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March 8, 2021

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Brandcenter strategy team named winners at 2021 Festival of Urgent Reinventions

Second-year strategists Shannon Gerety (ST, 2021) and Payal Pereira (ST, 2021) were named winners at the 2021 Festival of Urgent Reinventions (FOUR). Their work addresses equity in wellness and focuses on closing the wellness gap of Black maternal-fetal health.

The two-day FOUR festival was held February 4 & 5, 2021 and featured four prominent changemakers who spoke on topics centered around the world’s most urgent issues. Each of these individuals then delivered a brief aimed at addressing these issues head-on. Participants of all ages and disciplines competed to answer the briefs.

Gerety and Pereira responded to the “Equity in Wellness” brief delivered by Nicole Cardoza, founder of @antiracismdaily and @wellemental. Cardoza asked: "Wellness should be accessible to everyone. How can we use privileged practices to address social isolation in underserved communities?"

In response, Gerety and Pereira focused on Black women, who are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. These pregnancy-related complications usually stem from chronic stress and mental health trauma that is caused due to deliberate discrimination, lack of empathy and support.

The team reinvented the pregnancy subscription box model, which is often a privilege in the wellness space. They designed an initiative called The Expecting Collective. The goal of their initiative is to help close the wellness gap of Black maternal-fetal health by providing wellness resources through pay-it-forward subscription boxes that are curated to support expecting Black moms. In addition to wellness products, these boxes will have personalized ‘Open When’ letters that will help expecting moms feel less isolated during pregnancy.

“We chose subscription boxes because mail is an existing and accessible medium that can deliver tangible forms of communication in a way that’s meaningful and powerful,” says Pereira. “The Expecting Collective addresses four of the six ways recommended to reduce risks of pregnancy-related complications among Black moms. In this way, our idea brings wellness to and from the women who are carrying two heartbeats.”

The team won the wellness category (a $10k prize), as well as a spot in the Make.co Learning Labs Cohort: a 12-week program where they will get mentorship to make their idea as real as possible.

“We did this project on a whim because it addressed relevant issues that need immediate solutions,” says Pereira. “It was a weekend activity that turned out to be so much more meaningful. We’re so grateful for the opportunity to be allies and improve the world through action.”

As part of the mentorship, Gerety and Pereira knew they wanted to involve Black birth workers who are already doing a lot of work in this space as guides. They will now be working with Birth in Color RVA to understand the needs of Black moms and accordingly curate items that will go in these boxes. They also have a professional mentor, Tiro Ovakporie, who will help with other aspects of the project in terms of the business model, community building, etc.

“Nothing inspired me more than the message, ‘Overestimate what you can change’ put forth by the festival,” says Gerety. “The recognition this project earned shows the importance of addressing racial disparities in wellness and giving extra attention and love to the Black moms in our country.”

Visit birthincolorrva.org/donate/ to help bring more resources to expecting Black moms in the Richmond community.