Some of Mark Edwards’ friends were scratching their heads. Why would a man who had spent 20 years focused on improving opportunities for disadvantaged youth suddenly choose to work on contraceptive training?
But what seemed like a strange shift in direction, made perfect sense to Mark.
“As I learned more about the challenges facing young Americans by listening to their stories, I learned about the high rates of accidental pregnancy in America.”
Of the 6.6 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year, 3.4 million are accidents. A stunning 82% of teen pregnancies are unplanned. Mark realized that reducing such pregnancies would help break the cycle of poverty and give more people a shot at the American dream.
“If every child born in America was planned for and wanted, it would have a transformational impact on the cycle of intergenerational poverty.“
Mark says most accidental pregnancies occur because women are using a contraceptive method that doesn't work well for them. With that in mind, Mark seized on a solution that he believed could dramatically affect women’s lives and prospects.
In 2014, Mark teamed up with Peter Belden to launch Upstream USA.
Upstream’s mission is to change healthcare so that all women receive the highest quality services and can conveniently access the full range of contraceptive methods on the very day they walk into a clinic.
“When women have children before they plan for them or want them, it makes it difficult for them to achieve their own goals. And children who are born to parents who are not ready themselves have poorer outcomes than children who are planned for and wanted.”
Upstream provides on-site training and technical assistance to health centers across the country so staff members have the knowledge and training to provide women with all of the safest, most effective forms of family planning methods currently available.
“It is unconscionable that women are not offered the very best care, no matter how they enter the healthcare system,” says Mark. For a woman seeking contraception there should be no wrong door. We’re working to create that.”
And Mark says Upstream has set a high bar for success.
“In the next ten years, our goal is to cut the rate of unplanned pregnancy in half.”
Prior to co-founding Upstream, Mark was the founder and executive director of Opportunity Nation, a national, bipartisan movement of 250 organizations with a shared plan to rebuild the American Dream.
Mark believes that all Americans should have access to equal opportunity and that where you start off in life should not determine where you end up.
“Today’s young adults,” he says, “are filled with dreams and promise, just like the generations who came before them. Let’s give them the opportunity to reach their full potential. “
And that is the ultimate goal of both Opportunity Nation and Upstream USA.