Interview: Healthy Start Kid/t

Within the healthy start programme, we use an innovative convergent approach, which requires – and at the same time facilitates – learning and reflection. In this interview series, we encourage researchers, societal partners and support staff to share what they learned from their experiences with the healthy start community. This week: Healthy Start Business developer Marije Wassenaar about the Healthy Start kid/t, the benefits of working with(in) a large inter- and transdisciplinary consortium, and the importance of patience.

Convergent research often starts with urgent, complex societal issues that require a solution. What is the societal issue that you aim to solve with healthy start kid/t?

“Worldwide, more than 5 million children died in 2020. The WHO estimates that better access to healthcare and prevention could have saved at least half of these children. Socially disadvantaged children are at risk of poor access to healthcare, resulting in early-life health inequalities. This has major impact on childhood, life course health and quality of health. ”

How will the healthy start kid/t solve this issue?

Healthy Start Kid/t will develop a system to optimize healthy nutrition and playful physical activity for disadvantaged children and caregivers. It is a hybrid system in which a digital platform with innovative prevention tools to change child’s health remotely is equipped by and embedded in local community centres.

A more detailed explanation of the healthy start kid/t can be found in the following video:

How did a convergent approach benefit the development of the health start kid/t?

“Most of the benefits resulted from having a large and expanding network of scientists, societal stakeholders and support staff who shared the same mission. A TUdelft advisor informed me that Lego was celebrating their 90th birthday by launching a call in which 5 consortia would get up to 27M for playful development of children. Together, we recognized the potential and reached out to two of the academic leads of Healthy Start, Vincent Jaddoe and Maaike Kleinsmann. Like us, they were immediately excited by the possibility to work on this complex societal issue, which would involve state-of-the art research and making societal impact. Therefore, we decided to form a consortium of TUDelft, Erasmus and Erasmus MC scientists to cover the scientific base of the project. Over time, the consortium grew with more researchers from different universities, who we invited, or approached us to work on our common mission. We also started working alongside another convergence programme, resilient delta, and through previous collaborations between researchers and societal stakeholders, we also got many local partners involved such as Red Cross Kenya, Amref Health Africa, Academic Hospital Surinam, Avegen/Togther for her from India. We ended up with a team from various disciplines and sectors, who possessed  a wealth of practical and specialistic knowledge, allowing us to properly understand the societal issue and come up with an adequate solution. Unfortunately, we were not funded through the Lego call, but as a consortium we were so passionate about our mission and solution that we are now applying to other foundations and for other grants.”

Looking back, what did you learn from this convergent experience?

“The energy of working together was awesome push and driver of work. But researchers do need to time to build trust and understand what the other is working on. While the deadline of Lego call was a good pressure cooker (otherwise it would not have come about so quick), good teamwork always requires time, patience and mutual respect. ”

About Marije Wassenaar

Marije Wassenaar is a business developer (sr.) at Erasmus University. She is the linking pin between researchers, government, public & private partners to help develop research projects. Within the convergence alliance, she works for the programmes Healthy Start and Resilient Delta.