you didn’t? And so we began to think that every woman has the right to safe childbirth, every health facility is entitled to reliable electricity, and we knew that clean, renewable energy was a wonderful solution to this problem. So we launched what’s called the Light Every Birth initiative. That called upon governments and these coalition of partners, like the ones I’ve described to you to work together, to say, could we cover every public health facility within an entire country?
Liz Tinkham (26:25):
Across multiple countries or just in one?
Laura Stachel (26:27):
Well, we started by doing it in one and we chose one that was a lot smaller than some of the others we’re now working in. We worked in Liberia, where they had about 450 health centers that needed light. So that was still a lot, but it wasn’t thousands. And we partnered with the government. The government was very enthusiastic to work with us on this. And so we started going district by district, working, as I mentioned, with the coalition of partners and engaging the government itself at both the federal level and at the district level. And we now have already reached all of the health facilities that were in need there, so we did light every birth. But what’s important in addition to getting equipment in place, is to make sure that the programs can be sustained and that the lights can be kept on.
Laura Stachel (27:14):
And solar electric equipment has batteries that need replacement. Some of the devices, the medical devices we include in the Solar Suitcase need replacement. So we needed to come up with a whole supply chain and a method to train the district health technicians in their own country how to care for the equipment. So that’s part of what we do as well.
Laura Stachel (27:34):
One of the things I want to emphasize is that technology is one part of the solution, but training health workers to use the technology is also incredibly important and training people in their own countries to do the installations is important. So a lot of what we do is training and to create a whole ecosystem of support to enable these programs to actually happen at a district and then at a country level.
Laura Stachel (28:01):
So Liberia was our first Light Every Birth country. Our next Light Every Birth country was Uganda, and we’ve already reached probably more than 1,500 health facilities there. And I think we have a goal of reaching about 2,500. Zimbabwe was our third Light Every Birth country with a goal of reaching about 1,200 or a 1,300 facilities. And then Sierra Leone is our fourth country. And again, we have a similar goal of reaching all of the public health facilities there. And in each of these cases, we have been able to work with ministries of health, sometimes ministries of energy, all sorts of partners to be able to help us to have this audacious goal of lighting every birth, but we’re showing that it’s feasible, it’s possible. And with people like you and your listeners to help us with funding this, we’re just [inaudible 00:28:53] to keep going.
Liz Tinkham (28:59):
Where are you headed with We Care Solar and Light Every Birth? What are some of your goals as you look forward?
Laura Stachel (29:05):
I’d like to say that during my own lifetime, we can say this problem has gone away. So that’s not only by our organization reaching every clinic, but by also inspiring other organizations to take on this charge. And so advocacy is very important. I began working with the Sustainable Energy for All movement with the United Nations a number of years ago, elevating this issue of the importance of renewable energy for safe deliveries and encouraging others to do the same. We won a couple of awards from the United Nations that have allowed us to again, advocate and elevate this issue.
Laura Stachel (29:45):
And so you may have heard of the Sustainable Development Goals, which are promoted by United Nations and governments around the world. Some of those goals include reducing maternal mortality, reducing newborn mortality, which goes hand in hand with unsafe deliveries, and trying to achieve sustainable energy for all where we’re bringing renewable energy to people that may not have any electricity at all. Close to a billion people don’t have modern electricity.
Laura Stachel (30:14):
But when we introduce electricity, let’s introduce renewable, sustainable forms of electricity. Let’s try and address climate change issues by thinking about the impact that our innovations are having on the world around us. So something like the Solar Suitcase is bringing clean energy to communities, helping to fight climate change, helping to promote safer healthcare, not just for mothers, but for entire communities. Because when we bring light to a health center, we’re empowering the health workers to treat all sorts of issues that patients have in those places.
Laura Stachel (30:49):
So the Sustainable Development Goals are trying to achieve a better world by 2030, and our goal would be to light every birth by 2030. And that’s only going to happen if many people partner together to try and eradicate energy poverty in health facilities.
Liz Tinkham (31:04):
And so talk about your results to date. You all have saved a lot of lives. What do you estimate?
