I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples. -Mother Teresa

When you’re working toward systems change, it helps to think broadly about sustainability and consider it at every stage of your process. Sustainability isn’t just about funding—it’s about building capacity for lasting local change with well-organized networks and alignment among resources. A strong network of practitioners who also continue to learn from each other and lead continued change in the community.

Simplicity is at the heart of lasting change. Think about how policies and practices contribute to barriers for families and providers. Sustainable systems change may include changes in the environment, system, practice, or how we do things. It may be in the tools or resources we create for our families or partners to make things easier to understand, step-by-step. Building capacity through coaching, training, tools, and other resources builds new knowledge. Systems change creates improvements for long-term community benefit.

Changes in mindsets, behavior and interactions among people and organizations are also powerful results of systems change work. Creating new habits and new patterns of behavior—such as establishing community referral networks and continuous quality improvement plans—are sustainable strategies for lasting change. Collecting information from diverse perspectives can contribute to changes in policy, practice, and the system through a  feedback loop process.

Getting out and building strong relationships with stakeholders helps to sustain the work as well. Leveraging community leadership to advocate for resources and policies that promote healthy child development is another example. Keeping funders in the loop about your good work can help sustain the work. Funding follows success, so keep track of your data. This will help you be prepared if and when federal, state, or private funding becomes available. Collect stories of your wins and be ready to share. By drawing positive attention to your successes, you show how your strategies work.

The Centers for Disease Control developed a sustainability planning guide for its Healthy Communities Program that is also applicable to the work of early childhood collaborations.

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