Visionaries series: Every Mother Counts

Model and activist Christy Turlington Burns is on a mission to save one of the world's most valuable treasures: Mothers.

We think the world is great and all, but, let's be honest, it could also use some serious changing. We admire the innovators who blend business with philanthropy, and, in so doing, change the game for their industries as well as millions of people in need around the world. In this series, inspired by the great work of our friends at Warby Parker, we attempt to see the world through the eyes of some of those leaders. Should their stories not be incentive enough to do your own part this season, let it be noted: Studies have shown that giving back can boost your immunity, lower your risk of heart attack and release endorphins. Not too shabby. Check back weekly to be inspired by more of our favorite Visionaries.

How Every Mother Counts betters the world:

Every Mother Counts is essentially an advocacy and mobilization campaign to increase education and support for maternal mortality reduction globally. Every Mother Counts seeks to engage new audiences to better understand the challenges and the solutions while encouraging them to take action to improve the lives of girls and women worldwide. We believe that making pregnancy and childbirth safe for all moms will make the world a better place.

How she was driven to start an organization that enacts change:
I founded Every Mother Counts in 2010 after completing my first documentary film, No Woman, No Cry. After the birth of my first child, I experienced childbirth related complication that often leads to death for women who do not have access to competent health workers and supplies.

I learned that hundreds of thousands of girls and women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications, but even more shocking is that as many as 90 percent of these deaths are preventable. We know how to save these women and yet too many continue to die while bringing new life into the world.

Once I knew the facts I had to do all I could to expose the barriers women must overcome to access critical maternal care around the world. I knew that others would feel the same way. The response to No Woman, No Cry went well beyond just interest, people wanted to get involved, so I founded Every Mother Counts as a resource to further educate and engage those who wanted to be a part of putting an end to these senseless deaths.

The accomplishment of which she's proudest in her work for Every Mother Counts:
Interacting with women around the world and working with others committed to empowering girls and women everyday is pretty exciting, as is earning the right to sit at the table amongst so many organizations who have been working on these issues for decades. I am proud of the presence we now have in the global maternal health community and of each action we have inspired by inviting more people to join this conversation. We have evolved from an advocacy campaign to an organization that is able to identify gaps and fill them with funds raised in partnership with the public. Just this fall we signed two grants — one for Midwives for Haiti, which will help to train students to become skilled birth attendants, and one for the Baylor College of Medicine Children's Foundation Uganda, which will help to provide transportation vouchers so women can access health services when they deliver.

What she wishes more people knew about implementing change:
That Every Action Counts. No matter how small or how large, anything you do for a cause that you feel passionate about is enough. Each action brings us one step closer to change.

One story of someone impacted by Every Mother Counts:
There are countless stories that come to mind when asked this question. I just returned from Uganda a few days ago and met several more women who touched me. Especially those who have been utilizing the voucher system we are supporting. We met Florence, who while holding her beautiful 5-month-old son, explained how the voucher she was given had been her ticket to a functional referral and a healthy delivery. Her VHT member, Sarah, met with Florence regularly and discussed the importance of antenatal care and delivering with a skilled professional. She sold Florence a voucher and encouraged her to call either herself or her Boda driver when she went into labor.

Even though Florence’s ride was a mere 7km, traveling on a boda, in labor, over bumps and bends and around people and bicycles, it was quite a feat. When she finally arrived at the Health Center it was determined that because of her baby’s size and position, she needed more advanced care at a higher-level facility. She was loaded onto a three-wheeled ambulance called an E-ranger for another 60km ride to the referral hospital. Her healthy son, "Promise," is testament to what a difference transport makes.

The most significant thing she's learned through her work:
That women really need the support of other women. We call it the Sisterhood of Motherhood. There is a powerful universal connection between us moms and when we come together on something there is no limit to what can be achieved.

How her life has been changed by her work:
I continue to surprise myself with how much this issue and becoming a mother has impacted my life. Making the documentary and going back to school only led me to do more through EMC. It’s been so great because we keep finding new, creative ways to engage people with this issue. One of which is running marathons to highlight one of the biggest barriers women face in accessing quality care during pregnancy and childbirth — distance. That’s not something I was doing before.

Her vision for the world:

I am an optimist. I believe we have the potential to make the world a place where girls and women can choose when and if they want to become mothers and then receive the support they need to do so safely.

The message she'd send the world with one request (in 140 characters or less):
Use your voice. Together, we can make pregnancy and childbirth safe for all moms.