Philanthropy is increasingly embracing narrative change as a tool for building public and political will to advance equitable policies and structural change. Yet philanthropic narrative investments to advance racial justice and health equity are still relatively new and disparate. The work is often siloed, lessons and insights are not often shared across efforts, and there is also a wide range of definitions of narratives, perspectives, and approaches on how to shift them.

According to a definition put forth by the Narrative Initiative, narratives are “the themes and ideas that permeate collections or systems of related stories.” Because narratives manifest across collections of stories, it is important to understand how the stories we choose to tell add up to narratives that either reinforce—or undermine—actions and solutions that will move the needle on racial justice and health equity. Like many in philanthropy, the Convergence Partnership (the Partnership)—a national funder collaborative working to transform policies, practices, and systems to advance racial justice and health equity—began with a grounding in strategic communications, not narrative change.

In the face of blatant racism from town halls to the halls of Congress, communities continue to fight for their right to exercise power and voice. The wisdom, voice, and agency of people—particularly people of color—must be prioritized and elevated to change racist and harmful narratives, policies, and systems. Now is not the time to backpedal from racial equity commitments. For health equity to be truly realized, philanthropy must strengthen its investments in those most impacted by structural racism to shape narratives that promote health and wellbeing. And perhaps even more importantly, philanthropy must break its usual tendencies to invest in disparate efforts that will not add up to the kind of groundswell of political and public support we need toward an inclusive, healthy democracy and society.

For these reasons, the Partnership adopted narrative transformation as a core strategic priority in late 2017. The shift to a narrative strategy also emerged from the Partnership’s commitment to working with grassroots leaders and impacted communities to amplify inclusive narratives and counter harmful racist narratives. In 2018, the Partnership brought on narrative strategy consultants Narrative Arts (formerly Working Narratives) and Moore + Associates to build and grow narrative power for the Partnership and its partners. Since 2018, the Partnership has supported the community-determined power-building and narrative priorities of nearly 30 frontline, BIPOC-led and serving movement-building organizations in six regions across the country—Buffalo, New York; California; Chicago, Illinois; Kansas; Kansas City, Missouri; and Louisiana—to shape policies and systems toward racial justice and health equity.

Read the full article about the narrative change in health equity by Amanda Navarro and Michele Silver at Grantmakers in Health.