In 1989 JoAnne Fischer, a nationally recognized leader in the field of maternal and child health and family support, was hired as the Maternity Care Coalition’s (MCC) first full-time Executive Director. Formed in 1980 to reduce preventable infant deaths, MCC improves maternal and child health and well-being by creating collaborative efforts between individuals, families, providers, their communities and city and state legislative bodies. When Fischer began her tenure, MCC was a small community organization with a staff of three and a budget of $116,000.
Now, 28 years later, with a budget of $11 million, the 150 MCC staff and 26-person Board of Directors, encompassing diverse professional and educational backgrounds including advocacy, business, child care, communications, education, finance, management, marketing, policy, public health, research, and social work, collaborate daily to achieve their focused mission.
Executive Director JoAnne Fischer enjoys working with a large Board of Directors and was sure to include in MCC’s by-laws that there should be 26 Board members. Fischer believes that a large Board gives you “more resources and more diversity.” Since Board member engagement ebbs and flows, due to moving, family events, illness, or being otherwise indisposed, a large Board ensures there is still a wealth of people and knowledge to draw from. MCC demands very high Board performance standards, conducting an exceptionally in-depth onboarding process and exit interviews. Citing “diversity and involvement” as what she believes her Board’s greatest strengths to be, there are high expectations and level of involvement for each Board member. People are elected for 3-year terms with a maximum of 3 terms on a rotating cycle with clearly laid out lists of expectations and job descriptions.
As the only full-time Executive Director MCC has ever employed in over 30 years, JoAnne Fischer has overseen MCC’s expansions. As a leader, JoAnne is very experienced at her given tasks, and is comfortable in her own ability to do them well. Others agree as she has served on several local and national boards and committees including the National Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies Coalition, the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, and the Philadelphia Mayor’s Early Childhood Education Committee. In 1992 Fischer received the Women’s Way Award, Women of Courage and in 2003 she was honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Philadelphia Business Journal. A tireless advocate for the community the Maternity Care Coalition serves, in 2012 she was invited to the White House and recognized as a White House Champion of Change for her work informing people about the opportunities available to them in the Affordable Care Act.
As the staff continues to grow, she makes sure that everyone is confident of what their role within the organization is and that they have the skills and resources to accomplish it through the Maternity Care Coalition’s five core values: Achievement, Integrity, Inclusion, Empowerment, and Innovation. These core values resulted from discussions amongst the leadership team. Believing that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard, JoAnne solicited input related to the development of these core values from the entire staff, including the crafting of detailed descriptions for each. One way JoAnne has devised to keep these values at the forefront is allowing staff to nominate fellow staff members for an award for embodying a specific core value. If, for example, the core value is innovation, a colleague is nominated and explains how something they did was innovative. A small group will present it at the staff meeting. Sometimes it is a very concrete example such as a spreadsheet to improve tracking a resource, or less concrete, like coming up with a new program.
Despite being at the helm for so long, Fischer has not become a micro-manager. She trusts her staff and empowers them to make decisions without her. She believes it’s her background serving on the National Board for the Girl Scouts that makes her enjoy managing a large board, by being able to see how it works from both sides. This experience along with her knowledge of board and inclusive governance, has helped her support the Board and her staff. She doesn’t feel like she needs to manage every relationship. Fischer has created a structure in which she shares leadership with her co-workers. As a team, they strive to embody their core values, particularly Achievement and Empowerment. Fischer believes that individual growth is related to organizational success—an environment where individual staff members have the resources and support to do the best in their jobs. Voices are not silenced and participation is critical to reaching goals.
What distinguishes the Maternity Care Coalition and JoAnne’s leadership is that they have created a vision around a constituency: pregnant women and children ages 0-3 years. Most agencies create their vision around a funding stream: child welfare, mental health, early education, etc. MCC’s vision has been leveraging all funding streams available and using them to help their constituency. It is difficult to categorize what they do as they do so many things all while staying very mission tight. MCC’s expertise and value is the depth of knowledge around this very specific period of time in very diverse communities. Their community impact can be seen in the popularity of their programs (each has a waiting list) as well as the statistics they’ve gathered through research. Much of this can be credited to JoAnne Fischer’s innovation and foresight, staying ahead of the curve in research and policymaking while never forgetting to treat all their constituents with the care and respect they deserve.
About the author
Anna Reed graduated with a degree in Art History from Drew University and currently works in the Business Affairs office at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. In her spare time, she volunteers on the Board of Directors of her neighborhood association, East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association, where she is the Chair of the Membership Committee.