Working Together to Improve Health: Brian Gallagher Q&A

A Conversation with United Way Worldwide's Brian Gallagher

    • October 26, 2012

As thousands of people who are striving to improve health and health care convene in San Francisco, Calif., for the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, we are hosting brief interviews with thought leaders from across sectors about strategies that work, where the greatest potential lies, and key ingredients for success. Brian Gallagher, President and CEO of United Way Worldwide, provided his thoughts on how we can work together across sectors to create lasting change.

What’s your favorite example of a project or initiative that is bringing together leader across sectors to improve health?

There are a number of innovative examples of communities coming together to improve health throughout United Way’s worldwide network.

Increasingly, local United Ways and their partners are addressing education, income and health as interconnected and interdependent issues. The three are undeniably tied and any successful strategy must reflect that.

There will be no economic success without enduring human success.

The United Way of Central Maryland (Baltimore) and their partners are taking a non-traditional approach to meeting human need. They have passed policy changes (a tax credit against property taxes for businesses in low-income areas) to encourage the sale of healthier foods in specific, targeted communities. Collaborative strategies like these have far reaching results: individuals and families have improved health, businesses see growth, and more people are positioned to succeed in all facets of life including academic success and greater job skills.

In Santa Cruz, United Way and their partners are taking on childhood obesity, as well as the many other economic, academic and health challenges it creates by working with 150 partners across sectors. Key participants in this work are youths who identify and advocate with the City Council about community conditions that need improvement to support healthy living.

What key ingredients do all successful efforts have in common? What does it take to do it right?

It’s essential that partners, across sectors, find opportunities to take successful strategies to scale. It’s the only way in which we will truly move the needle on many of the critical health issues both here in the U.S. and around the world.

We’ve made some progress, but not yet enough and in enough places. Our partnerships and our strategies need to be bolder. Collaboration must mean truly integrating the expertise and efforts of all sectors—government, non-profits and non-governmental organizations, and business.

Results happen when goals are both shared and public. Shared agendas and shared accountability is critical.  The ultimate goal of ensuring that these elements are present in our strategies is genuine systems change.

Where do you see the most success or potential to make a difference, when it comes to cross-sector partnerships to improve community health and well-being?

We must get people back involved in meeting community need. It’s the only way in which we will achieve our goals, and also ensure that the success is sustainable.

Collaborative strategies must also be people-centered and inclusive. Everyone must succeed. If those with the least among us don’t succeed, none of us will.