Investing in People

Strategic Considerations Based on a Review of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Individual Support Programs

Individual support programs have been a hallmark of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's grantmaking since its start as a national foundation in 1972. To date, the Foundation has invested more than $1.03 billion dollars in the 27 individual support programs described in this retrospective analysis, which is part of the RWJF Retrospective Series.  

This paper examines RWJF’s rich portfolio of individual support program from a strategic perspective. For the most part, individual support programs are a limited intervention. This is particularly the case when considering the relatively small number of participants in light of the oftentimes large scale and complex problems they are meant to address. However, these programs can be powerful and effective in the right circumstances. The authors explore three interrelated dimensions of strategy associated with individual support program:

  • Nature of the problem: the size and complexity of the problem itself
  • Environment or ecosystem: the institutional, political, and professional operating environments surrounding the problem, including whether there is a ready market both to attract participants as well as to welcome them into employment after participation
  • Strategy sufficiency: whether and how the program addresses the complexity within its environment

Finally, the authors suggest a new framework to evaluate these programs—one which seeks to move beyond individual accomplishments of participants and focus instead on the program’s aggregate effects on the issues it aims to address.