Celebrating Local Funding Partnerships

Remarks from Risa Lavizzo-Mourey at the November 2013 final gathering of Local Funding Partnerships.

    • November 12, 2013

Good afternoon, everyone. I am delighted to be with you today to celebrate Local Funding Partners at our final meeting together. It’s been a true privilege to take this journey with all of you, and your thousands of partners and colleagues across the country.

On behalf of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, I want to thank each and every one of you for the important contributions you’ve made to improving our nation’s health, and for being such an important part of the Foundation’s history.

That video we just watched is remarkable. Because it shows how, over 25 years – and truly across the map–we have worked together to change the world, one community at a time. It has been an extraordinary endeavor–a journey of discovery that has had a profound impact on the people and places that your collective work has touched.

The connection between the groundbreaking projects you have led in communities across the country, and RWJF’s vision of building a culture of health, is strong. You have helped us get to where we are today, and I know your work will continue to guide us into the future.

From the beginning, Local Funding Partners has exemplified two of the Foundation’s core beliefs:

  • First, the best solutions are grown locally. Time and again, LFP has demonstrated that local communities and leaders are forging bold solutions to many of the nation’s greatest health challenges. In fact, great ideas for solving America’s most pressing health problems are flourishing in communities across the country – from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Carbon County, Montana.  From right here in Philadelphia to Plano, Texas.
  • Second, we accomplish more when we collaborate. We’ve shown that there is tremendous power in collaborating with local communities and local funders. The partnerships we’ve developed with you over the years have magnified our collective work. And they have expanded and diversified the network of funders who support it.  

By working together, we’ve discovered and spread opportunities that might have otherwise gone untapped. And, ultimately, together we have had far greater impact.

I was not at the Foundation when Terry Keenan first articulated his vision of a local initiative program in the late 1980s. But, I can imagine how revolutionary that vision was at the time.

Terry, a true innovator in philanthropy, had the wisdom and humility to know that no national philanthropy could know the best way to remove barriers to health and improve care in local communities. He recognized that only those who are of a community–where health truly happens in our towns and neighborhoods–could know what changes would really make a difference.

Terry also learned–the hard way–that local funders were likely to meet some big foundation based in Princeton, New Jersey with a good bit of resistance if it rode into town offering ideas. That is, until it put some skin in the game and matching dollars on the table.

But ultimately, Terry knew that weaving together the expertise of a network of like-minded change agents held great potential. Potential that was well worth the intensive effort of partnership-building.

Thanks to Terry’s sage leadership, we can look back today and celebrate how Local Funding Partners blazed a trail in uniting funders of all sizes, types, and localities. And how bringing those diverse funders together ensured that innovative solutions could take root and flourish.

It’s such a pleasure to see here today so many leaders who have been critical to the growth and success of this initiative.

And here in Philadelphia, the city I’m proud to call home, we’ve been enriched by the growth of projects like Students Run Philly Style.  Building on the vision of Students Run LA director Marsha Charney, local Philly director Heather McDanel and regional funders like Susan Sherman of the Independence Foundation are going the distance for community health.

Thanks to their dedication, another team of simply unstoppable high-school students will accomplish dreams they might never have thought possible through training for–and running–the Philadelphia Marathon this weekend.

Through this program, these kids, often from neighborhoods that are high on poverty and low on opportunity, learn that if they can cross that finish line, then making healthy choices, staying out of trouble, and succeeding in school is well within their grasp.

So when you read about the people who finished the marathon this weekend, think about the thousands of young lives that have changed for the better, thanks to Students Run Philly style.

And many of you will get to tour the murals that the Mural Arts Project has installed across the city. Its Porch Light Initiative quite literally paints a picture of how art can transform a community and drive social change.  It’s a vibrant example of how artistic storytelling and community ownership can strengthen behavioral health and addiction services to reduce stigma and build healthier, more resilient communities.

It’s impossible to talk about transformative projects like these without recognizing that you are the trend-spotters who have powered this work for 25 years.

Your commitment to taking on big health and social challenges in your communities has yielded big ideas that have changed millions of lives for the better.

Since 1988, 360 grants have been awarded through LFP, in support of projects that have helped define and refine solutions to our nation’s most difficult health and health care problems.

Time and again, you have flagged pressing issues that we could tackle collectively with smarter strategies and greater impact.

  • Access to quality dental care.
  • The mental health needs of our youngest children.
  • Delivering urgently needed care to remote and underserved populations by moving services from the hospital to community health centers and homes.

Many of the ideas that took off to have national – and even global – impact, have their origins in local channels. Here are just a few examples that come to mind:

  • Back around 1998, we saw spikes in applications around access to dental care in underserved and mostly minority communities. Early LFP grants ultimately led the Foundation to launch the Dental Pipeline program in 2001. The program focused on recruiting minority and low-income students to the field of dentistry. Through our experience with previous LFP projects, we knew it was essential to make rotations in community-based clinical settings a core component of the program.

    Not only did it strengthen students’ commitment to provide oral care to underserved populations… ultimately, the program shifted the entire way dental schools train dental professionals. It raised the bar for dental schools to diversify their student bodies and faculties.

    It showed the importance of training culturally competent practitioners. And it moved training and service from the classroom to the community.
  • Vote and Vax is another example. It’s an extraordinary case of making health happen where people live, learn, work…and vote.

    First tried in communities along the border where New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts meet, this program was set up at polling places to allow people to exercise their civic rights and get a needed shot in the arm to ward off the flu. The best part was, not only did Vote and Vax help protect people from seasonal flu, but it also helped communities sharpen their ability to respond to public health emergencies at the neighborhood level.

