The health and well-being of people are intimately tied to the conditions of life in their communities—conditions that structure opportunities and pathways for lifelong and even inter-generational well-being. Philanthropic efforts to improve community health must attend to the many systems that shape life conditions by focusing not only on whomwhat, or where to fund, but equally importantly, on how to fund.

The Urban Institute’s recent comprehensive review of health-focused community development investments made by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation between 2013 and 2019 yielded a wide range of insights about how philanthropic investments can drive enduring systems change needed to improve community health, well-being, and equity across the nation.

Drawing on dozens of interviews with grantees and partners, community development intermediaries, and philanthropic leaders; research on collective impact and social accountability; and Urban’s own expertise, we identified three key recommendations (among others) that are especially important to funders seeking long-lasting impacts on community health and well-being:

  1. Target the root causes of community health inequities in the United States by dismantling systemic racism, centering community power and accountability, and investing in children and families;
  2.  Incentivize and pressure the health care sector to redirect significant resources toward community health and development, where so many nonmedical drivers of health and well-being are embedded;
  3. Direct multiple forms of philanthropic power and influence toward true systems change—meaning, permanent imprints on policy and practice—so that power and control are shifted to the people and places most in need.

Read the full article about supporting community health by Laudan Aron, Oktawia Wójcik and Faith Mitchell at Health Affairs.