Black Maternal Health Week is a time to build awareness, strengthen community, and amplify the experiences of Black women and birthing people. We are inspired by this year’s theme, “Our Bodies Belong to Us: Restoring Black Autonomy and Joy!” which asserts the need for responses to the Black maternal health crisis to center the needs, wants and desires of Black women and birthing people.
The U.S. has the worst maternal health outcomes among peer nations, and Black women and infants experience greater challenges than their white counterparts. In 2021, Black women were 62% more likely to have a preterm birth and their babies are twice as likely to die as compared to White women.
Cambia Health Foundation believes investing in the perinatal health of Black women and birthing people is essential to our goal to drive greater health equity. Overall, health during pregnancy and postpartum is one of the greatest determinants of a child’s mental and physical health throughout their life.
In 2022, the Foundation joined together with the Community Health Acceleration Partnership and the Pritzker Children’s Initiative to launch the Birth Equity Catalyst Project (BECP) —a national effort to ensure that everyone has the health, social and environmental conditions for optimal births. State by state, BECP brings funders together to shift philanthropic resources to community-based care, strengthening the birth workforce, improved public-private connections, supportive policies, and, most importantly, engaging families in the solutions.
BECP’s strategy to affect change is inspired by the work of the New Jersey Birth Equity Funders Alliance (Alliance), and guided by each state and community’s unique political, philanthropic, health and population context.
The New Jersey ModelIn 2021, five foundations in New Jersey came together to tackle the poor maternal health outcomes in the state, motivated by First Lady Tammy Murphy’s Nurture New Jersey maternal and infant health strategic plan. The Burke Foundation, CHAP, The Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Nicholson Foundation set up a funders collaborative – the Alliance. The Alliance tackles New Jersey’s inequities in alignment with the Nurture New Jersey strategy while intentionally shifting power and amplifying the leadership of Black women and other disproportionately affected communities.
The result was a powerful new approach to fund community-based solutions, critical research, and Black and Latinx-led organizations in their efforts to address systemic racism, reduce maternal mortality, and increase birth equity in New Jersey. The Alliance’s successes include a Community Advisory Committee of ten BIPOC birth workers and community leaders who independently govern a $500,000 birth equity fund; and application-free grants to Black-led, grassroots organizations that are increasing access to nutritious food, play spaces and more.
Lessons learned from the Alliance are strengthening how the Birth Equity Catalyst Project approaches similar work in other states across the U.S.
Sparking Action in Other StatesIn its first two years, BECP has dived deep into birthing ecosystems in Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington to influence and support sustainable and systemic change:
- Landscape Research: In each state, we have met with a dozen-odd leaders of organizations that center Black, Indigenous and Latinx-women and birthing people, policymakers, funders and other stakeholders to identify high-impact opportunities for funder collaboration to advance birth equity. We are continuing to host multi-stakeholder convenings to share findings from our landscape research, foster new relationships, and encourage new forms of collective action.
- Funders Collaboratives: In 2023, we launched funders collaboratives in Washington and Oregon with a vision that community leaders and birth equity champions will be empowered to shape their strategic decisions for philanthropic resources and focus areas. Both are in the process of identifying their first, community-led initiatives to address an immediate need- such as a mutual aid fund for Black and Indigenous doulas to support their wellbeing.
- State Exchange: We share cross-state learnings and insights among BECP funders in regular meetings, providing a strategy hub and growing brain trust of highly engaged national birth equity champions in the public and private sectors. This unique peer learning environment is accelerating the adoption of ideas and best practices across geographies.
Throughout the country, Black women and birthing people are advocating to ensure birth equity. We are listening. The Birth Equity Catalyst Project will continue setting the table for coordinated efforts and supportive, trust-based partnerships that shift systems and dramatically impact outcomes.