As with many milestones that occurred over the past year, my one-year anniversary at Health Forward Foundation came and went in the fog of the pandemic.
I assumed the role of president and CEO in late January 2020. In my first blog post, I wrote that I would spend six months listening, learning, and getting to know my new team, the board of directors, the Community Advisory Committee, and our partners. I was most eager to hear our communities’ stories and see our region’s picture of health firsthand.
Little did I know that six weeks later we would find ourselves in a global pandemic.
The quality face time I had looked forward to spending with the board and my team instead transpired via Zoom. The stories I planned to hear and experience in shared physical space with our partners also occurred virtually.
While not the orientation experience I envisioned, in retrospect, the COVID-19 pandemic served as the best teacher. Poignantly, it illustrated the disparate state of health across our region, colored the unequal socioeconomic and community conditions which shape it, highlighted the strained resources and systems which power it, and illuminated the practices which help and hinder philanthropic effectiveness.
As if our lessons from COVID-19 were insufficient, we have faced other formidable challenges over these last 12 months — an economic recession, pervasive inequality, a national awakening and reckoning with racism, a polarizing presidential election, and a historic assault on our democracy. Leading Health Forward through the confluence of these factors continually spurs deep thought and introspection into the impact we seek.
“While not the orientation experience I envisioned, in retrospect, the COVID-19 pandemic served as the best teacher.”
Indeed, our new direction that centers health equity within the frame of anti-racism and economic inclusion has never felt more important and opportune.
Last year, we equipped for the climb by cultivating the foundation of a high-trust culture and embarked on a journey to fully realize and clarify what racial equity looks like for Health Forward that will inevitably lead to greater health equity for the communities we serve.
I’m awestruck by how our partners have stepped up to meet the unprecedented challenges of this time. And while months of social distancing is wearing on all of us, I remain energized and steadfast in building a more equitable, more just, more resilient region.
If there is a bright side to the challenges we face, it is the opportunity to emerge anew and build on the unique strengths of every sector working together to redesign a system that applies a racial equity and a health justice lens to all.
Over the next year, Health Forward will deepen our focus. Last month, we kicked off a purpose alignment process to develop a new guiding strategy that centers our purpose, refines our focus, and deepens our impact by generating systemic solutions that address the conditions that drive health equity.
As we continue to assess and refine our purpose, our partners and stakeholders are informing our future. Some of what we have already heard:
- Stakeholders are excited about our purpose alignment and the growing recognition that economic inclusion and race equity are drivers of health.
- We are at a good starting point. Health Forward is looked to as a respected leader and a leading, trusted voice that can affect real change. And there is positive momentum to move forward at the intersection of health, economic inclusion, and race equity. There is also alignment among grassroots organizations, the business community, governmental and other social sector partners that represent existing assets in the community.
- Stakeholders have identified opportunities for Health Forward to address root causes and pursue systems change. Health Forward can consider several systems change roles (e.g., advocacy, convening, knowledge dissemination, capacity building, and power building) and can also lean into a more proactive, agenda-setting role, while continuing direct service funding.
- Partners also understand that purpose alignment will potentially change current priorities and practices. Support for systems change may require decreased programmatic funding and necessitate changes to grantmaking practices and internal ways of working.
We will continue to engage the community in this process. Our next round of listening will occur later this spring. Our board, Community Advisory Committee, and staff are so excited about what’s ahead and will continue to equip for the climb. I am incredibly blessed to do this work with them and with you.
Together, I have no doubt we’ll move health forward.