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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Creating Catalytic Change in Global Health

March 18, 2013

Until recently philanthropic organizations mainly used two channels to achieve their goals. They could give money to charities aligned to their vision or they could jumpstart the launching of organizations that would carry out their vision. More recently, philanthropies have found a new way of doing business that is called catalytic philanthropy.

Philanthropies are catalytic when organizations like ours join partners in endeavors that have a common vision for impact and collectively develop a common theory of change for the achievement of positive change. Philanthropists are also sometimes well-equipped to underwrite the risks associated with the exploration of innovative solutions that not all our partners can undertake.

A partnership can also be catalytic when partners purposefully choose leverage points that lead to better, faster and greater health outcomes or to positive change that would have not happened otherwise.

A great example of catalytic partnerships in the global health space is the Salud Mesoamerica 2015 Initiative. We partnered with the Carlos Slim Foundation, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Governments of the eight Mesoamerican Countries, and the Spanish Bilateral Agency to finance the large scale deployment of integrated, highly efficacious health innovations to improve the health and nutritional status of the poorest women and children in this region.

In this program we are working with Governments in generating of evidence about various innovative approaches to the delivery of maternal, neonatal and child health innovations, with a unique focus on achieving measurable results. Evidence generated within the partnership is already being used by governments in that region to implement new policies and programs.

 A partnership can also be catalytic when partners purposefully choose leverage points that lead to better, faster and greater health outcomes or to positive change that would have not happened otherwise. 

For instance, after engaging in evidence-informed policy dialogue with the IADB and within their own regional coordination mechanisms, the governments decided to leverage their own domestic budgets and/or existing Official Development Assistance funds to complement external funding. Also, the Ministers of Health of all countries adopted new, common policies for the scale up of oral rehydration salts and zinc for the management of diarrhea, and for the use of micronutrient powders for the prevention of chronic malnutrition.

We see our value proposition in global development as largely based on our ability to foster the deployment of these types of catalytic partnerships. We do this as we engage in discovery and develop of new tools technologies and as we invest in a few, high-value programs to demonstrate large-scale delivery. In this spirit, the foundation has entered into agreements with the Governments of Brazil and China to co-finance research and development across health and agriculture, and we also are in discussions with the governments of Nigeria and India to expand such approaches. We have been working in partnership with the Government of Bihar in India for several years now. There, we are working together in a large-scale program that delivers integrated family health solutions.

Salud Mesoamerica 2015 is an example of a partnership that works within existing primary care systems to improve the effectiveness in the delivery of highly efficacious solutions that need to go to scale as fast as possible if they are to save the lives of women, girls and boys in the most hard-to reach communities.

Experience and research have shown which are the innovations that, if provided during the critical 1000-day window from conception to age 2 years, can significantly improve the odds of survival and the quality of life for millions of mothers, newborns and children who would otherwise die or end up living economically less productive and unhealthy lives.

In these poorest regions of the world, mothers need more frequent and better interactions with community and front-line workers; they also require care during pregnancy and more timely assistance at birth and in the first hours and days postpartum.

We know that exclusive breastfeeding—only providing breast milk and no other foods or liquids for the first six months of life—provides a baby with all the nutrients and immunity building she needs. Holding a baby skin-to-skin, known as Kangaroo Mother Care, has extraordinary life-saving benefits for newborns. Vaccines prevent infectious diseases, and zinc and oral rehydration salts will rehydrate children who have diarrhea and whose nutritional status is threatened because of it.

These types of innovations save lives, but they need to be available to all women and children everywhere around the world.   

We believe that, ultimately, health impact will occur when innovations like these are massively adopted and used. Such behavior change is complex and happens in the context of quality interactions between front-line workers and women, families and communities.

Salud Mesoamerica 2015 is a great example of a partnership that seeks to improve coverage and quality of basic, life-saving health solutions for the poorest women and children in this region of the world.

We are proud to be part of this Partnership.

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