11/11/2013 08:51 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Take the Mother Africa #GivingTuesday Challenge: A National Philanthropy Day Call to Action

Throughout the year I have been writing about two main topics for Huffington Post's Black Voices: the alarming health crisis facing black and allied women throughout the world, and how philanthropy--giving time, talent and treasure to benefit humanity---is a bedrock solution to many of the challenges facing our communities.

November 15th is National Philanthropy Day in the US--a kickoff to the Thanksgiving countdown and the annual giving season culminating again this year in #GivingTuesday on December 3rd. #GivingTuesday--comparable to Black Friday or CyberMonday--is a new national holiday encouraging Americans to contribute not only personal gifts but community gifts to make our country and the world better.

The African Women's Development Fund USA (AWDF USA) is a US-based public foundation devoted to advancing black women's development in Africa and its US diaspora. Through our Mother Africa program, AWDF USA, a #GivingTuesday partner, has been working all year to raise public awareness of the black maternal health crisis. We have engaged millions of Americans and supported community organizations throughout Africa to build a global Mother Africa Movement promoting maternal and infant health.

As I reflect on the year, I thought it would be a good time to share five principles we learned that you can use to direct your giving to address black maternal health this holiday season and beyond.

Principle 1. Learn the facts about the key maternal health issues facing black mothers

In this Digital Age, we are all overwhelmed with information and facts making it difficult to remain aware of the issues facing the broader community and how they impact our personal lives. This is true for black maternal health. In our global economy, despite all the diversity of black communities worldwide, there are certain unfortunate experiences we share.

Today black communities everywhere have the dubious distinction of high rates of maternal and infant death. For example, 500 African women die in pregnancy and childbirth each day--almost 200,000 women a year and the world's highest rate of maternal mortality.

Before we conclude that this is a problem unique to poor African women living on the continent, African-American women have the highest maternal mortality rate in the US.

Furthermore, African-American and now second generation African immigrant women--even those who are affluent and well-educated--have more than two times the rate of infant mortality than their white peers. In fact, African-American women now have worse infant mortality outcomes than black women living in the African country of Botswana.

These are complicated facts to understand but research, public health information and films are making the information and resources more accessible to increase community understanding of these complex issues. See these World Bank maternal mortality, Save the Children, Amnesty International reports and the PBS documentary, "Unnatural Causes" for more on the African, African-American and global maternal health crisis.

Principle 2. Collaborate with allies of all backgrounds to raise awareness and build common cause to address the institutional and policy barriers to women's health and rights

It is true that black communities have the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the US. But overall, the US has one of the worst maternal death rates of any wealthy country. Furthermore, other groups especially Native Americans and Latinos have maternal health outcomes that are not much better than those of black communities. In some regions, their outcomes are even worse than those of black women.

The causes and culturally specific solutions to the maternal health crisis may differ but the fact remains that America, Africa and the world are all faced with an escalating maternal health crisis.

Including men and entire families is essential to build the community of support and advocates to improve black women's maternal health.

Broad-based, multi-racial and even global alliances are an important part of the solution to complex social and health challenges. They allow us to create a network of mutual support, share best practices, and create the critical mass necessary to promote policy reform so vital for systems change.

Principle 3. Reach out and include the Motherland

Throughout the US there are thousands of black health programs and initiatives. There are also many US-based organizations promoting women's health and development.

Even though there has been a 200% increase in African immigration to the US, it is rare to find African immigrants or women included in the leadership of the country's African-American health nonprofits or mainstream foundations addressing African issues. There are many reasons for this that could be the subject for a year's worth of Black Voices commentaries alone.

Our experience is that fully inclusive strategies that embrace the full diversity of America's and Africa's black communities--including African women as leaders too, not as helpless victims--are critical to reverse high rates of infant and maternal mortality.

Continuing to exclude Africans from mainstream black American health organizations' leadership just promotes another generation of black Americans suffering from the same high levels of chronic disease that have historically defined the African-American experience.

After all, health and wellness are very culturally sensitive. Today America's black community is undeniably made up of many ethnicities, national origins and religions each having distinct histories, worldviews, languages as well as health and wellness practices.

In Africa, women are key providers of both family and community health care. Any Maternal or general health initiative that does not include women as key leaders cannot ultimately succeed.

At AWDF USA, we have had great success in raising black awareness of the maternal health challenge by collaborating with established African-American and African immigrant community organizations, including women in planning and executing initiatives. In our African grantmaking program, a partnership with our founding sister organization, African Women Development Fund International, ensures that we are supporting community-based women-led organizations that improve maternal and infant health outcomes while empowering local leadership.

Include Africa in America as well as African women in the Motherland to promote the national and global well-being of black mothers and children.

Principle 4. Move beyond community outreach to community engagement by any means necessary

Learning the facts, inclusive community health outreach and supporting women's leadership are powerful tools to promote maternal health and wellness. But they are not enough.
Outreach may get people to needed services but, at base health and wellness are very intimate affairs, even when personal or family outcomes are affected by broader policy or social factors.

Change especially in the realm of health disparities requires changes at a personal, community and policy levels to improve outcomes.

We have learned that we must engage people at three levels to improve black maternal health. We must help constituents take measures to improve their own personal health outcomes understand community health dynamics as well as identify practical, collective action they can take to address institutional barriers.

For example, we have been a partner with the Northern California African-American Community Health Advisory Committee, a community based health initiative of the Mills Peninsula Health Foundation. We engaged 20 area African immigrant health organizations, most notably Priority Africa Network, to support AACHAC's annual Soul Stroll Health Walk and Resource Fair in 2013. A diverse group of almost 3000 African-American, African immigrant and allied residents received maternal and other health information as well as some services. They signed a maternal health pledge and many of them have become AWDF USA volunteers and even donors supporting maternal health organizations in Africa as well. Soul Stroll is expanding nationally as a model of how holistic and inclusive community health engagement can work.

Principle 5. Give strategically to promote sustainable change

All the other principles only work if people like you give your time to learn; your talents to help; and your treasure to transform the future of our communities. Giving builds a culture and economy of generosity that is the social glue that has helped our communities survive and thrive throughout the most harrowing experiences of our history. It is also a key tool in addressing the new Mother Africa Challenge to promote maternal and infant health.

AWDF USA is your partner for African giving in the US and Africa. We provide vital information and resources for Americans of all backgrounds to improve women's health and development for African-descent communities right in our own backyards and throughout the African continent.
Here are two immediate actions that you can take in the next few weeks to make a difference for black mothers and babies everywhere.

Join us by phone or internet on December 3rd for a free Global Women's Health Virtual Town Hall featuring pioneering physician and researcher, Dr. Michelle Holmes of Harvard University as well as activists, funders, policymakers and concerned citizens from all walks of life to learn more about how you can meet the Mother Africa Challenge. You can register here and will receive an email with instructions to join the town hall.

Take the Mother Africa #GivingTuesday Challenge. Check out this video for how you can share the gift of life with black mothers and their babies in the US and Africa this holiday season.

We are thankful for your support and wish you the joy of giving this holiday season.

Visit, contact me here, via email at or by phone at 408-634-4837 for more information.