Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Family Health "Check Up" 2013: A Chance to Reflect

May 01, 2013

This is the first post in the six-part Family Health "Check Up" 2103 series which provides a window into the ways in which we think about our Family Health strategy, at the foundation. Follow @gatesfoundation and @gdarmsta on Twitter to join the conversation.

Every year in the spring, each strategy team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation goes through a strategy review process—a time to step back and reflect on what we have learned over the past year, to identify ways in which global health and development are changing, where our strategies are solidly on track and where we may need to course correct in order to improve performance and progress toward impact.

It’s an exercise that is the epitome of what Winston Churchill said: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”

We have taken that to heart in the Family Health Program as we prepared for our review sessions this year. This process has also given me the opportunity to look back at what I included in my Behind the Scenes series last year and notice the changes along the way.

This year’s six-part Family Health Check Up 2013 blog series is intended to present the evolution of our thinking leading to adjustments to our strategy, highlight lessons learned from our investments last year, and give some insight into plans for the coming year in pursuing our vision collaboratively across Family Health.

A few notable global events occurred in 2012 that have had an impact on global health and development and thus on our strategies. With the drive to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5 gaining momentum, the world gave more attention to maternal and child health, family planning and nutrition. Research provided evidence of improvements in maternal and child health with reductions in mortality rates, but also highlighted the fact that improvements in newborn survival are lagging behind those for maternal health and the health of children after the first month. Family planning was put back in the global health spotlight after decades of neglect. The Hunger Summit during the Olympic Games brought needed attention to reduce the number of children left stunted by under-nourishment. And a new crowd funding platform, Catapult, created a way for people to get involved to support global health projects that empower poor women and girls and improve their lives. 

 Many of the factors that influence a person’s health, however, are out of the domain of direct influence of Family Health. As such, our strategies are taking a more collaborative approach.

Within the Family Health team, these changes on the global landscape have led us to adjust our approaches and strategies with an aim to become more efficient and effective in driving impact at scale.

Perhaps the biggest change is with Family Planning becoming its own program within the foundation this coming June, warranted by the increased attention to the importance of the rights of women and girls to decide whether, when and how many children to have, driven by the London Summit on Family Planning in July 2012 and follow-up since. Regardless of where programs fall on the organogram, though, Family Health and Family Planning are and will always be intrinsically linked because of their shared woman- and mother-centric focus. We will continue to work closely and collaboratively with the Family Planning team to engage women as key drivers for their and their families’ health, well-being and productivity.

Another change I’ve noticed is the world and the foundation gravitating toward more rigor in setting clear, ambitious yet achievable goals and finding measures that will mark progress towards them. For example, the FP2020 initiative, the follow-on from the London Summit on Family Planning efforts, has established a Performance Monitoring and Accountability working group to oversee and collect valid annual progress updates from countries. This group is tasked with ensuring that monitoring efforts reflect the core values of voluntary family planning and quality of care, as well as mobilizing the global community toward a new standard for annual assessment and real-time use of data for program improvement. You can also see this change reflected in the annual letter from Bill Gates and his call for better, innovative measurement tools to determine which approaches work and which do not, and to course correct in real-time in order to improve our collective ability to achieve impact.

 Simply put, we can’t improve the health of women and children alone. We need broad partnerships to be able to jointly seek efficient and effective ways to achieve impact at scale.

A third change I’ve noticed over the past year is a recognition that everything we do for women’s and children’s health is within a complex system with many moving parts that are interconnected and interdependent. Of course, it is obvious that a newborn’s health is linked to her mother’s health and care both before pregnancy, during and after. And it’s obvious that a five year-old girl has a better chance of being healthy if she had a healthy start to life, received all necessary vaccinations, and has good nutrition and a safe, stimulating environment to grow up in. And it’s obvious that this healthy five year-old girl will have more opportunities to grow up to be a healthy, productive adult, to start the life cycle again, especially if we ensure her a good education.

Many of the factors that influence a person’s health, however, are out of the domain of direct influence of Family Health. As such, our strategies are taking a more collaborative approach, for example linking to Agriculture Development to improve nutrition outcomes, working with the HIV team to explore family planning options for dual protection for HIV and pregnancy, or linking with the Integrated Delivery team to explore ways of getting life-saving interventions more effectively to the people who need them most.

Simply put, we can’t improve the health of women and children alone. We need broad partnerships to be able to jointly seek efficient and effective ways to achieve impact at scale.

Over the next few weeks, I will give you a behind-the-scenes look at each of the strategic teams linked to Family Health and how we are making progress toward achieving impact at scale.

I also want to hear from you. What are your major learning this past year, and what has changed in your family health programs over this year as a result? Where are your priorities now?

 
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