W.K. Kellogg Foundation Partners to Improve Birth Outcomes

By Piia Hanson
Program Manager, Women’s and Infant Health, AMCHP

Implementing programs to improve preconception health is a key area of focus for state MCH programs. Now more than ever, states are working creatively to forge new partnerships that will generate innovative ideas to develop and implement these programs. Much of this work is made possible through public-private partnerships (PPP). As this issue highlights various initiatives that support efforts to improve birth outcomes, this is a prime opportunity to also highlight that PPP can play a key role in helping states to move their work forward. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has a long-standing tradition of building successful PPP in public health and has supported numerous MCH programs. We asked Patrick Simpson, program officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, to offer insight on the importance of PPP, to share how the foundation is supporting efforts to improve birth outcomes and also to share why this work is so important.

How does the W.K. Kellogg Foundation define public/private partnership and why is this type of work so important?

A public-private partnership from the foundation perspective describes a government service that is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private foundations. It is important because in many instances government programs have a special expertise or reach that a private foundation may not have through funded work of other organizations. PPPs serve to elevate policy-level concerns and help to accelerate the programmatic change that improves the desired outcomes.

What is one strategy that you would recommend to our members interested in seeking partnerships with private funders?

State programs interested in public-private partnerships should research private foundations in their respective states to understand the focus of their grant making and develop relationships with the people responsible for carrying out the programmatic work of the foundation.

What initiatives is the W.K. Kellogg Foundation currently supporting to improve birth outcomes?

We lend our support to hundreds of committed community-based and national organizations, focusing significant resources on places where children face especially tough challenges. We believe that our support of grassroots organizations in those locations can improve the lives of children. We also work with larger coalitions, providing leadership and funding to help them expand their reach and influence.

Children need nutrition, stimulation, healthy living conditions and access to quality health care to thrive. We help many of them receive all four by funding organizations that improve birth outcomes, first food experiences and health services; create access to healthy foods; and educate families and communities about the interrelated factors that determine well-being. We are especially interested in efforts focusing on children who are disadvantaged by multiple societal factors, a disproportionate percentage of whom are children of color. We also support innovative, place-based efforts to address the social determinants of health through local leadership, policy and advocacy. And we work to ensure access to a quality health environment and quality health care.

How do these initiatives fit into the larger mission of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation?

We believe in the whole child approach to achieving our mission, and our programming emphases on education and learning; food, health and well-being; and family economic security all play interconnected roles in creating an environment in which vulnerable children are protected, nurtured, equipped and stimulated to succeed. Our framework also recognizes that the active pursuit of racial equity, the eradication of structural racism, and the rigorous encouragement of civic and philanthropic engagement are essential to creating a social context in which all children can thrive, including the most vulnerable.

There is a lot of national momentum around improving birth outcomes right now. What is one strategy that our members can use to capitalize on these opportunities for collective impact?

To achieve collective impact, communication and collaboration is key. It involves all parties trying to move the needle on birth outcomes coming together and supporting the activities that will be implemented and agreeing to common metrics and evaluation.

Why is this work important to you personally?

This work is important to me because it is a social justice issue, which is what drove my passion for the field of public health. We (the public and private sector) have recognized that there is inequity in birth outcomes in this country for decades, and have had some success at making small improvements, but we have not put forth the effort or resources necessary to make systemic change. It is a relic and consequence of institutional policies that have favored some groups over others and needs to be changed.