Reimagining What’s Possible through the Power of Convening

By Amanda Fowler, Executive Director, Global Corporate Giving, Edwards Lifesciences and Edwards Lifesciences Foundation Edwards Lifesciences

When Berthony was a young boy growing up in Haiti, he was often sick with a sore throat. Like many children in Haiti with limited means, Berthony and his brothers and sisters didn’t see a doctor very often. What Berthony and his family did not know is that his repeated sore throat as a child would lead to something more serious: life-threatening damage to the valves within his heart.

For 16 million people worldwide, untreated strep throat leads to rheumatic heart disease (RHD), which can destroy the structures within the heart called the valves that control the blood flow through the heart and to the brain and rest of the body. The devastating effects of RHD can be avoided if people know the symptoms to look for and receive timely and appropriate medical treatment, as is routinely done in developed countries where RHD is essentially eradicated.

As the leading innovator of heart valve replacement therapies, Edwards Lifesciences develops break-through technologies in the areas of structural heart disease and critical care monitoring to help patients live longer, healthier and more productive lives. RHD is both preventable and treatable, and the Edwards Lifesciences Foundation focuses its signature charitable initiative, Every Heartbeat Matters, on fighting this and other heart valve diseases for patients in underserved regions around the world – to help people like Berthony in need of treatment, or help provide education and resources to avoid the challenges like Berthony endured.

Power of convening

Edwards Lifesciences Foundation partners with leading nonprofit organizations around the world who are fighting cardiovascular disease and helping underserved patients. We adopted this strategy because we have a unique opportunity as funders to build a community and convene our partners to collaborate with one another to deliver greater impact, often at a faster pace. It sounds simple, but the truth is, convening grantee partners to solve challenging problems together is an often-overlooked strategy. Based on our experience, we’ve learned that the best solution might come from a community of like-minded change-makers, including companies, nonprofits and passionate individuals, and harnessing the power of shared purpose.

Every Heartbeat Matters

When we launched Every Heartbeat Matters in 2014, we realized that to be successful in our mission we needed to join forces with others who shared a passion for improving the health and lives of underserved people. With a goal of addressing the urgent global public health issue of heart valve disease by educating, screening and treating 1 million underserved people by 2020, we built a community of 60 leading nonprofits and planned investments of approximately $30 million in our shared mission. And something extraordinary happened: we met our goal two years early. As of the end of 2018, together we have:

  • Provided education to approximately 1.2 million underserved people
  • Screened more than 110,000 underserved people for heart valve disease
  • Treated nearly 7,000 underserved people with heart valve disease
  • Trained more than 24,000 clinicians caring for underserved patients
  • Reached underserved people in more than 40 countries

With these results, we raised our goal by an additional 50% to reach over 1.5 million underserved people by 2020.

Learning together

As we continue the work of Every Heartbeat Matters, I’d like to share some of the lessons we’ve learned together with our partners. Above all, consider shifting the way you think about your foundation from being a single entity philanthropic organization to becoming a convener of like-minded partners who bring about positive change at scale. Then, reflect on some our lessons learned:

  • Dream big: Set a bold goal that can inspire others and help achieve a shared vision of success.
  • Focus on what you know best: While dreaming big, narrow your focus. Make sure to take on a cause that allows you to move beyond philanthropic dollars and bring as much to the table as possible, including mindshare, talent and in-kind donations. Be clear on what impact you are driving toward.
  • Choose partners wisely: Be sure to vet partners carefully and be rigorous when determining how to achieve the common goal together. Once established, invest time and energy to understand and support partners every step of the way, providing guidance, encouragement, collaboration and tough feedback when needed.
  • Measure your progress: Diligent and meticulous tracking and reporting of outputs and outcomes are essential to demonstrate progress, learn what is and isn’t working and course-correct along the way. Establish clear guidelines and controls that result in conservative, quality data you are confident to share publicly.
  • Build community: Invest in the power of collaboration by creating time and space for the community of partners to come together on a regular basis in an open, trusted forum. Every year, we host a Partnership Summit for the global partners of the initiative to come together in person to collaborate and connect with one another and outside experts. Partners are able to learn from one another, share best practices, be vulnerable and grow together.

The underserved patients we’ve reached – their stories, their bravery, their determination – have inspired the employees at Edwards Lifesciences, the Edwards Lifesciences Foundation and our partner organizations. None of what we’ve achieved would have been possible if we hadn’t taken that critical step back to think about partnerships that would enable us to deliver on bold goals at scale and with speed. There is incredible power in creating a collaborative community of partners with a shared vision and purpose to work together.

We are ecstatic to share that Berthony received life-saving heart valve surgery in 2017 and is doing well. His surgery was the result of a collaboration between Edwards Lifesciences Foundation and two partners of Every Heartbeat Matters who met at our Partnership Summit: Mitral Foundation and Haiti Cardiac Alliance. Today, Berthony is thriving. He works as a professional in a call center in the Dominican Republic, creates and sells his unique art made from banana leaves, and is not only able to support himself, but able to help his parents and siblings, as well. You can see a video about Berthony’s story here.

We can learn so much from each other. If you have an example of how convening partners has helped your company or foundation achieve its mission, please share it with the ACCP community. Each of our experiences as CSR professionals teaches us new lessons that when shared, can elevate our profession and help us be more impactful in our companies, in our communities, and around the globe.

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