June 15, 2009

Background Information

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Partnership Name: 2008 Breast Cancer Global Congress
Partnership Type: Shared Policy Objective
Bureau or Post: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
PPP Life Cycle Phase for Learning: Engagement
State Department Strategic Goal: Investing in People// Health, education and social services and protection for especially vulnerable populations
Major Partners: The Avon Foundation (avonfoundation.org)
Resource Contributions: The State Department partnered with Avon Foundation to assemble a Global Congress at the George C. Marshall Center which convened experts in the field of breast cancer research and awareness; the Avon Foundation underwrote the costs of the day-long event, including travel, honoraria and accommodations expenses for visiting experts from around the world (estimated at a value of $230,000) and provided access to their network of cancer experts and researchers.
Dates of Partnership: October 15, 2008
Problem/Challenge Statement:
The Congress sought to connect breast cancer experts, public health representatives and policy makers from around the world to form alliances and increase dialogue on the disease—one that still faces a high degree of stigma in many countries. The Congress also aimed to encourage these representatives, from more than 40 countries from every region in the world, to support public-private initiatives in their own nations in an effort to find solutions in the treatment of breast cancer.

Every year, 1.2 million people all over the globe are diagnosed with breast cancer, while the disease claims the lives of another 500,000, according to statistics issued by the World Health Organization. Among women, it is the most common cancer worldwide. And it is one that is frequently accompanied by a high degree of stigma and misunderstanding in many regions, especially among poor and less educated populations. One Pakistani doctor, speaking at a European oncology conference in 2002, reported on cases in which women were physically isolated from their families due to the mistaken fear that the disease was contagious.

To draw attention to the issue, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) collaborated with the Avon Foundation, the charity arm of the well-known cosmetics company, to organize a one-day forum in October of 2008, that would connect experts and public health representatives from all over the globe to share ideas and form alliances on the topic of breast cancer. “We wanted to bring together key leaders who are going to go back to their home countries and become agents of change—by increasing the dialogue and by doing things like starting up breast cancer walks,” reports Daniella Foster, director of private sector outreach at the ECA. “It’s part of a best practices exercise to elevate change.”

The project arose out of ECA’s existing relationship with the Avon Products. The two entities (along with numerous other corporate players) had previously worked together on a women’s leadership program, the FORTUNE/U.S. State Department’s Women’s Mentoring Partnership. Following this culmination of the 2008program, the representatives from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Avon Foundation and Company met to explore other public-private partnership possibilities. Breast cancer awareness—one of the Avon Foundation’s two principal missions and an area of interest for the State Department—was chosen as the topic of a day-long congress, to take place in Washington.

ECA provided key logistical support, planning, and participants. The Avon Foundation covered the costs of the event (estimated at $230,000), which included flying in representatives—from oncology experts to policy makers to survivors—from every region of the world. They also provided expertise. With deep roots in the area of breast cancer philanthropy, Avon is connected to some of the foremost experts and researchers in the field. In addition to these figures, the State Department deployed its own contingent of participants: among them, participants in the International Visitor Leadership Program.

The Congress was designed to address a number of issues. The first was to update participants on recent developments in breast cancer research and emergent technologies in screening and early detection. Other sessions focused on the public policy angle of the disease: education, awareness and public health strategies—with a focus on decreasing mortality in poor and middle-income countries.

The goal, above all, was to foster connections among leaders working in the field. “It is at forums like this, by sharing our collective ideas, forming new friendships and partnerships and developing innovative solutions that we will help improve the lives of women everywhere,” said Avon Products president Liz Smith at the Congress’s opening reception. This was also highlighted in the State Department’s opening remarks: “By combining private sector support and expertise with a successful government public diplomacy program, this partnership will magnify the impact of existing State Department exchange programs and the global philanthropic work of the Avon Foundation.”

The relationship between Avon and the ECA was outlined in a Memorandum of Agreement. (No other NGOs or private partners were involved.) As stated earlier, the Avon Foundation directly sponsored the costs of staging the event. In forming this partnership ECA sought (and received) gift acceptance authority since the event—valued at almost a quarter of a million dollars—was to take place on State Department turf. Throughout planning and execution, decisions were made jointly by ECA and Avon.


Foster described the partnership with Avon as a “smooth, flowing process.” They were, she says, “a phenomenal partner to have.” (Philanthropy News Digest, an online publication produced by the Foundation Center, covered the partnership.) Though the Global Congress piece has now been completed, the partnership dialogue is still open between Avon and ECA. “We’re talking about doing other things in the future,” she says.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Open-ended brainstorming meetings with established, long-term partners can lead to new and innovative public-private partnerships.
  • Well-planned events organized in cooperation with partners serve as a platform for matching public and private sector expertise and knowledge towards achieving concrete diplomatic or programmatic goals.