Collective Impact for Healthy Living: How Campbell Is Turning Around Health in Camden

In February 2011, Campbell Soup Company announced the launch of a 10-year, $10 million initiative to reduce childhood obesity and hunger by 50% in our hometown of Camden, New Jersey, which has been Campbell world headquarters since 1869. Although it was a vibrant city until the middle of the past century, Camden, with approximately 77,000 residents, has earned the unfortunate reputation of being one of the country’s most dangerous and poorest cities. Not only did Campbell commit to remain in Camden, but it is the only company in the food industry that has shown this level of dedication to reducing childhood obesity. In the past three years, we have designed Campbell Healthy Communities, a thoughtful community-based model that is currently being scaled to our other Campbell sites and beyond. Our strategies are clear and inclusive, with four distinct areas of focus:

  • Food Access—Ensure that high-quality, affordable, nutritious foods are accessible in our communities.
  • Nutrition Education—Support a healthy lifestyle by teaching children, parents, expectant mothers, and school staff how to budget for healthy food and prepare balanced meals.
  • Physical Activity/Access—Promote regular physical activity in school, after school, and throughout the community in a safe environment.
  • Public Will—Engage the public as a partner in the creation and sustainability of a healthy community.

Campbell Healthy Communities is designed on a collective impact framework, recognizing that a single organization cannot change a major social issue. We have identified and invited multiple partners to work with us to solve the complex issue of childhood obesity and hunger.

Adding to the complexity is the severe poverty and fragile infrastructure that exists in Camden. With our partners, we began by defining a common agenda: a collective commitment to reduce childhood obesity and hunger by 50% in 10 years. Our initial focus is Camden, where we have established a network of partners who implement programs to accomplish our goal. From the beginning we established a set of shared measures by which we aggregate data against each of the four strategies. Our investees (funded by Campbell Healthy Communities) report quarterly on incremental measures on their specific objectives for food access, nutrition education, physical activity, and public will. We measure body mass index annually and have implemented an innovative model to assess hunger/food insecurity with the emergency departments in two of our city hospitals. Our philosophy is inclusive; we value a wide cross section of stakeholders and diversity of thought. Campbell, as founder and backbone organization, has launched and supported the collective. Currently, we are in the process of identifying a community-based organization that will assume the backbone function to ensure ultimate sustainability of the program.

Our theory of change has been on an individual level with students, teachers, and families and a systems level across our community. Thus far, we have seen significant behavioral change among our youngest community members, whose physical activity increased and whose intake of fresh produce has measurably improved. We have planted school gardens and harvested produce that has been used in cooking classes.

Campbell Soup Company has also taken steps to assess and improve the overall Camden food system. Recognizing the lack of access to full-service grocery stores in the community, we have deployed mobile produce trucks, backed community- supported agriculture, and created a Healthy Corner Store Initiative. Approximately 25% of Camden’s corner stores are enrolled in the program, with many of them hosting profit- boosting cooking demonstrations. Finally, we have co-invested with a regional planning commission, which has conducted research and gathered data on the community and will issue a report listing strategies for achieving an equitable and accessible food system in the city.

While the work is still in an early stage, we have witnessed environmental and policy changes in our schools, behavioral changes in our children and families, and citywide changes in our food system. The immense initial success of this program proves the power of a collective impact framework, where all partners are dedicated to a common vision and work together to achieve it. We believe that we are turning the tide in Camden and have tremendous hope for our city and our children.

Editor's Note: This article appears in Building a Healthier World: Private Sector Solutions that Save Lives.