For years weight-loss companies, government interventions, and public health campaigns have offered solutions designed as if the primary driver of poor health outcomes among Black women is limited knowledge about fitness and nutrition. These well-intentioned efforts have missed the fact that the stark health outcomes Black women face are deeply intertwined with centuries of distinct social and structural stressors and inequities.

Dixon and Vanessa Garrison set out to change this. Importantly, they come from the very community they are trying to help, enabling them to recognize both the challenges and assets Black women face when striving to get and stay healthy.

Dixon and Garrison recognized the ways in which Black women like themselves are afforded fewer resources and protections than women of other racial identity groups, resulting in social inequities such as income inequality, underemployment, poor access to preventative health care, lack of leisure time, and disconnection from communal life, to name a few.

Dixon and Garrison are examples of what we call a “proximate leader,” someone who has a meaningful relationship with groups whose identity, experience, or community are systemically stereotyped, feared, dismissed, or marginalized. Being a proximate leader is about much more than being exposed to or studying a group of people and its struggles to overcome adversity. It’s about actually being a part of that group or being meaningfully guided by that group’s input, ideas, agendas, and assets.

Leaders who are proximate to the communities and issues they serve have the experience, relationships, data, and knowledge that are essential for developing solutions with measurable and sustainable impact. Importantly, proximate leaders also have the ability to recognize and leverage assets within communities that are often overlooked or misunderstood when viewed through a dominant culture lens.

Read the full article about the importance of proximate leaders at Stanford Social Innovation Review.