The US has the worst maternal health outcomes among peer nations, and women and infants in New Jersey are among those who experience the greatest challenges. On average, 47 women die for every 100,000 live births in New Jersey, compared to 20 nationally. Black women in the state are seven times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. It is hard to believe that a state with the highest per capita income has such terrible outcomes for birthing people.
In 2020, the First Lady of New Jersey, Tammy Murphy, launched Nurture New Jersey, an ambitious initiative to turn these statistics around for the benefit of New Jersey families. Building off this effort, four funders in New Jersey – the Burke Foundation, the Community Health Acceleration Partnership, The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — decided to launch the New Jersey Birth Equity Funders Alliance to reimagine philanthropic approaches to improving maternal health outcomes and serve as a model for the wider field. The group engaged Boldly Go and partner Afton Bloom to help structure the collaborative and align its efforts to the work of the State and to the Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) working on this issue.
SETTING THE STAGE
To launch the Alliance, Boldly Go and Afton Bloom helped to build consensus amongst four foundations – each of whom had their own strategies and organizational imperatives. The original group of funders included the Nicholson Foundation, which wound down at the end of 2021. We facilitated a series of workshops to align on a common mission and a set of values to guide decision-making. We discussed the potential for philanthropy to address issues at the community level and the pitfalls as well. We then explored how the Alliance’s collective work would add distinct value from what each organization was already doing to support mothers and infants in the State.
These ideas were incorporated into a draft charter that outlined a unified mission, values, norms, expectations, and strategic priorities for the collaborative. We dug into Nurture New Jersey’s strategic roadmap to identify synergies and gaps that would need to be filled. We then conducted in-depth interviews with community stakeholders to develop a Theory of Change.
What emerged was a powerful new approach to fund critical research, community-based solutions, and BIPOC-led organizations in their efforts to address systemic racism, reduce maternal mortality, and increase birth equity in New Jersey. Key indicators of success in the short term include increased funding and adoption of community-based and BIPOC-led models that serve all women in New Jersey. Importantly, Alliance members committed themselves to “learning and unlearning ways in which philanthropy can be an authentic partner” to community-based organizations.
By listening closely to the partners, facilitating productive conversations, and ensuring that decisions were grounded in data and values, we helped the funders come together to create a vision and strategy that was ambitious, practical, and harmonized with their individual mandates and the goals of their government and community stakeholders.
FROM STRATEGY TO ACTION
- Community Advisory Committee: The funders strongly believe that they must “do philanthropy differently” if they are to have any influence on the status quo in New Jersey. To this effect, we helped select and now facilitate a group of seven community leaders and birth equity champions to independently govern a $500,000 Community Advised Fund. In its first three months, the Fund distributed $40,000 to CBOs invested in maternal health and birth equity to support their operational and programmatic needs.
- Community-Based Organization Insights Research: Early on, the Alliance realized that little was known about the state of community-based organizations (the small doula, advocacy, or counseling organizations) in the State. There is no definitive list of these organizations or deep understanding of their needs and gaps that have served as obstacles to funding. To address this root cause problem, we led a search to select a research partner, Amaka Consulting and Evaluation Services, to study birth equity CBOs in New Jersey and map their geographic footprints, leadership, key activities, networks, preferred methods of communicating, and what is preventing CBOs from creating greater scale and impact. The insights from this landscape and needs assessment, currently underway, will power a Technical Assistance grants program that the Alliance will launch in 2023.
- Rapid Response Grants: The Alliance’s structure provides agility to swiftly respond to the needs of birthing people in New Jersey. As the formula milk and diaper supply crisis emerged a few months ago, the Alliance made a gift to the Free Formula Exchange Platform and the Community Advisory Committee supported eight local organizations providing baby essentials, nutritious food, and other supplies in North, Central, and South Jersey.
These are just a few of the initiatives in play this year, with much more to come in 2023. As the Alliance moves to a steady state of operations and grantmaking, Boldly Go and Afton Bloom’s support is winding down. Alliance members had always planned for a community-based leader to manage the collaborative’s activities. We are excited that such a leader has been hired and will be announced soon.
Early results and far-reaching ripples
While it is still early days for the Alliance, we are already seeing change happen in ways big and small. New Jersey understands that any solution to poor birth equity outcomes must be done by and with Community-Based Organizations. The Alliance members are also learning how to engage in more participatory grantmaking approaches. Other funders, in states such as Washington and Ohio, are studying the Alliance’s playbook to tackle disparities in maternal health in their states. In response, Boldly Go and Afton Bloom are working with the Community Health Acceleration Partnership (an Alliance member) and the Pritzker Children’s Initiative to seed efforts in these additional states. We look forward to sharing more about these national efforts in the future.
While much is left to be done, Boldly Go and Afton Bloom’s support to the Alliance has paved the way through strategy and execution to reduce maternal mortality in New Jersey and other states in the hopes of bringing about birth equity for all.
|↑1||The original group of funders included the Nicholson Foundation, which wound down at the end of 2021.|