Laura Stachel (31:09):
Well, to date, we’ve reached more than 7,100 health facilities that have served more than 9.5 million mothers and newborns. And while that is a lot of people to reach, we know that it’s just a small number compared to the number that are in need. So we are not stopping yet. We’re continuing to go. We’d like to now enter new countries.
Laura Stachel (31:34):
One of the countries we’d like to become a Light Every Birth country is Nigeria, which itself has more than 30,000 health facilities, about 10,000 of which probably could benefit from our programs. So we are looking for funders, for partners to help us with this particular goal.
Laura Stachel (31:53):
We’re also testing out other equipment that can work off of the Solar Suitcase. Right now, we’re doing a project in Ethiopia where the Solar Suitcase is being used to power vaccine refrigerators because we know vaccinations are incredibly important for pediatric care. And everyone now knows about the importance of vaccines for things like infectious diseases, such as COVID, et cetera.
Liz Tinkham (32:14):
You’ve mentioned the need for funding and I’m sure people who are listening will be inspired to donate. You’re running a special drive for Mother’s Day. So talk a little bit about that and how people can help you.
Laura Stachel (32:24):
Well, Liz, thank you so much for asking about our Mother’s Day campaign. We love celebrating Mother’s Day. We care very much about mothers and their entire families. And this Mother’s Day, we have a special fundraising drive where some of our special friends and board members are going to be doubling the donations that are being made to our website. Our website is wecaresolar.org.
Liz Tinkham (32:48):
And we’ll put that in the show notes.
Laura Stachel (32:49):
Okay, fantastic. So if people go to our online donation portal, they’ll see information about this.
Liz Tinkham (32:57):
You know, I always have a hard time buying something for my mother, so I know exactly what I’m getting her and she’ll be thrilled to be part of that.
Liz Tinkham (33:03):
So if I think about you, Laura, pianist, doctor public health student, mother, nonprofit founder. So that’s enough for several lifetimes. And I just want to know, and this might be a bit of a hard question to answer about yourself, but not very many people accomplish as much as you have in their lifetime. And so like what do you attribute your success to? How do you do all this? I mean, just secret to your success and being able to get so much done in one lifetime. It’s spectacular.
Laura Stachel (33:33):
I think a really deep curiosity is probably a part of this and it’s something I think I’ve had since I was very little. My parents tell me a story that when they brought me to a preschool, on the very first day, they were taking the kids on a tour, including a tour of a swimming pool that was at this preschool, and I didn’t know how to swim, and I literally jumped in with my clothes on. The lifeguard had to jump in after me to rescue me.
Liz Tinkham (33:58):
You jumped in without knowing?
Laura Stachel (34:00):
Liz Tinkham (34:01):
Laura Stachel (34:01):
And they said, “Why did you just do that?” And I said, “I just wanted to look around.” And I think in some ways I just continued to jump into things over my head just because I’m super curious.
Liz Tinkham (34:15):
So I thought about naming this podcast, I’m Not Done Yet. What aren’t you done with yet?
Laura Stachel (34:19):
Well, let’s see. I just finished my PhD during the pandemic, so I did get to check that box off. I finally wrote it up. It was the fact that I couldn’t travel to Africa during the pandemic, kept me in one place long enough to write up a lot of the stories that I had collected over the years.
Liz Tinkham (34:36):
Oh, I hope that granted you without any troubles, given everything you’ve done, so …
Laura Stachel (34:41):
To be honest, I’m going to be taking my very first break in probably 14 years. And I think I’d like to do some piano and art again and sort of try and write about some of the journey that I’ve had over the last number of years and just be open, open to sort of things that are around me to see what else is new. We really love partnering with other groups, learning from other practitioners that are in the space.
Liz Tinkham (35:08):
So I’m in awe of everything you’ve accomplished. It’s amazing. Thank you so much for being on the show. In addition to wecaresolar.org, where else can our listeners find you online?
Laura Stachel (35:19):
Well, we have a Facebook page, we’re on Instagram, on Twitter. I would say our Facebook page is one that we keep updating quite a bit.
Liz Tinkham (35:27):
We will put all of that in the show notes then, so people can follow, as well as the Mother’s Day donation. So Laura, thank you very much. Enjoy your break. Very well deserved.
Laura Stachel (35:37):
Thanks so very much, Liz.
Liz Tinkham (35:41):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to the Third Act Podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.