In January 2020, The Rotary Foundation launched its first Programs of Scale grant competition to fund Rotary member–led, evidence-based programs with demonstrated success in bringing about change. The Foundation received 70 proposals, and in March 2021, the Rotary trustees awarded the Programs of Scale grant to Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia. Those partners supporting the malaria elimination program in Zambia include The Rotary Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and World Vision: organizations that have built a shared trust and a joint vision over years of collaborative work. Rotary’s $2 million grant has been matched by both World Vision and the Gates Foundation for a total of $6 million, to be implemented in Zambia by Rotary members, World Vision staff, the Zambian government’s National Malaria Elimination Centre, PATH MACEPA, and other partners. The ambitious yet achievable project is sure to make a significant impact in curtailing malaria in Zambia. Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia aims to help reduce malaria cases over time by 90% in 10 of the most highly affected districts in Central and Muchinga provinces. In Rotary’s words, “The grant will allow Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia to strengthen the country’s health system by working with Zambian health officials at all levels and training 380 health facility staff members, as well as training and equipping more than 2,500 new community health workers. This will increase access to malaria diagnosis and treatment for the more than 1.3 million people in heavily affected areas … and greatly contribute to the national effort to eliminate the deadly disease.”
The Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and World Vision came together to identify where they would be most strongly positioned to make an impact. “This proposal stood out in particular because of the idea that we could come together and apply the strengths of each organization to make a positive change,” explains Sarah Crawford, assistant director for Rotary’s Programs of Scale. All three partners have existing work in Zambia, and Rotary has collaborated with World Vision on Rotary member global grant projects for over 15 years. Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Strategy—combined with these partner organizations’ capabilities—provides a strong foundation for the project’s success: The Zambian government has committed resources toward eliminating malaria, and both World Vision and Rotary members have invested decades of work building community networks and infrastructure to help strengthen the country’s health system.
The Gates Foundation has also invested significant funds in Zambia through their malaria eradication strategy, which emphasizes the importance of subnational solutions tailored to each region’s needs and capacities. For these reasons and others, the model implemented by the Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia program could serve as an example for global efforts to eliminate malaria. “The comparative strengths of each organization are what make this partnership so important,” says Abigail Pratt, a program officer on the Gates Foundation malaria team. She cites “the technical expertise that Gates partners provide in country, the scale and implementation expertise of World Vision, and the advocacy and influence that Rotary members can mobilize within communities” as important individual strengths. “It’s made for a very coordinated effort that’s been woven together over the last year,” she says, adding, “It’s a prime opportunity to see Rotary members and World Vision working together to tackle really challenging problems.”
The multi-stakeholder approach to an effort this large highlights the three organizations’ shared respect, trust, and commitment to empowering communities worldwide to fight poverty and its effects. At its heart, the Programs of Scale grant is about empowering Rotary members to work with partners and local communities to make a lasting impact. Like World Vision, both Rotary and the Gates Foundation are committed to working in a way that amplifies community members’ own voices and work. The partners saw an opportunity to do that empowering work in Zambia, while learning valuable lessons from each other about method, measurement, and impact as they work to strengthen national and local health systems for sustainability. One year into the first Programs of Scale grant, Rotary, the Gates Foundation, and World Vision are eager to maximize their respective strengths and areas of growth as they continue partnering and learning from each other.
In Rotary CEO John Hewko’s words, “Like our longstanding polio eradication effort, the partnership in Zambia today is not only a blueprint for transformative public health projects; it also offers a long-term vision of the collaboration we need to address hard and systemic problems in a post-COVID world. These problems require great boldness to tackle, but also the humble admission that we cannot tackle them alone, and that we must identify proven methods to catalyze sustainable change.”