Heading West—an Expression of Multi-Dimensionalism within the CORE Group

By Renuka Bery, USAID WASHplus Project, and Nora Zenczak, ChildFund International

Change is in the air. It’s been many years since CORE Group has held its twice-annual meeting on the west coast—that is until this year’s Spring Practitioners Conference, which was held in Portland, and attracted new vigor and potential members into its fold. Additionally, the meeting provided an opportunity to introduce CORE’s new Executive Director, Lisa Hilmi. Lisa has worked in over a dozen countries and joins CORE most recently from MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center in Baltimore where she was both a clinical and research nurse.

The 2016 Spring Practitioners Conference theme, Achieving Health for All Through Multi-Dimensional Approaches, was both provocative and timely, as many organizations are exploring sectoral integration in their approaches and programming. Multi-dimensionalism was woven throughout the entire conference as participants grappled with how to recognize and address the extent to which health influences other aspects of development. The core hypothesis is that working at different levels and with a range of stakeholders to achieve more comprehensive change will lead to improved and sustained individual health and well-being within the global context and evolving landscape.

Shawn Baker, director of nutrition for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, gave the keynote address that outlined the ways in which the Foundation is broadening nutrition efforts across dimensions within its structure and in its grant making. Participants noted that Shawn might be the most quoted keynote in CORE’s history! Later, Tim Frankenburger from Tango International discussed the components of resilience and the need to track changes in resilience over time because shocks and stressors can quickly change the landscape. Communities recovering from sequential shocks can lose resilience and households with higher self-efficacy were less likely to engage in negative coping strategies. This can lead to a vicious cycle where downstream effects impact people’s ability to protect themselves and thereby reduce resilience.

Circuit table discussions were particularly rich—this year there was an offering of 19 topics and a series of small group discussions of 20 minutes. Each table group brought out different dimensions of integrated health programming and sought to encourage thoughtful reflection to make the conversation different and meaningful.

As usual, CORE offered a wide variety of concurrent sessions with a large dose of participatory engagement. One of our favorites was Integrated Childhood Development: The Whole-Child Perspective—organized and facilitated by Clean, Fed & Nurtured—that featured Dr. Lia Fernald from the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health, who infected the room with her enthusiasm in sharing new and fascinating findings on multi-sector early childhood development (ECD). An interesting take-away was her finding in one study that while integration was not detrimental, it did not improve results either. Participants engaged with Dr. Fernald and with practitioners in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), ECD, and nutrition to dig deep into the “who, what, how, and why” of undertaking quality programming for young children. The working group meetings were efficient, productive, and focused on work planning and activities to undertake between now, the CORE Fall meeting, and beyond.

It is fun to see some of the same, familiar faces at the CORE meeting engaging in interesting work, but also connecting with new enthusiasts eager to learn and bring new ideas to old problems. Portland brought a new energy and laid back undercurrent to the meeting—a nice change from the intensity of Washington, D.C.