Diversity: A Core Principle

More than the right thing to do.

    • June 13, 2012

The concept of diversity has evolved since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation became a national philanthropy in 1972. Over four decades, the Foundation has embraced that evolution, recognizing that finding lasting solutions to our complex health and health care problems requires diversity. The issues we face demand sustained effort and insight from a broad array of people, who bring a variety of perspectives, backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences to the challenge.

Diversity is a core value intertwined with the RWJF mission to help people live healthier lives and get the health care they need. This core principle recognizes differences and embraces inclusion as impactful aspects to improving health and health care systems.

Diversity begins at the top, from the highest level of the institution. “We cannot improve health and health care unless we recognize that a diverse set of perspectives must be brought to bear on the problems that have impeded our ability to lead healthy lives in this country,” says RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA. “So for us, diversity is absolutely a core value.”

This process of inclusion, which must be intentional and sustained, was signaled by the Foundation trustees electing the first woman to serve on the board of directors in 1990. Since then, the board’s membership has expanded to include men and women from varying disciplines, races, geographic regions and ethnicities. Board members, staff, grantees, and partners are expected to view inclusion as a viable asset in problem-solving and innovation.

Diversity is an integral part of RWJF initiatives, driven by the sobering recognition that racial and ethnic diversity in the health care workforce and among scholars and leadership is woefully absent. People of African American and Hispanic backgrounds represent only nine percent of nurses, 12 percent of dentists and 15 percent of physicians.

A leading voice on diversity in health and health care, Debra J. Perez, MA, MPA, PhD, maintains that the entire nation is a stakeholder. “We are moving inexorably toward ‘majority minority’ demographics, and the number of underrepresented and disadvantaged groups in health professions remains too small,” says Perez, RWJF Assistant Vice President for Research and Evaluation.

“To respond to the challenge is not merely to be virtuous or to do the ‘right thing’ for the individuals from underrepresented communities,” Perez adds. “Creating diverse leadership among health and health care scholars, providers and innovators is essential to the future of our nation. We are becoming vastly inter-dependent. Investing in diverse communities means strengthening our economy, our institutions and our country. Inclusion benefits everyone in America.”

Creating a diverse workforce requires an investment in training, mentoring and grantmaking. The RWJF Human Capital portfolio supports an array of programs that invest in diversity, funding a new generation of health care leaders and providers.

Be it sustained investments in signature programs, or demonstration projects that establish new models, or fellowships to emerging scholars, RWJF understands that attracting and preparing individuals from diverse backgrounds for careers in health and health care is also an essential step toward eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities and improving the nation’s overall health. This goal will only be achieved when health care leaders, practitioners, researchers and other stakeholders mirror the rich and changing tapestry of our nation.

Examples of Foundation programs that reflect this philosophy:

Human Capital

  • The Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program works to increase the number of medical and dental school senior faculty members from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • New Connections is designed to expand the diversity of perspectives that inform the Foundation’s program strategy and introduce new researchers and scholars to the Foundation. The program offers access to research funding opportunities as well as career development and mentoring activities.
  • Summer Medical and Dental Education Program provides an intensive, summer medical and dental school preparatory program for rising college freshman and sophomores from underrepresented, disadvantaged and underserved populations, including first generation to attend college.
  • IMAGINE Tomorrow…The Future Begins Today is a diversity marketing effort, which assists the Human Capital portfolio national programs with outreach to potential candidates from diverse and underrepresented communities as part of a sustained recruitment effort.
  • Project L/EARN increases the number of college students from underrepresented groups in the fields of health, mental health, and health policy research.
  • The RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico aims to increase the diversity of those with formal training in the fields of economics, political science, and sociology who engage in health services and health policy research, with special emphasis on regional recruitment for New Mexico and the southwestern United States.
  • The RWJF Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College aims to increase the number and diversity of PhD graduates with formal training in the fields of sociology and economics who engage in health services and health policy research with special emphasis on underrepresented minority scholars.

RWJF supports other programs that recognize diversity and inclusion as essential to health equity and to addressing health disparities.

A few examples:

Childhood Obesity

Public Health

  • Several Roadmaps to Health Community Grantees are working toward positive changes in low-income and racially diverse neighborhoods, such as working to increase access to quality education and to ensure ample opportunities for children to visit an incarcerated parent.


  • The Finding Answers program aims to reduce health care disparities for patients from racial and ethnic minority groups. 
  • Aligning Forces for Quality is the Foundation’s signature effort to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and provide models for national reform.

Vulnerable Populations

  • The Strengthening What Works initiative seeks to enhance the evaluation capacity of community-based organizations working to prevent intimate partner violence within immigrant and refugee communities. The evaluation of these programs will help to build the evidence for effective strategies targeting immigrant and refugee communities in the United States.
  • Cure Violence, formerly known as CeaseFire, is a public health approach to stopping violence, mobilizing members of the community—trusted insiders—to anticipate where violence may occur and intervene before it erupts. The result is urban communities that use effective methods to change norms and behaviors that prevent violence and its spread.
  • Forward Promise is a new initiative of the Foundation that focuses on promoting opportunities for the health and success of middle-and high-school-aged young men of color. The experiences and decisions these young men face during those years have a profound effect on their health and well-being over the course of their entire lives.


  • Consumer Voices for Coverage is a program that provides consumer groups with the resources needed to be engaged in health policy discussions at the state level. A specific goal of the program is to ensure that people of all races and ethnicities have a voice in shaping health policy.
  • Through the State Health Reform Assistance Network, the Foundation is working with states to ensure that they achieve the maximum coverage gains possible under the Affordable Care Act. This is a critical way of addressing health disparities since racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented among the 50 million uninsured Americans.

The Foundation’s Community: Diversity Matters

  • The Diversity Matters Community is a place to learn about RWJF’s work in diversity, connect with others who are interested in enhancing diversity and share ideas. Podcasts, webinars and white papers are community tools highlighting strategies used to increase outreach to a broader applicant pool and enhance diversity, creating cultures of inclusion, and pipeline partnership strategies for greater access to underrepresented groups.