Mobile moms: Improving infant nutrition in Lao PDR — How smartphones can help reduce child stunting

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Village women in Lao PDR learn how to make videos about infant nutrition Village women learn how to make videos that are later shared in community nutrition networks (Adapted from CLICK)

If a baby is crying and needs feeding, would you know what to do? Across the world, young mothers and inexperienced caregivers look for support from someone who knows what to do. In the Lao PDR (Laos), World Bank-supported projects are using digital technology to connect women in rural areas so they can help each other improve child and maternal nutrition.

Learning about safe and nutritious food for children takes time and practice. In Laos, the challenge is even greater. High poverty rates, lack of access to good farmland, low levels of education and health services, cultural taboos, and limited connectivity combine to produce high rates of stunting—when children are too short for their age due to malnutrition. Stunting can cause long-term damage that lasts far beyond childhood: slower learning ability, poor academic performance, and lower productivity and wages in adulthood.

In the Lao uplands, where stunting is most common, connectivity and smartphone usage are on the rise, opening new opportunities. The World Bank-supported Poverty Reduction Fund, under the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, has brought technology to community engagement to address child stunting. In four ethnically diverse northern provinces—Huaphan, Oudomxay, Phongsaly, and Xieng Khuang—women come together in Farmer Nutrition Groups to learn about food processing, group cooking with time-saving technology, and how to grow nutritious foods. After taking classes, they produce smartphone videos in their own languages and share them through social media.


By creating content and teaching their peers, these women not only deliver practical knowledge and experience but also foster a sense of community ownership and voice. The women report that learning from video is more motivating than using photos or traditional methods. Kavue, a 22-year-old mother from the Hmong ethnic group in Panghok village in Phongsaly, says, “I was so happy to hear that my clip has been viewed over 1,000 times. I will make more clips as I think learning from videos is easier”.

"I was so happy to hear that my clip has been viewed over 1,000 times. I will make more clips as I think learning from videos is easier."

As women like Kavue learn how to create communication materials they gain confidence. Some can now produce highly effective content that’s accessible to their peers in their native language, with the right level of detail, and through popular channels. So far, they primarily use Facebook, WhatsApp and TikTok.

Image Platforms used by villagers to share nutrition stories (FB = Facebook)


Not all the women were instantly able to use this technology. To overcome the initial “digital gap”, the Fund worked with CLICK, a local social development enterprise, which hired youth leaders to help participants identify content, record and edit video clips, and add subtitles and soundtracks. Since 2020, villagers have produced about 1,600 videos on topics such as which foods to grow in home gardens, and making nutrient powders from local ingredients. When mixed with hot water these make nutritious instant meals for children. Many of these videos are posted on the popular Our Kitchen Facebook page.


Scaling Up

The Poverty Reduction Fund’s efforts to support behavior-change for better nutrition form part of the Lao government’s Multi-Sector Nutrition Convergence Approach to reduce stunting. The program consists of six World Bank supported projects which are scaling up digital learning, including through a new Community Livelihood Enhancement and Resilience project.

The Bank funds these projects and supplies technical expertise in areas such as nutrition planning, agriculture, and communications so that the various elements build on and reinforce each other. Studies indicate that without the nutrition convergence program, the incidence of stunting in the project area would have been almost 8% higher if the program had not been in place.


Early Lessons

Early phases of this work offer valuable lessons. Not all villagers are equally interested in making videos, and working with the most enthusiastic villagers from the start is most productive. Importantly, it should be realized that villagers contribute their time and talent to project success and should be compensated for their efforts. On average contributors make one video every three months, estimating around four hours for each video, and placing a monetary value of $3 on this time. Projects should build payment for this time into budgets, in line with existing practices to provide paid employment for women in target areas.

Smartphones and digital technology are powerful tools that can help people in remote areas to contribute actively to their development. The content they produce is often more relevant than what can be generated by outside experts. Early experience suggests that strategic planning and adequate incentives are needed for investment in this kind of community engagement and communications to succeed. When it does, villagers become producers of information and agents of change rather than passive consumers of content.

Jutta Krahn

Senior Nutrition Specialist, World Bank

Yuri Park

Social Development Specialist, World Bank

Benjamin Burckhart

Senior Social Development Specialist, World Bank

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