So What is a Field Catalyst?

By Joy Burkhard, MBA

The Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health is Named a Field Catalyst by the Bridgespan Group

Late last year, we received an email from the Bridgespan Group, inviting us to participate in their research about field catalysts. I had been following the work of Bridgespan for years, eager to learn as much as I could about collective impact, systems change, and what funders and non-profits were doing together to bring about lasting change in a field.

This March we were delighted when we read one of Bridgespan’s new reports, naming 2020 Mom, now the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health, as a Field Catalyst. Roughly 100 organizations were interviewed for the research.

So what is a field catalyst?

Bridgespan researchers say field-building catalysts deploy “different capabilities, quietly influencing and augmenting the field’s efforts to achieve population-level change.” Field catalysts are “connecting fragmented players in a given area of work to create an organized industry around an issue or challenge…so that…the field can operate more effectively and efficiently, tease out best practices and improve outcomes.”

Further, Stanford Social Innovation Review notes:

“Effective field building brings attention and legitimacy to an issue; increases the exchange of theory and practice across domains; identifies and disseminates promising practices; reduces inefficiencies; and creates incentives for collaboration that may not have happened organically. In the context of collective impact, field catalysts understand and engage the broader field(s) that local collective impact initiatives operate in and play a strategic role in identifying system barriers and leverage points as well as supporting the development of systemic solutions. What makes the work of a field catalyst unique from other, more specialized intermediaries, is the diversity of their skill sets and their capacity to navigate seamlessly across them in ways that weave together the best bottom-up, local strategies with effective top-down approaches. When done well, the field catalyst’s contributions not only unite and leverage the work of individual collective impact initiatives but also connect their work to the efforts of influential system actors whose contributions are needed to implement systemic solutions.”1,2

We couldn’t be more proud of this important recognition. Describing the work we do isn’t always easy to do as it’s complex, multi-faceted, and involves many different types of projects. Having a name for the work we have done over the last 12 years, and will continue to do until the last gap is closed in maternal mental health care, is affirming.

Let’s continue to catalyze change together!

Learn more in Bridgespan’s report:

“Funding FIeld Catalysts from Origins to Revolutionizing the World”

(Notice our prior name – 2020 Mom, listed on page 23)