Partners in Progress

UCLA and Johnson & Johnson create an expansive set of training programs to promote health literacy in underserved communities and empower disadvantaged families.

When business schools and corporations join forces, it’s most often with a specific goal in mind—to enhance the business curriculum, promote an area of research, advance faculty experience, develop executive training programs, or create positive change in the community. It’s certainly an accomplishment for such a collaboration to achieve one of these goals, but it’s quite another for it to achieve all of them.

But that’s what has happened with the 18-year partnership between the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Johnson & Johnson, says Al Osborne, senior associate dean and director of UCLA’s Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Since its inception in 1991, the partnership has generated key research into childhood diseases, established three community-based training programs for nonprofit managers, provided students and faculty with educational and research opportunities, and launched a nationwide program dedicated to promoting health literacy among low-income families.

Birth of a Partnership

When Johnson & Johnson first approached the Anderson School, the company was particularly interested in helping economically disadvantaged children and their families, explains Osborne. With that in mind, Anderson faculty and company executives soon focused their attentions on Head Start, one of the most comprehensive childhood development organizations in the world.

In 1991, the partners launched the UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Head Start Management Fellows Program, which Osborne now directs. Through the program, Head Start administrators from across the U.S. come to UCLA to learn management and leadership skills. A central feature of the intensive two-week Fellows program is the MIP—Management Improvement Project—which is a step-by-step strategic approach that helps Fellows plan and execute projects, improve operations, and solve problems. This year, the Fellows program graduated its 29th class and its 1,200th student.

Mernell King had been a Head Start director for 15 years when she attended the Fellows program. At the time, she says, she had no idea just how much she didn’t know. “I had been to all kinds of courses on fiscal management for Head Start, but I’d never been trained in strategic planning, cost benefit analysis, or improvement projects,” she says.

King applied what she learned to turn the Head Start agency she was managing at the time in Hannibal, Missouri, from inefficient to high-performing. She now directs early childhood programs for Central Missouri Community Action in Columbia, Missouri—last year, she also sent two members of her staff to attend the Fellows program.

“We ‘MIP’ everything! If we have a systems issue, we MIP it. If we have a services issue, we MIP it,” King says. “The Fellows program teaches us that there is a big difference between managing a project and leading a project. MIPs are now at the core of our planning process.”

Wassy Tesfa directs the Head Start program at the Center for Community and Family Services in Altadena, California. She notes that most Head Start administrators come to the Fellows program with educational backgrounds: They know how to teach, not necessarily how to run an organization.

The Fellows program teaches participants about the finer points of negotiating, budgeting, and strategic planning. Fellows also can return to UCLA each January to attend the Advanced Management Institute where they network, refresh their skills, and update themselves on legislation and trends affecting Head Start. In her continuing training, Tesfa hopes to learn more about branding and marketing, so that her agency can attract more funding and support from the community.

“We become higher level executives and directors,” Tesfa says. “We now have higher expectations of ourselves.”

Promoting Health Literacy

In 2000, Anderson and Johnson & Johnson wanted to do more to reach out to disadvantaged families, so they worked with the Fellows to conduct a survey of Head Start parents about the biggest barriers they faced when it came to obtaining healthcare.

Many parents noted a similar problem, explains Ariella Herman, senior lecturer at the Anderson School. They said that they lacked information and felt unprepared to deal with children’s illnesses on their own. For instance, when asked what they would do if their child had a mild temperature of 99.5 degrees, 70 percent answered that they would take their child to the emergency room.

That survey led to the creation of the UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute (HCI) in 2001. HCI, which Herman directs, continues to conduct research, develop educational materials, and create training programs for Head Start agencies to deliver to parents across the country. The programs cover topics such as oral hygiene, childhood illnesses, and diabetes and obesity to empower parents to care for their families. “We gave Head Start agencies a methodology to train families on any healthcare topic,” says Herman.

To date, the program has trained 40,000 families in 35 states. The program includes the book, What to Do When Your Child Gets Sick, written by Gloria Mayer and Ann Kuklierus, both registered nurses. The book is written at a third-grade level, so that its information is accessible to everyone, Herman explains. The training materials are translated into seven languages and target ten ethnicities.

The result of this program isn’t just healthier families; it’s a more efficient healthcare system, says Herman. In post-training surveys, only 10 percent of parents indicated they would take their children to the ER for a slight fever. That translates to millions of dollars saved in terms of fewer visits to ERs and clinics, fewer days lost from work, and fewer Medicaid claims, says Herman.

Johnson & Johnson continues to lend its expertise to the Anderson School, as well as fund the development of new research, training, and materials. At the same time, the program is expanding with the help of outside support. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer is funding the program’s rollout in New Mexico, and the state of Washington has made room in its budget to bring the program to its Head Start families. In addition, Anderson faculty and MBA students are traveling to Mexico, Brazil, China, and Eastern and Western Europe to conduct field studies on childhood diseases to learn whether HCI’s training program can be translated to other regions of the world.

Anderson’s training programs also have expanded to other areas. In 2002, Anderson and company executives launched the UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Executive Program, which trains leaders from community-based healthcare organizations to provide the best possible services to underserved communities. And in 2006, they created the Johnson & Johnson/UCLA Management Development Institute for HIV/AIDS, which provides in-country management training to individuals running HIV/AIDS clinics in Africa. So far, this program has graduated 350 participants from 22 African nations.

Achieving Tangible Results

With a stronger grasp of strategic planning, King has been able to adopt more vibrant, interactive, and entertaining methods to interact with parents through her Head Start agency in Columbia, Missouri. Before her training, few parents attended her agency’s educational sessions, she says. “Who wants to come to a Head Start center, sit in a tiny chair, and be offered a bowl of chips and a soda? Nobody,” says King.

King and her staff now include parents in the planning of training events. “Instead of thinking of it in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ we sit down with them and ask, ‘What do you want?’” says King.

Today, each family that attends training sessions offered by King’s Head Start office receives not only information, but also prizes and a nice dinner. Physicians, medical residents, and nursing students from the nearby University of Missouri are on hand to speak with parents.

“We hadn’t completely understood the culture of poverty, where life can be intense,” says King. “Parents are working three jobs, their car has broken down, and they’re trying to pay the bills. When we say, ‘Come to our training session,’ it can sound like the dumbest thing. Now we can say, ‘We’re going to treat you like you deserve to be treated.’”

Attendance at educational sessions is no longer a problem, says King. One of her recent health literacy training sessions attracted 400 people. Better still, the events are funded completely by donations from local physicians, clinics, pharmacies, and businesses. King and her staff attract this support with the help of the negotiation skills they learned in the Fellows program.

Not only that, King says that her office is now so skilled at project planning that it has received every grant it has applied for—most recently, a $1.2 million grant to roll out HCI’s health literacy program to all the Head Starts in Missouri.

Life-Changing Experiences

A success story like King’s is just what Anderson faculty and Johnson & Johnson executives want to hear. Her story and others like it from Head Start administrators across the U.S. illustrate how corporate support and business school research can translate into positive, lasting, far-reaching change in the community. “Our approach to helping Head Start families is very scalable,” says Osborne of UCLA. “It can lead to all kinds of interventions.”

Once achieved, such a partnership creates opportunities for students, faculty, corporate representatives, and members of the community that otherwise would not have been possible, says Herman. “As faculty, we can conduct studies and write articles, but it means more when our work gives back to the community,” she says. “This has been a life-changing experience for all of us.”