Sankofa: A look back at 2023


At the end of 2022, I wrote the first of what I hope will continue to be a seasonal Health Forward tradition — a Sankofa reflection. As I shared last year, in the Twi language of Ghana, “Sankofa” means to go back and get it and to take from the past what is good and bring it into the present to make progress in the future.

As 2023 ends, I greet you again in the spirit of Sankofa. This season prompts introspection — a time to sift through the sands of the past year, gathering the gems of experience and knowledge to glean wisdom and insights to illuminate the path forward. May our reflections be a compass, guiding us toward progress, community connectedness, equity, curiosity, and courage in the adventures that await in the new year.

This year marked the first organized grantmaking under our five-year purpose plan. While quite challenging to operationalize, we are proud that most of the trains ran on time and arrived at the desired destinations. We deepened our commitments to trust and community proximity in many ways, including offering thoughtful invitation-based grantmaking to existing and potential partners in the Place and People purpose areas. The invitation-based grantmaking gave credence to trusted longstanding relationships and signaled our belief in prospective partners who have demonstrated success, promising practices, or have ideas we were excited to help test.

We also welcomed new and existing partners by administering funding opportunities in our Platform purpose area — to support equity, inclusion, and anti-racism practices within organizations — and in our Power purpose area — to support capacity building among rural-, Black-, Indigenous-, or Latino/a/x-led organizations and broader multi-level and multi-identity community-led civic engagement which will take our partner-based policy and advocacy work to new heights.

Vice President of Policy and Impact McClain Bryant Macklin leads a discussion with community partners during a policy agenda listening session.

In support of these field-led advocacy efforts, we also enriched our internal policy and advocacy work which enhances the work of our civic engagement and advocacy partners, while also amplifying the power that exists within our communities of focus. In 2023, we contributed to the development of broadband internet plans on both sides of the state line; provided ongoing defense against anti-DEI and immigrant legislation in both states; co-authored an approved Kansas state plan amendment for community health worker reimbursement; and achieved even more wins deserving of their own post.

This year also marked significant advancement in applying our purpose to our investment portfolio. We continue to be among the vanguard of foundations increasing assets managed by Black- and Latino/a/x-led investment management firms at approximately 44% of assets, an increase of over $100M since the beginning of 2023.

It would be negligent to focus on this year’s successes without acknowledging that in 2023 extreme affronts to the well-being, prosperity, and freedom of Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a/x communities also deepened. This summer, I shared a reflection with the Center for Effective Philanthropy calling on the philanthropic sector to responsibly reflect on how we will use our platforms of philanthropic freedom with accountability to our altruistic purpose: the love of humankind – a virtuous force to be reckoned with when perfected with power and justice.


Here are more highlights from our purpose-driven work in 2023.

In our work to build and support a high-quality, equitable, community health ecosystem, Health Forward:

  • Convened numerous learning, action, and networking opportunities through the KC Health Equity Learning and Action Network to support capability and capacity building to address inequities in the health ecosystem through changes to systems, structures, and practices.
  • Launched a regional assessment that will inform and help establish actionable steps for stakeholders in our region to increase the representation and advancement of people of color and rural people underrepresented in our region’s health workforce.

    Vice President of Strategy, Learning, and Communication Eusebio Díaz participates in a conversation about pathways to health science careers.

  • Established a board designated fund for Health Sciences pathways, leveraging MacKenzie Scott’s catalytic $15 million gift, and deployed initial seed investments
  • Launched a public information campaign in Missouri and collaborated with other health foundations in Kansas for coordinated outreach and enrollment efforts with core partners to urge people who are eligible for Medicaid to renew their existing coverage or enroll for the first time.

In our work to build and support strong community organizations and voices, Health Forward:

  • Hosted networking meetings with funded partners in our Power purpose area and convened capacity-building opportunities for many funded partners.
  • Enhanced our support of smaller, community-based organizations through culturally responsive fiscal sponsorship and fiscal management technical assistance with Community Capital Fund.
  • Partnered with Be Great Together on a series of DocuCourses that elevated the stories, contributions, and expertise of Black and Latina community changemakers. The series, which received several nominations and awards at nationally esteemed film festivals, promoted movements to change narratives in Kansas City and across the country.

In our work to build and support equitable and just places that foster health and economic advancement, Health Forward:

  • Announced that we are establishing new headquarters at the Offices at Overlook on the East Side of Kansas City, Missouri.

    A rendering of Health Forward’s planned headquarters on Kansas City’s East Side.

  • Committed $7 million of purpose-driven investment funds to three Community Development Corporations (Urban Neighborhood Initiative, Community Builders of Kansas City, and Community Housing of Wyandotte County) to advance their essential work aligned with affordable housing and home ownership strategies in our Place purpose area.

As we reflect on the year gone by, and anticipate the dawn of a new one, we carry forward countless gems and express our heartfelt gratitude for the collaborative spirit of both our new and longstanding partners. Whether you have recently joined our cause or have been a steadfast comrade in this endeavor, we take pride in our collective grit, grind, and the joy in our shared work. We stand with you, shoulder to shoulder as we embrace the work ahead with accountability, celebration for incremental successes and resolve.

Wishing you a joyous holiday season of rest and intentional reflection rooted in the spirit of Sankofa!