Michigan Breastfeeding Network: Building Momentum Through A Networked Approach
The Michigan Breastfeeding Network (MIBFN) began as a grassroots movement over a decade before its incorporation as a non-profit in 2013. MIBFN's mission, vision and values embody the principles of collective action. They work in the spheres of education, advocacy, and coalition building throughout the state.
Michigan currently boasts 18 local coalitions, and MIBFN is actively working to increase that number so there is coalition representation throughout the 83 counties in the state. Local coalitions are key implementation partners and provide a continuous feedback loop on the needs and focus areas of collective impact partners throughout the state.
When asked about what keeps the Network effective, Shannon McKenney Shubert, Project Director, asserted, "Don't reinvent the wheel" and "Keep it Simple." State coalitions can position themselves as the hub of information and activity to gain and maintain interest. As McKenney Shubert explained, the Network combines the conditions of collective impact with the principles of social marketing to create opportunities for individual stakeholders to meaningfully engage with one another, align their efforts, and advance consistent educational messaging within their spheres of influence.
MIBFN puts considerable focus into messaging, due in part, to findings of their 2015 Landscape Analysis, funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation, in which they learned that inconsistent messaging throughout their breastfeeding journey was a primary barrier to women reaching their breastfeeding goals. This finding has informed their steadfast focus on messaging and consistency across stakeholders and communities.
The Network maintains effectiveness through collaborative partnerships with other systems-level organizations like the Michigan Fitness Foundation, Coffective, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The Network currently has nine active projects, all developed within the framework of collective impact and with focus on equity. Projects aim to improve the systems that impact breastfeeding indicators such as initiation, duration, and normalization of breastfeeding.
For example, within the scope of their efforts to improve breastfeeding initiation, MIBFN implements the MIBFN 310 Connect projects. These are community-level projects that empower local stakeholders to provide consistent, prenatal education and coordinated post-partum support in alignment with steps 3 and 10 of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. These 310 projects are all completed in coordination with the Michigan WIC Division, and by implementing the Coffective System of Training and Tools.
The Michigan Breastfeeding Network works hard to maintain the strength of its network by providing back bone support through convening regional stakeholders at quarterly meetings, mobilizing funding to local communities, and cultivating meaningful relationships among stakeholders in local communities. MIBFN focuses on meeting stakeholders where they are. For example, someone from the Network is on the listserv of every coalition throughout the state, so the Network stays up-to-date on happenings, shares events and successes on social media, and is aware of what’s happening at the local level, without having to constantly be "one more thing" the local coalitions are responsible for.
As a result of feedback from local stakeholders, the Network is developing training and tools to empower local breastfeeding stakeholders to advocate alongside mothers facing incarceration, jury duty and child custody. These "tool kits" teach about current policy, how to navigate within these policies, and how to empower each woman to advocate for her optimal experience.
McKenney Shubert highlighted how a lesser-acknowledged encouragement by the authors of collective impact, to establish “quick wins”, has helped advance grassroots to treetops movement throughout the state. As one example of this, MIBFN provides clings, door hangers, and other swag to coalitions for free. These items all prominently display educational messaging that is consistent with the large collective impact projects. Before they ever decide to engage in larger initiatives, local coalitions order these items, distribute them and immediately see the impact of their work. Distribution of his swag provides early wins and also establishes community-wide consistent messaging.
One example of how the Network uses the swag to promote one consistent message is through their Breastfeed: Anytime, Anywhere social marketing campaign. This message harkens back to one of the organizations early legislative wins: the Michigan Anti-discrimination Act passed in 2014. The legislation recognized women's right breastfeeding where she is legally allowed to be. The “Breastfeed: Anytime, Anywhere” campaign works to move cultural norms around breastfeeding forward to meet the legislation. The Michigan Breastfeeding Network brings this level of intention in all the work they do.
The MIBFN team currently has anywhere between 6-10 people at a given time. Their employment model aims to attract individuals who are passionate about breastfeeding, self-motivated, and looking for opportunities to meaningfully contribute to systems-level improvements in Michigan. They provide a remote, flexible working environment that fosters growth and opportunity for a wide range of qualified candidates. In doing so, they are able to maintain an agile and innovative workforce. Current peer counselors who are looking to expand the scope of their work, stay at home moms who want to contribute to the field and maintain flexibility to be with their children, and experts in the field who are interested in sharing their unique skills to specific communities, are all among those who have found opportunities to contribute to the work of the MIBFN.
To learn more about the Michigan Breastfeeding Network and their program strategies, listen to the recording of August's CDC-USBC Bi-Monthly Coalitions Webinar where Shannon discussed how MIBN is empowering their local coalitions. Coalitions are also welcome to email Shannon with specific questions. Together we can all continue the work of supporting women and families by improving the wheel.
This Month's Top Picks:
- Leadership and Networks. This report is part of Leadership for a New Era (LNE), a collaborative research initiative launched by the Leadership Learning Community that focuses on understanding how leadership can become more inclusive, networked and collective.
- Applying An Equity Mirror to Collective Impact: This blog post from the Collective Impact Forum highlights key steps to better recognize inequities and move social change work forward.
- The Dawn of Systems Leadership. This article from the Stanford Social Innovation review The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society's most intractable problems require a unique type of leader—the system leader, a person who catalyzes collective leadership
- What Can Collective Impact Learn from Organizing? This article ,from the Collective Impact Forum explores three lessons collective impact practitioners can learn from community organizers.
- Backbone Starter Guide: A Summary of Major Resources about the Backbone, is a resource from the Collective Impact Forum for those thinking about how to start a backbone, or for established backbone teams who are bringing in new members and partners. The starter guide includes a short overview of the collective impact approach, and addresses the backbone's purpose and functions, different types of backbone structures, leadership skills for backbone staff, the importance of centering equity within a backbone's work, and the role of the funder in supporting a backbone's sustainability.