OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign up, Login or Learn more

Umzanyana – securing workplace nursing

Securing a safe nursing environment for mothers working informally in public space, so they can better connect with their newborn babies.

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni
23 27

Written by

In no more than 3 sentences, please tell us who your idea is designed for and how it reimagines the new life experience.

The lack of income security and the challenge of bringing their newborn baby to the workplace, are issues which stress informal worker mothers and negatively impact maternal health. The Umzanyana (‘baby caretaker’) is a multi-use 'baby box', adapted from a market storage box, which allows mothers to create a controlled environment for their newborn baby in the workplace. This facilitates workplace nursing and bonding, which is beneficial for both mother and baby in the first 6 months of new-life

Directly translated from isiZulu “umzanyana” means ‘umbilical cord’, an instrument of connection that allows the mother to give the baby what it needs. As an extension, it also refers to a close family member who acts as a wet nurse or baby sitter, who helps the mother take care of her new born child.

In Sub-Saharan Africa 74% of workers in the informal economy are women, of which pregnant mothers are most vulnerable. Due to a lack of income security, informal worker mothers experience high stress levels, which negatively affect both maternal and child health. Another factor which can contribute to this anxiety is the inadequate provision of workplace infrastructure and basic services for informal traders (e.g. shelter and furniture), making the workplace environment difficult for an expectant mother or their new born child.

The umzanyana is a multifunctional wooden storage box and work tool, which would be transformed into a temporary baby nursery. It would function as the existing storage furniture used by the informal worker mother to store her goods at night and would optimise on the potential to be used as a curbside nursery throughout the day (when it is usually unused). 

This intervention would provide the mother with practical support, as a ‘helping hand’ which holds the baby at intervals, allowing the baby to be in constant close proximity to the mother, whilst she is working. It would also provide a surface and appropriate environment for nursing and activities between mother and child, such as changing diapers and playing etc.

Essentially, the intervention would be a locally produced kit-of-parts, such as a soft sponge for the baby to sleep on and line the inside of the box, sheets for the baby to sleep on, a mobile to stimulate the growing baby and a form of protection from the elements etc. This kit would be issued to the mother over a 6 month period, by a community health worker who would also act as a roving nurse, visiting the mothers with babies at their worksite.

The sustainability and value added by this infrastructural intervention would arise from the development a holistic program which incorporates the production of the baby boxes into the existing ecosystem. This could include manufacturing by the local carpenter, sewing of various components by local seamstresses, and soft resources such as community health workers and a general sense of community awareness of the baby to better support the mother and baby.

In acknowledging that for many women traders, bringing their child to work is the only option, it is critical to optimize the available technology and infrastructure to provide support to these vulnerable mothers.

At what stage is your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing: I am exploring my idea, gathering the inspiration and information I need to test it with real users.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Wooden storage boxes are currently being used as a locally manufactured work tool by informal workers. We are investigating ways to make these boxes more multifunctional to meet the needs of informal trader mothers with newborn babies at their workplace. We would locally source a kit of parts, such as padding, sheets, and a baby mobile to retrofit on an existing storage box, that mothers could evaluate and give a preliminary critique on.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Advice on complementary health services and products to support our infrastructural and community-centered intervention, which acknowledge the contextual needs of the urban informal economy, in order to ensure a holistically enhanced nurturing experience of the baby (by the mother and the community).

Tell us about your work experience:

Asiye eTafuleni is a Durban based NGO, established in 2008 “to support informal traders and others who use public spaces for their work, by providing design and development expertise”. In partnership with WHO, we are currently researching breastfeeding amongst informal worker mothers with infants.

This idea emerged from...

  • An organization or company

Are you an expecting, new, or experienced mom?

  • yes

Are you a healthcare practitioner?

  • no

Are you a current employee of UCB Pharmaceuticals or Sutter Health?

  • no


Join the conversation:

Photo of Pauline Conley

Asiye eTafuleni has a beautiful way of looking at what exists and making it better in ways that are impactful and sustainable. This is another example of combining design and development to create a solution that is truly grassroots and relevant. Thanks for the continued inspiration!

Photo of Sinothile

Well done on a well thought out idea Asiye eTafuleni! Informal trader mothers represent a vulnerable group- and are often primarily in need of practical support which then translates into improved emotional health for both the mother and the baby.

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you Sinothile. We really do agree!

Photo of Nosipho Mkhize

Awesome idea! So important for babies to be with their moms!!!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you Nosipho! We have enjoyed learning about the mutual benefits in emotional wellbeing and physical health, encouraged by breastfeeding the baby and the bonding of the Mother and child.

Photo of Michelle Reynolds

What a wonderful worthy and important project. Hope it gets the endorsement and support that it needs to make it a reality.

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you- we appreciate your support Michelle!

Photo of john

A program titled CREATE we founded at MIT has been volunteering with AET over the last 5 years. They have a wonderful program and this program sounds needed and doable. I trust you find this program worthy of your support. They are an inspiring organization!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you John! We have really enjoyed partnering with CREATE over the years. We have really enjoyed the collaborative and interdisciplinary nature of our engagements with your team - these have inspired the multifaceted response we hope to bring to challenges such as this one!

