Meet the innovator: Zoe Wright

    July 6, 2023

    In this edition, we catch up with Zoe Wright, Founder and CEO of The Real Birth Company, a service and training programme that supports pregnant women and people who access all maternity services and the midwives, doulas and antenatal teachers who support them.

    Current job role:

    Founder and CEO

    Name of innovation:

    The Real Birth Digital Workshop

    Tell us about your innovation in a sentence.

    The Real Birth Digital Workshop™ is an award winning, interactive, user friendly, animated, and easily accessible tool, providing mothers-to-be, many from underrepresented groups, with the essential support that they may not otherwise receive.

    The Real Birth Company won the award for Innovation in Helping Address Health Inequalities at the Innovate Awards 2023.

    What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment?

    Being a community midwife I often found it hard to have in-depth conversations about birth physiology in appointments, as they were just not long enough. Even with an hour for birth planning, there is so much information to share to give time for true informed choice to take place. This was even harder with women whose first language was not English. I often felt like I was failing. Even with all the extra hours and time taken to try and create resources that I could share, I just kept thinking that there had to be a more proactive way of supporting people.

    What three pieces of advice would you give budding innovators?

    There is a quote that I have stuck on my wardrobe door since I made the decision to turn years of ideas into action. This quote was photocopied for me by a person who also started her own business and has grown it into a wonderful charity that supports so many. ‘Many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up.’ There are weeks when I never seem to seem stop walking uphill and get no closer to the top, but then something happens and the core of our work and its purpose make the distance worth it!

    Three things:

    • Don’t give up
    • There is always something to learn even if it's not clear in the beginning
    • Be adaptable. Even though the idea is great, it may not work! Learning how to be adaptable, open to ideas and new findings is essential!

    What’s been your toughest obstacle?

    Learning how to become a businessperson. In our journey so far, I have met lots of innovators and they are all so passionate, it's infectious! Most of us know our industry really well, but turning that into a business and running one, for me has been a huge learning curve. I have had to learn a whole set of new skills and am learning every day, which is very similar to midwifery as there is always something to learn there too!

    What’s been your innovator journey highlight?

    I think that this is really hard to answer. I’ve had so many, for example, the first time we went live in a hospital when the midwives were actually using it and most importantly liking it. Then there was the day I found out I had made the NIA interview list! Becoming a fellow on the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme is very high up on the list!

    If I had to pick a moment (maybe two!), it would be the first time we pulled post-birth data from people using our innovation. The comments had me in tears! Knowing that people using us were feeling more confident about their birth choices and reading that they felt it had helped their birth experience - you can’t get any better than that. The second was about four months ago: I was walking to the office and three of our employees were walking up the stairs. They didn’t know each other before they worked for us. They met, laughed and chatted about the work they were going to be doing that day, and their work is what makes us work. That was a real highlight to see.

    The digital programme has reached over 11,000 women, 10.8% of those being from ethnic minorities and 4.5% under 16 years of age. After completing the programme, 66.1% of women reported they had a vaginal birth versus NHS average of 50%. Meanwhile, 24% of women used water for birth versus the 5% NHS average, and only 15% of women used pethidine as analgesia versus 25% NHS average.

    What is the best part of your job now?

    Besides working with some amazing people who are so passionate about our organisation, it’s working out how to make it better. Better for people accessing it and a better resource that midwives want to share to support midwifery practice and informed choices. To do this we hold a lot of Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement activities. I feel really passionate about progression and working out how to engage more people to support their informed choices and decision-making in childbirth.

    If you were in charge of the NHS and care system, what’s the one thing you’d do to speed up health innovation?

    There are lots of great innovations to support the NHS, but it can be very slow for adoption to happen. For good reason too, especially to measure if they are fit for purpose. But there are some things that would be helpful. For example - to gain an understanding of all the different accreditations and certifications innovations have achieved to be where they are now, a more standardised approach would support innovation. One of the slowest factors is people not really understanding what they all mean or what innovators have had to do to achieve them.

    A typical day for you would include…

    Getting up, and having at least two cups of tea to start the day! Checking my emails and organising them into urgent for me, urgent for someone else and non-urgent.

    Asking for a report on usage across the UK and assessing if there are any issues to be aware of.

    At the same time, I have a quick catch up with our Chief Operations Officer who fires at me all the things going on that day, and if there is something foreseen that I may need to be involved in.

    I’ll then pop my head around the door of the tech team, see if they are all okay.

    I quite like going to see the graphic designer next and seeing where we are up to with project work, for example the ‘Meet your baby’s care team’ animated video in our SBRI Healthcare funded module of preterm birth.

    Then I’ll have two or three meetings with ICBs, Heads of Midwifery, Digital Midwifery leads or other stakeholders.

    Next some dedicated time set aside for report writing or future planning, often looking at what we need to do next how that fits into our future workstream or scope, then measuring it against the needs from our Patient and Public Engagement activities and National agendas. In-between that I may have a call or ten with one of my four children, normally about something they can solve but won’t! Luckily the dogs don’t have phones...

    You can find The Real Birth Company on Twitter and LinkedIn.