October 19, 2015

A Learning Approach for the Post-2015 Agenda

Written by Joy Riggs-Perla, Director, Saving Newborn Lives (SNL), Save the Children

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Healthy Newborn Network.


One of the most pressing needs for maternal and newborn health in the post-2015 period is ensuring that life-saving interventions and programs are scaled up with attention to both quality and equitable access, especially to those who are often excluded.

For maternal and newborn health, the unfinished agenda from the Millennium Development Goals era includes focusing on quality to achieve the health outcomes and impact. Equally important is equitable access to healthcare services by those who need them the most. Unless programs operate at sufficient scale, sufficient quality, and are inclusive, there is little hope of achieving population-wide reductions in maternal and newborn mortality. These are important themes for the Global Maternal Newborn Conference, which opens today in Mexico City.

For the most part, we know what services are needed. But we need to learn much more about how best to implement programs, adapting them to local settings in ways that will achieve high levels of both impact and equity. This suggests to me that we must adopt a “learning and adapting” approach to scaling up programs within specific settings.

A learning approach implies that we try promising approaches, measure and assess how well we are doing, make adjustments, and share what we have learned about implementing programs at scale. We must take programmatic risks, collect and analyze data that will help us determine the program adjustments needed, and employ reliable systems of knowledge management to ensure that the learning is shared effectively with public health professionals across multiple countries.

For me, this speaks directly to the value and importance of this conference. This conference is all about listening, sharing, and learning from the expertise of the “implementation scientists” – our key program managers and providers on the front lines of service delivery and program management. We must listen carefully to what they are saying, reflect on their experience, and learn from their insights.

My hope is that we all take what we learn in Mexico City to help refine and shape our ongoing work on behalf of women, children, and families.

Joy Riggs-Perla joined Save the Children in June 2013 as the Director of SNL 3. Her long career in global health began with a two-year Peace Corps assignment in the Philippines in the early 1970s working in public health nutrition. After graduate school, she joined USAID as a foreign-service officer and spent the next 23 years, primarily overseas, developing and managing health programs in the areas of maternal and child health, infectious disease, HIV/AIDS and health systems strengthening. She lived and worked in Swaziland, Philippines, Indonesia, Egypt and Cambodia. Joy served as Director of USAID’s Global Bureau Office of Health and Nutrition office from 1997 to 2001. After her USAID career, she worked as an independent consultant, leading teams to conduct health program design and evaluation work for USAID in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Ms. Riggs-Perla has an MPH in health services administration.