Thursday, August 4, 2016

Keyboard StethoscopeGrantmakers In Health (GIH) is a philanthropic affinity group that supports the field of health philanthropy by informing and advising health foundations, corporate giving programs, and other funders, and provides opportunities for them to share knowledge and experiences.

Acting as a voice for health philanthropy, we move the field forward through our programming.

For many years, health equity has been a priority for GIH and for health philanthropy as well. Rising inequality, widening differences in racial perceptions of the country’s direction, and increasing social tension add new urgency to funders’ efforts. It is a challenging time for the pursuit of health equity—but also an important opportunity for action. As before, health philanthropy seeks to catalyze and accelerate positive change, but now it is broadening its attention to include areas outside the traditional health sector.

This is a change from the past, when many philanthropic efforts to reduce health inequalities are focused on health care settings or individual behavior. An important lesson health funders learned from these past investments is that successful interventions require thinking differently about what health is and the factors that contribute to people being healthy. Supported by growing evidence that access to high quality health services is just one of several contributors to good health status, funders have grown increasingly interested in solutions outside of the health care system that address inequality and support healthy and safe communities.

New grantmaking frameworks include housing, community violence, access to healthy food, toxic exposure and other environmental issues, early childhood, schools, employment, and social justice. For example, a Missouri-based health funder is investing millions in grassroots advocacy, gun violence, juvenile justice/behavioral health, food insecurity, toxic stress and trauma-informed care, and school-based care, recognizing that these are underlying health problems and conditions that contribute to persistent social inequalities.

These new directions are accompanied by an interest in innovative approaches, models, and partnerships that move beyond traditional health grantmaking, work across sectors, and invest in long-term change. Some funders aspire to change policy in order to achieve sustained systems-level change. This includes those who are focused on health systems reform, with the goal of eliminating inequalities in health status and health care that still affect millions. Others prioritize vulnerable groups, such as youth of color and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT). Still others are partnering with organizations outside the health sector, like community development organizations. This cross-sector work, which shows promise, is stimulating investments in affordable housing, community clinics, grocery stores, childcare, and other health-promoting initiatives.

Consistently, there is a focus on community involvement—an important difference from the past and a break from the perspective of traditional health care systems. For example, multiple foundations are turning directly to communities to both identify the problems they believe are preventing health equity and taking leadership in designing and implementing their own solutions.

Funders are also looking within, conducting self-assessments that critically examine board and staff composition, organizational values, and spending on grants, investments, and services, as they relate to equity goals. 

Not all health funders are comfortable playing a leadership role on these issues. However, some are eager to do so. They are intentional about being agents of social change, and their interest in working in new ways with communities, broadening the definition of health, and pursuing new partnerships is paving the way.

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