Innovator of the Year: bi3

Jill Miller, president of Bethesda Inc., and Ryan Adcock, executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, gave a presentation on the outcomes of StartStrong, a collaborative effort to reduce infant mortality, at the June 2018 Grant Makers in Health annual conference.

Jill Miller, president of Bethesda Inc., and Ryan Adcock, executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, gave a presentation on the outcomes of StartStrong, a collaborative effort to reduce infant mortality, at the June 2018 Grant Makers in Health annual conference.

Each year, the Association of Fundraising Professionals presents awards to several individuals or organizations at its National Philanthropy Day Luncheon: Philanthropist, Volunteer and Emerging Leader of the Year, Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy, plus this new award for 2018, Innovator of the Year.

Bethesda Inc.’s bi3 is breaking ground

The recipient of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Greater Cincinnati Chapter’s 2018 Innovator Award, bi3, has cultivated a reputation for stepping up to some of the most difficult health issues facing the Cincinnati community. Pronounced bee-eye-three, the b and i represent the grants initiative’s Bethesda Inc. heritage, with the number “3” representing the areas of ideas, investments and innovation. In the last eight years, bi3 has awarded more than 40 grants, investing more than $36 million in transformative health and health care initiatives in Greater Cincinnati.

“We fund new ideas and approaches to improve health and health care,” Jill Miller, president of Bethesda, Inc., said of bi3. “Everything we fund is either something new that someone wants to try, or it’s taking something small that is tried-and-true and providing the resources needed to scale it or expand it. We’re willing to take on more risks than others. I came across the quote from Nelson Mandela, which is, ‘I never fail. I win or I learn.’ And that really captures our work here.”

Miller came to Bethesda Inc. four years ago to lead bi3. She notes that Bethesda Inc.’s grants initiative is one of Ohio’s largest health-focused funders, yet it is still emerging and was only recently branded. Miller hopes that recognition of bi3 as not only a philanthropic entity but as an engine for innovation, will serve as a spark to attract potential partners.

“We really want to be known as a funder that wants to work with others in the community and position ourselves to help facilitate that through convening or collaborations,” Miller said. “Our mission is to improve the health of all people. And we can only do that by all working together.”

Just a few short years ago, the community of Avondale had one of the highest infant mortality rates in Hamilton county. In 2013, bi3 decided to fund StartStrong, a program designed to reduce infant mortality by focusing on prenatal care. Very often, Miller pointed out, what mothers needed most was not something a hospital or medical system was equipped to provide. To be effective, StartStrong had to innovate.

“Eighty percent of our health is tied to where we work, live, play, etc.,” Miller said. “Only 20 percent is tied to the health care delivery system. And so, [StartStrong] really took this approach of let’s put mom and baby in the center, surround them with what they need. If they have food insecurity, domestic violence or housing issues, let’s connect them to Legal Aid Society to address some of those issues. It really relied on community health workers to start digging into the underlying issues of what may be keeping mom and baby from having a healthy birth.”

StartStrong yielded striking results, Miller said. Avondale went from having one of the highest infant mortality rates in Hamilton county to having one of the lowest.

“From the beginning, we were willing to take on more risk and provide the resources and time for people to do things differently,” Miller said. “Because if we always do everything the same way, progress isn’t going be made.”

Susan Ingmire, senior advisor at Ignite Philanthropy, has worked extensively with Bethesda Inc. and nominated bi3 for the award. She says that Miller’s leadership has been essential to bi3’s growth and success.

“Jill is an exceptional leader,” Ingmire said. “She is a bold leader, and she has driven the organization forward in very impressive ways, ways that are research-grounded; ways that are compassionate; and ways that are really looking to change health care at the community level and at the systems level.”

Another bi3-supported program, First Step Home, supports mothers battling addiction, while also coaching them on caring for their children. “Without this program,” Miller said, “they may otherwise be separated at birth. I got to talk to a mom who had said, ‘So, I’ve been in treatment before, but I’ve never had this little person in my life that I wanted to live for and care for.’ Just that human connection, right, to be able to connect with someone who says, ‘Because of this, my life is better. It’s going to continue to get better.’ ”

Ingmire says that Bethesda’s vision of improving health care by funding innovative initiatives through bi3 will have a profound and positive impact on Greater Cincinnati for generations to come.

“Bethesda Inc. has been willing to be bold enough to try new things and to put substantial resources behind the proposals that they fund through bi3, and they very much work with their grantees. It’s really a partnership relationship,” Ingmire said. “I’m just so proud of their work, and that’s why I nominated them. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in the next 10, 20 or 30 years with bi3 because it’s really one of the most exciting things going on in the world of health care philanthropy.”

– By Harper Lee

This year’s National Philanthropy Day luncheon, Nov. 8 at Music Hall Ballroom, has sold out. Meet the other 2018 honorees (and nominating organizations):

Philanthropists of the Year: Dr. Neal H. Mayerson and Dr. Donna Mayerson (Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation)

Volunteer of the Year: John Mongelluzzo (Stepping Stones)

Outstanding Youth in Philanthropy: Finnegan McCarthy (Cancer Support Community)

Emerging Leader: Rosa Nemec (Girl Scouts of Western Ohio)

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