Six years ago, Palm Health Foundation made a risky decision. Dissatisfied with the short-term gains of traditional responsive grantmaking, we launched the Healthier Together initiative in an effort to forge a deeper connection to community through the social determinants of health. The foundation transformed from a traditional funder to a local steward of shared resources, granting $1 million to six communities, and asked residents to lead the way in creating lasting, systemic change.

Healthier Together began as a community-led solution to improve health disparities in diabetes, behavioral health, and family caregiving in six Palm Beach County, Florida communities. The initiative puts residents at the core of developing health solutions around their own needs rather than force-fitting a system that does not always recognize the complexity, culture, context, and circumstances of diverse communities. It is the pursuit of systemic, fundamental change through capacity building where residents take action for policy and systems change.

Early in the initiative, one of our biggest challenges was shifting power dynamics between the foundation and the communities and within the communities themselves. Palm Health Foundation had to be mindful of real and perceived power dynamics that were influencing the very behaviors that needed to change for community change work to happen. We realized that the most challenging power differential was our hold on the purse strings. To make the shift from a traditional foundation mindset of “our grant dollars” to “your community’s dollars” required investment in resident leadership capacity building. Through this process we learned that:

  • The community is full of natural strengths, and they need opportunities to learn.
  • Learning communities are essential for sharing knowledge and experiences.
  • Residents and systems must embrace adaptive leadership.

Read the full article about the Healthier Together initiative by Patrick McNamara and Abigail Goodwin at Grantmakers In Health.