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Health Program strengthens commitment to community-driven solutions


Stacey Barbas

Our health depends on where we live, the food we eat, and the air we breathe. However, in far too many communities around the nation, decades of structural inequities and institutional racism has left people of color and people with low incomes with low-quality housing, polluted air, limited access to healthy food and a lack of other resources that contribute to health and well-being.

But change is possible. Communities have a sophisticated understanding of the challenges they face, and the expertise and experience to drive locally determined solutions to improve health.

That’s what the Heath Program believes at The Kresge Foundation.

To learn more about our journey, let’s start by going back to 2008.

When the foundation shifted to strategic grantmaking at that time, we decided to take what was then a non-traditional approach and address the social determinants of health, focusing on how housing, access to healthy food, transportation and the environment affected communities.

Over the years, as we continued to learn from our community partners and others in the field, our approach has evolved.  We learned that engaging communities means seeing problems and solutions in multiple dimensions, since communities experience intersection of all these challenges. Building genuine partnerships between researchers and community can strengthen both the impact of data and of community voice and policy change – regulatory, legislative, and institutional practice – is key to sustaining improvements for community health and for expanding the reach of those change. And most importantly, we learned that authentic community engagement is fundamental for sustainable efforts to building healthy communities.

As we continue to refine our strategies, one thing that has not changed is our consistent belief in the power of communities and our focus on community-driven solutions.

In our Community-Driven Solutions focus area, our work is place-based and led by local community leaders, including nonprofit organizations, advocates and other local experts. We fund national organizations to provide support to community-based organizations in areas like communications, organizing and evaluation.

As we work to be more thoughtful, deliberate and genuine in our relationships with our current and potential grantee partners, these are some of the key beliefs we hold:

  • We are committed to addressing racial equity in our work and recognizing the challenges communities face in addressing structural racism.
  • Communities and community-based organizations operate in an intersectional way; they don’t operate in a vacuum or focus on one issue, such as housing. The work requires addressing a wide range of issues like hiring and workforce development, safety, racial bias and structural inequities, and all of the other challenges that communities address every day. And our grantmaking has to reflect that.
  • We recognize and respect that our grantee partners are experts in their own communities and uniquely positioned to know what is needed and what’s possible. We value their expertise and experience and the critical role they play in their communities.
  • We understand that our partners should help design what success looks like, and we employ an Equitable Evaluation framework.

Over the years, we have listened to communities and heard from them what they think are the most important ways to improve people’s health. Our strategies reflect a sharper view on what we heard from residents, community-based organizations and other experts that reflect the broader social and political context in a post-pandemic world.

That’s why today, we’re expanding our community-driven solution grant funding to support community safety in addition providing ongoing support to accelerate efforts related to equitable food systems, climate change and health equity through housing.

We want to continue the conversation and hear from you. Stay tuned for information about an upcoming webinar and send us your thoughts and questions about our community-driven solutions focus area here.