October 15 2020

Ten years ago, The California Endowment took a fairly conventional approach when we created a strategic plan and a framework of 10 outcomes and Big 4 results for a decade-long, $1 billion, place-based initiative to build healthy communities. Early on, we stumbled. Like most large foundations, we prescribed from within the foundation the outcomes that we thought California’s communities needed in order to be healthy and thriving.  In response, our community partners pushed back. To be good collaborators, they told us, we needed to listen with humility. We needed to support community priorities, not try to set them.  Together, we began to “learn strategy.” Rather than sticking to a preordained theory of change throughout the Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative, we needed a more emergent approach. As Henry Mintzberg describes, this means “laying out initial ideas, learning what’s possible, observing which strategies succeed and which don’t with our partners, keeping some of the ideas, while adapting or abandoning others, and coming up with entirely unexpected ways of working along the way.”

This was how we learned to pivot, to adapt, and to assess “people power” as both a means and an end to achieving health equity and racial justice.  In this summary of a longer report to be released later this fall, our partners from the Center for the Study of Social Policy capture what and how hundreds of local and statewide organizations and thousands of committed leaders have contributed to this work through BHC.  In addition, the report highlights major lessons from BHC that contributes knowledge to philanthropy and to the on-going racial justice and health equity movement in California and the nation.

Thanks to our community partners who had the courage to speak truth to power and to our staff who listened attentively, we have learned many lessons that we would like to share with community partners, state leaders, and other funders.   We invite you to read this summary, reflect, and join us in conversations.  We look forward to continuing to learn from and with you as we work together to advance racial justice and health equity at a time when doing business as usual is not enough.

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