    Vote and Vax started as a pilot in 1997. Now it’s spread to nearly all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. And, retail giants like Rite Aid and Walmart are working with Vote and Vax to get people immunized on Election Day.

LFP has shown real courage in stepping up to take on some of our most stubborn problems. In working to stop violence in its many forms, the program has helped lead the way in boosting public health and public safety.

LFP grantees give young men in New York City and Oakland, California the skills and support they need to embrace alternatives to violence. They tailor culturally effective approaches to preventing relationship violence in Muslim communities in Texas. And they help children in North Carolina cope with the trauma that comes from witnessing violence in the home.

LFP was one of the first to recognize the spark of innovation in CeaseFire, a breakthrough public health approach to stopping gun violence. Now called Cure Violence, the model started out by driving down the tragically high number of shootings and killings in Chicago.

Now it’s spread to a number of cities, including New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. It’s also being applied to quell violence in countries like Iraq and Kenya.

Using trained outreach workers and interrupters to detect and disrupt the spread of shootings was considered somewhat radical when LFP made that first grant in 1999. Now, in 2013, the Institute of Medicine is pulling together top scholars to advance the science of how violence spreads like a disease, and how it can be prevented.

As I said, these are just a few examples. There are hundreds more, focusing on issues from mental health, to access to primary care, to needed supports for parents of young children. Each one tells a unique story about identifying not just a local need, but a community-driven solution.

These are stories of dedication and caring. Of passion and perseverance.  And, most of all, of hard work. They continue to inspire us and drive us forward. I hope all of you will share your stories during this meeting–with each other, and with us at the Foundation as well.

Partnership has always been at the core of LFP’s success.

For 25 years, LFP has advanced the best thinking of local funders across the country–partnering with more than twelve hundred grantmakers of every type. Community, corporate, and family foundations. Giving circles, United Ways, and local and state governments. And, of course, generous individuals.

Think, for a moment, of the collective power of all these partnerships.  Not just the power of all of those dollars put together, but also the intellectual power. The creative power. The organizational power. The human power. And the sheer social change power, made possible by these joint efforts.

It is through these kinds of partnerships that we begin to connect the dots that will lead our nation toward a culture of health. The dots that connect essentials like stable housing, access to nutritious food, strong schools, and safe neighborhoods. All those things that make such a difference in the health of people and their communities.

Local Funding Partners created spaces for important community conversations on health and health care. From those conversations, we at the Foundation came to see that health and health care are not the same.

If we really wanted to improve health, we had to look at solutions outside the health care system as well. Solutions that address the social determinants of health. Things like housing, education, community development, public safety, and legal services—all of which have a profound impact on the health of our communities.  

This realization laid the groundwork for us to launch the Commission to Build a Healthier America. As many of you know, this Commission focused attention on the forces outside the doctor’s office that influence our health.

The recommendations also injected leaders across different sectors with a new sense of urgency to invest in solutions. Solutions that support the creation of healthy places. Solutions that give children and their families the foundation they need to live healthy and productive lives.

What is really exciting are the new alliances this growing movement is forging. Like strong and creative partnerships with regional Federal Reserve banks and community development organizations around the country. Partnerships that better connect community development with people’s well-being will undoubtedly lead to better health for entire communities.

It’s led to a groundbreaking initiative between RWJF, three other funders, and the federal Administration for Children, Youth and Families. Together, we’re testing an innovative approach to supportive housing that helps stabilize families cycling in and out of homelessness and who may be at risk of losing a child to foster care.

It’s led to the formation of broad coalitions that are using County Health Rankings data–a platform that gives every county in the U.S. a snapshot of what’s driving wellness or illness–to take focused action to boost the health status of community residents.

Yes, partnerships are where it’s at.

It’s through partnerships that all of us make the critical connections between health and other sectors. It’s how we leverage our resources and apply our collective knowledge. And it’s how we set audacious goals, and achieve the progress we need, to make getting healthy and staying healthy a fundamental American priority.

Our vision is of a society where healthy choices are the easy choices for every family, every school, every employer, every neighborhood, every community. That is what we at the Foundation mean when we talk about creating a culture of health.

Every one of you here has played a part in helping us create this vision. And achieving it will require all of us to be smarter, stronger, and more committed collaborators than ever.

LFP as a program is coming to an end. But, your work will live on. Not only in the communities where you have launched innovations and improved health. But also in the critical and lasting impact you have had on us, and other funders.

I know that as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation moves ahead with comprehensive efforts to build healthy communities, we’ll be guided by your successes in forging creative, cross-sector, and system-changing partnerships. The lessons from LFP will help us engage uncommon allies and align diverse interests to move the country toward a true culture of health.

So, thank you for taking this amazing journey with us.  It has been a tremendous 25 years. And I’m thrilled to be with you to pay tribute to the legacy this program has established.

We honor and thank Polly Seitz, who worked on this program with Terry Keenan as a program officer at RWJF, prior to becoming its national program director. That adds up to 25 years of Polly’s outstanding leadership that deserves our deepest appreciation.

We also pay special tribute to Curtis Holloman, the program’s deputy director. And to the work of the LFP staff and National Advisory Committee, whose commitment and skilled leadership over the years have made this program so meaningful to us all.

As we move ahead, we will look to spread the lessons of this initiative, as a showcase of the best of philanthropy, and the change it can catalyze.

It has been an honor and a privilege to work with you through the Local Funding Partners program. You are the keepers of its legacy, and I hope you’ll stay engaged as a member of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation community.

There’s a Nigerian proverb that says, “With a little seed of imagination you can grow a field full of hope.” You have nurtured seeds of imagination and inspiration across the country. Seeds from which hope has sprung. And spread. And improved the health of millions of Americans.

Today is your day. This is your time to celebrate.  Enjoy, and thank you.