This profile was prepared when Rose Volz-Schmidt was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Rose understood a crucial problem: The German cultural notion of the happy, self-sufficient mother is often far removed from women’s experience after childbirth. The majority of young, urban mothers are alone and overburdened, especially in the first three to four months, without family nearby, community support, or entitlement to official help (which is granted only to sick or teenage mothers). Rose is changing this scenario on several levels. By franchising her organization, “wellcome,” across Germany, she fills in the gap left by state welfare institutions and strengthens young mothers and families. She equips carefully selected partner organizations within the welfare system with the how-tos to build and coordinate local networks of volunteer caretakers—most are older women with grown children—to help young families during the critical period after childbirth. Rose taps a huge, unused resource with these older mothers, who welcome the opportunity to help their younger counterparts, and are proud to impart their knowledge. She helps the families and significantly lowers the risk of postpartum depression, stress, divorce, and infant health complications. She also improves existing welfare organizations by helping them offer a much-needed service to families in their region. Rose has built extensive networks between the regional wellcome hubs and partnerships with doctors, midwives, and nurses—who are with the mother near the time of childbirth—to spread the word about her service. Rose is ultimately challenging the perception of motherhood in German society, which implicitly assumes mothers are happy after childbirth and society should not hear from them. Rose teaches that childrearing is a collective societal endeavor, and shows how to assume this responsibility in a way that is rewarding for everyone involved.