Notes from the field: Global Health Innovation, CORE Group, & International Grantmakers

By Kyle Sherman, Social Impact Fellow at the Center for High Impact Philanthropy

Over five weeks in March and April, I participated in three large gatherings: the GHIC: Global Health Innovation Conference (hosted by Unite for Sight), the CORE Group Global Health Practitioner Conference (hosted by CORE group), and the inaugural International Grantmakers Symposium (hosted by CAF America and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies).  While each had its own unique focus and target audience, all offered valuable knowledge, tools, and contacts to inform our work here at the Center.  My key takeaways:

Early childhood exposure to harmful chemicals is gaining traction on the global health agenda

In his keynote address, Gary Cohen, President and Co-Founder of Health Care Without Harm, stressed how exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants – specifically among pregnant women, infants, and toddlers – can have lifelong adverse health consequences.  It’s a topic that often gets overlooked in early childhood development and public health discussions, so I was pleased to hear him address it in front of 2,000+ attendees from 50 countries and all 50 states.

To learn about Health Care Without Harm as well as other donor strategies to address exposure to toxic chemicals, see our recently released funder brief: Ensure a Healthy Start: prevent and reduce childhood exposure to harmful chemicals.

Be concrete

There’s not a week that goes by without someone on our team talking about the need for our work to be both informed by the best available evidence and actionable for donors. I was reminded of that mandate during my former professor Sarah Bennett’s keynote session at the CORE group conference. During the Q&A, Bennett, Associate Director of the Health Systems program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, was asked, “How do we get funders excited about this [community health]?” Her answer: “…use concrete examples and case studies to document and tell the [community health] story. “

Great advice as we strive to ensure that our current project on community health is concrete, actionable, and generates the excitement that leads to increased funding and, more importantly, higher impact.

The SDGs are coming

Anyone who’s been paying attention to international development knows that at the end of this year, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are set to replace the MDGs and be formally adopted during this September’s 70th Session of the UN General Assembly. This new international development agenda includes 17 proposed goals and 169 targets covering a broad range of sustainable development issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests.

Not surprisingly, the SDGs were the hot topic of conversation at all three gatherings and are inspiring many new collaborative efforts. Two initiatives I’ll be following closely include Bretton Woods II: The Progress Pledge (sponsored by New America) and the Post-2015 Partnership Platform for Philanthropy (sponsored by Foundation Center, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, The MasterCard Foundation, Ford Foundation, and the UN Development Program). Though different in their approaches, both focus on enabling philanthropy and impact investing to contribute to global development goals.

It’s all about Impact

Each of the gatherings had entire plenaries, sessions, and workgroups devoted to impact.  While I was fed helpful reminders like how “not everything that can be measured matters and not everything that matters can be measured” and the importance of beneficiary voice in impact assessment and evaluation, I was struck by how individuals and organizations use and understand impact in different ways, a topic our team examined in What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Impact? In it, we make clear the implicit assumptions behind different definitions as well as questions that donors can ask to cut through the noise and stay on the path to making the positive change they seek.

For more on each of these gatherings, check out the Twitter feeds: #GHIC, #GHPC15, #IGS15