Jun 27 2014
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Aspen Ideas Festival: Communities That Thrive

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This Thursday at Spotlight: Health, the two-and-a-half day extension of the Aspen Ideas Festival, a number of speakers discussed the many facets that are integral to building a community that thrives. Speakers included Kennedy Odede, the Co-Founder, President and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities; Belinda Reininger, Associate Professor of Health Promotion and Behavioral Science and the University of Texas School of Public Health; Gabe Klein, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Urban Land Institute; and Gina Murdock, Founder and Director of the Aspen Yoga Society.

Although the communities they serve and the work they do vary greatly, all four presenters agreed on four key themes:

  1. The importance of listening to the community
  2. Working with the residents, rather than over their heads, to create what they believe will be a thriving place to live
  3. Measuring outcomes
  4. Setting goals

To the first theme, Odede explained that “people in the community must be ready for change and we can’t import it.” Growing up in Kenya’s Kiberia Slum, Odede went on to found Shining Hope For Communities—an organization that combats gender inequality and extreme poverty in urban slums by linking free schools for girls to holistic community services for all. By connecting these services with a school for girls, Odede and Shining Hope for Communities show that benefiting women has a positive impact on the entire community. The organization’s model relies on community input and solutions.

In Brownsville, Texas, a family-oriented town requires a family-oriented approach to improving health. Sitting in one of the poorest metro areas in the nation, the town is known for its low graduation rates and high prevalence of obesity and diabetes. However, the community had a goal of being one of the healthiest areas in the state and began chipping away at the obstacles by including all residents.

“Everything we do is driven by families,” said Reininger. “We wanted to be the healthiest area in the state, and to get there we all had to be part of it.”

Brownsville is beginning to see improvements across the community in physical activity and food choice. In fact, the thriving and changing community has been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as one of this year’s Culture of Health prize winners. 

Gabe Klein, who in addition to his work with the Urban Land Institute is a former Vice President of Zipcar, spoke about the importance of communication in affecting community change. “In Chicago, we never talked about bike lanes for the sake of bike lanes, we talked about opportunities for better health and ways to get where you’re going,” said Klein. “You have to communicate the larger vision.”

The session moderator, RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, stressed the importance of goal setting and metrics. According to Lavizzo-Mourey, defining a vision is critical to success and measurements lead you to the outcomes you are trying to reach.

Tags: Aspen Ideas Festival, Built Environment and Health, Community Health, Culture of Health, Video