Photo of Mershen Pillay

What a contextually responsive idea. It is simple but very powerful for especially early childhood development!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thanks Mershen! We appreciate your support, in light of your expertise in audiology. We look forward to partnering with you in further developing the specifications of the intervention in order to make the intervention as responsive to the baby's needs as possible.

Photo of kate mytty

Hi Asiye eTafuleni - It is exciting to see your work here. What I appreciate most is this concept makes it possible for women to fit their workplaces to their needs -- and not to wholly fit their needs to their workplaces.

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Kate, thank you for sharing your insights - we totally agree!

We know that new mothers in the 'formal' workplace are supported by certain codes which prioritize the needs of the mother and newborn child should she chose to bring the child to work.

We hope to develop the same types of privileges for informal worker mothers in the urban environment to better respond to the presence of the baby and the mother. This would include identifying locations in specific markets with preferable conditions such as reduced noise levels that would be branded and reserved for mothers to trade from during the period in which they chose to bring their babies to work. This would also encourage community awareness and surveillance within the environment around the baby.

Photo of Ana

What an amazing vision. Well researched and substantiated. Well conceived. Aimed straight at doing a world of good for a very vulnerable population. Well done!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you Ana! We really are inspired by the informal economy environment in which we work - we look for solutions that emerge from the resources found within the context itself. We hope that this is what will keep our interventions relevant and sustainable.

Photo of Khaya Nhlanhla Mngomeni

Wow what a brilliant idea. You have done a very good job! Thank you for advocating for the informal traders. As I was reading, when I came across the point where you mentioned that there will be a nurse roving to check if all is well, a thought came to my mind that it would also help mothers to have an individual perhaps from the Home Affairs side to ensure that birth registration is done within the due course. Very interesting!!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you Khaya! And a great observation on the roving nurse. We had hoped that our intervention would evoke other forms of community support services to support the new mother. These would include support such as early childhood development and other context-specific support services like those received by mothers who work in a formal working environment.

Photo of Do Huber

Great Idea, great graphics! :) It will contribute a lot to the ladies on the Warwick markets. Wish you the best with this challenge!

Warm greetings from Vienna!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Thank you Do! We really tried to share 'real picture' of the urban environment informal worker mothers work in and would bring their newborn babies into, through the graphics. We then overlayed this with what we imagine an improved scenario would be through our unintrusive yet impactful intervention.

Your support is warmly felt!

Photo of Blaise Dobson

Really exciting idea! An innovative African spin on an Finnish concept?

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Hi Blaise

Thank you! Yes- we have used the Finnish idea of the baby box and innovated it to work in our African context.

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Asiye eTafuleni ,

Great to see you in the Challenge, and with a product that addresses the new life journey! I'm wondering which of these user personas aligns most with your concept ?

Could you share the journey for a mother using this box? Are there other similar solutions to this product already available?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Asiye eTafuleni

Hi Lauren

Thanks for your comment!

Our concept would primarily serve the under-resourced mother and the support systems.

The socio-economic status of female informal traders makes them some of the most vulnerable, under-resourced mothers. Most mothers cannot afford the additional cost of supporting a baby and do not have medical insurance. Their insecure income causes great challenges for child care and maternal health. Income insecurity is recognized as one of the greatest generators of maternal stress in this context.

Umzanyana allows for vulnerable mothers to retain their income and to be connected to their baby in the vital first 6 months after birth, improving the health of the baby and the mother.

Furthermore, Umzanyana facilitates and fits into a holistic program within the community, empowering the existing environmental systems amongst informal traders to support the mother better and learn about childcare and maternal health.

Some of the role players in this program would be:
-neighbouring traders
-barrow operators (transporters)
-community health worker/ roving nurse
-local carpenter
-local seamstress

A mother, supported by a community health worker, would use Umzanyana. The roving nurse providing checkups for the baby and mother. Umzanyana will store the elements forming the curbside nursery and the mother's goods and infrastructure, keeping it safe overnight. Umzanyana will be delivered to her trading site by the barrow operator as per the usual network. Once the mother is unpacked and set up for trade in the morning, Umzanyana would become the helping hand. It will be a cot, play pen, changing table etc. (as indicated in the drawings) during the day, and will be packed up and transported by the barrow operator back to the storage site for the night, at no inconvenience to the mother.

The idea of a box as an elementary tool for baby care and a gateway program to provide support for mothers started in Finland.

Umzanyana's originality comes from its contextual response to informal trader mothers in an African market. It extends the concept of the Baby Box as an elementary tool and gateway program, providing a curbside nursery for mothers and a gateway to a broader community support system. Appropriating a substantial existing piece of furniture to perform multiple uses makes the product efficient and has the potential to mitigate environmental factors that make the trader space hostile for a baby. The box has also been developed to serve the various critical 6 month developmental needs of a baby, but in a public sphere.