Manage your expectations. I think when you are doing mission-focused work, and working to make impact on issues of health and well-being across communities, you feel a sense of urgency to resolve that issue. But it is important to manage expectations of how far you can move the needle in a given timeframe. A lot of colleagues get burnt out from this work if they are not able to regularly check-in, maintain perspective, and remind themselves that these issues around maternal and child health didn’t happen overnight and, similarly, won’t be resolved through one program, policy, or intervention.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mallory Mpare-Quarles.
Mallory Mpare-Quarles is the D.C. Mission Lead, Better Starts for All and has over 10 years of experience in women’s policy research. She has a passion for raising awareness of health disparities, particularly among women and communities of color. Currently through her work with March of Dimes, Mallory is addressing the nation’s maternal healthcare crisis through leading initiatives in DC on the behalf of Better Starts for All, a partnership between the March of Dimes and RB’s Enfa portfolio of brands, which is an on-the-ground, maternal health program targeting areas of great need to address the nation’s maternal healthcare crisis.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
I grew up in North Carolina, which to me is still home despite not having lived there full-time since 2010.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
I am the Washington, DC lead for Better Starts for All, an initiative spearheaded by both March of Dimes and RB’s Enfa portfolio of brands to bring an on-the-ground, maternal health program to improve access to quality maternity care in areas where we see the poorest maternal health outcomes Right now, the US is among the most dangerous countries in the developed world to give birth and DC, in particular, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country at 50% higher than the national rate.
This initiative is designed to help all moms and babies have the best start in life regardless of social, economic, and other systemic barriers. Better Starts for All is currently piloting its maternal health programs in two regions, Wards 7 & 8 in DC (predominately urban/Black communities) and Southeast Ohio (rural communities). While these regions are both different, in terms of rural compared to urban and the demographics of their populations, both are areas with limited access to quality obstetric services or birthing sites.
For example, in Washington, D.C. there is a large disparity in distribution of maternal health services and facilities across The District. While there are about 40 facilities in DC that provide prenatal care, they are not evenly distributed through the Wards with limited access in Wards 7 and 8, especially to birthing facilities. To help combat these barriers, I’m overseeing the pilot programs for BSFA in DC including:
- Mobile Health Services: A mobile health vehicle brings prenatal care and related maternal health services to areas where access to services is limited.
- Supportive Pregnancy Care (SPC): This group prenatal care model provides women clinical care, education and support in a group setting. We also have a telehealth option of SPC that offers robust virtual obstetric care in hard-to-reach communities.
- Becoming A Mom: Women can get online prenatal education in group sessions that are moderated and tailored to the needs of each community.
- Community Coalition: A coalition of community providers will develop and implement innovative strategies to increase access to care in maternity care deserts.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I studied comparative women’s studies as an undergraduate at Spelman College. I was always struck by how gender and race shaped health outcomes for people and this seemed especially true with respect to maternal health. So I have always carried that awareness with me. But I would say I am even more deeply passionate after having my own child and understanding how difficult it can be to guarantee good outcomes, even given the work and background that I have
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I can’t say there was a single moment. I would say there have been a series of moments that have all sort of pulled the veil back on how unjust it is that in the United States, we still have quite a ways to go to ensure equity of outcomes for everyone, especially for moms and babies. To me, moms and babies are the “canaries in the coal mine,” alerting us to the challenges in our larger health care and other systems. If we can figure out the solutions to improve their health and well-being, that can at least provide some lessons learned for improving the health and well-being of all our communities.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Whatever the size of your organization, community, or your role, it is important to understand how your work fits into the greater whole. The most important thing I did and continue to do as we get this Better Starts for All project off the ground is listen to my colleagues, both on my immediate team but also within the larger maternal child health landscape in our region, to help guide the direction of the work so we can make the greatest impact.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
It has been interesting to step into this role during a global pandemic. Not only in terms of navigating the day-to-day business in a virtual environment, but also having to innovate about what the new challenges moms are facing mean for how we implement our programs and support our partners in the community.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I can’t remember a specific, funny mistake (probably have blocked them out!). But I will say that my perspective on “mistakes” has evolved over time. I truly think of “mistakes” as an opportunity for a lesson-learned; an opportunity to refine and improve how to do the work moving forward. That is the biggest take away I’ve gained.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
I have several folks who I consider mentors, whether or not they know it themselves! One of my greatest mentors/influences was a high school English teacher. Her influence was less about the subject or the way she taught but instead about the way she showed up to our classroom: she was very clear about who she was and was not shy about letting that shape the way she did her work. I don’t think I thought about that a lot then but it is definitely something I think about now as a mother with my own maternal health experience.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I don’t think there is one story that sticks out but the collective theme is that a lot of pregnant people find March of Dimes to be a consistent resource — both in terms of programs but also evidence-based information — during a time in their lives where they have a bit of information overload. It is great that we are able to a source that calms the noise a bit.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
In general, I think while my cause and work relates directly to maternal health it is important for us to view that — or any other societal challenge — within the larger contexts of history and society. For example, while I am not an expert in environmental justice, I appreciate and recognize how the environment plays a role in maternal health. So it is just important that while we focus on our own areas of expertise, we are aware of and invite input from various perspectives so we can come up with more comprehensive, far-reaching solutions.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Manage your expectations. I think when you are doing mission-focused work, and working to make impact on issues of health and well-being across communities, you feel a sense of urgency to resolve that issue. But it is important to manage expectations of how far you can move the needle in a given timeframe. A lot of colleagues get burnt out from this work if they are not able to regularly check-in, maintain perspective, and remind themselves that these issues around maternal and child health didn’t happen overnight and, similarly, won’t be resolved through one program, policy, or intervention.
- Make a plan for how and when to ask for help. Asking for help can be hard so I think it is important to understand your role or niche, acknowledging there is a limit to your expertise. When you do that, I think it is actually easier to ask for help because you have clearly identified for yourself the points at which you may need to seek input from your colleagues and partners, before you reach that moment of uncertainty.
- Don’t underestimate or undervalue the work of partnership-building. I find this is especially important when you are working in underserved communities. It is work that is ‘unseen’ but actually critical to being able to understand the role you can play in a given space, the dynamics that are already shaping the existing work, and also provides an awareness of how one can amplify efforts as opposed to duplicating them.
- Balance your perspective with someone who is not likely to agree with you. While I think it is important that you maintain a strong sense of what your individual perspective brings to your work, in terms of a value-add, it is also important to at least be aware of how others are approaching an issue, whether or not you agree.
- You are responsible for your work-life balance. I feel a shift in how organizations and institutions are approaching work-life balance, especially given the challenges that people have faced during the pandemic, but ultimately you are responsible for clearly communicating your boundaries. This is really important if you are committed to your work for the long-haul and want to continue to enjoy it into the future.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Ultimately, I think my ‘why’ will and should be different than any other given individual. My ‘why’ has been shaped by my own personal experiences which is why it is so easy for that to be a grounding part of my work. What I think is important is less the why and more that you find a why that motivates you to be consistent about improving the world that we all inhabit, however big or small that impact.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I just watched Meghan Markle’s interview about her experience in the royal family. I appreciate her bravery in being so transparent about the racism and sexism that shaped her experience in an institution that spans centuries, like the royal family.
How can our readers follow you online?
I encourage your readers to check out betterstartsforall.com or follow betterstarts4all on Instagram to learn more about this program!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!