Interview with a Funder
Why is supporting economic security and asset building essential to your mission?
The Consumer Health Foundation’s (CHF’s) website reflects our view on the intersection of health equity, economic justice, and racial equity. It reads “Health inequities are unjust and preventable differences in health between groups of people. They are created and reproduced by policies and systems that hinder people’s ability to participate in systems of power. Health inequities particularly impact communities of color. In addition to experiencing higher rates of illness and death, communities of color continue to experience deep and persistent inequities not only in health care, but also in income, wealth, neighborhood infrastructure, affordable housing, stable employment and education. These inequities increase the risk for poor health.
Undergirding these inequities in health and social outcomes is structural racism. The Consumer Health Foundation seeks to eliminate racial and ethnic inequities in health and health care. Achieving health equity will require racial equity and economic justice. This means that the policies and systems that negatively impact people living in low-income communities and communities of color must change. Our communities must become places of opportunity through equitable public policies that enable people to get the health care they need, earn income, and generate wealth to support themselves, their families and their communities.”
Are you currently supporting EITC-related and free tax prep initiatives? How are you thinking about this work and what does it look like?
The Consumer Health Foundation supports organizations that are advocating on budget and fiscal policies and expanding access to the Earned Income Tax Credit. CHF supports the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis in Virginia, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute in the District of Columbia, and the Maryland Center on Economic Policy. Other grantees work indirectly on these same issues. For example, groups working on food security provide information on anti-hunger programs as part of the outreach in sites where free tax preparation assistance is provided.
We believe that we cannot address health inequities unless we address economic justice issues and racial inequities. We focus on policies that impact low-income communities of color, and this includes the EITC and other budget and fiscal policies.
Can you tell us about the ways the Consumer Health Foundation’s goals around achieving health equity are grounded in racial equity and what this looks like in practice?
Racial equity as a value is embedded in our history. The Consumer Health Foundation was created from the sale of Group Health Association, an HMO, which was formed to ensure that everyone had access to health care, including people of color. We continue to hold that value and are committed to making sure racial equity is embedded in all of our work.
In the context of our grantmaking, our RFP now requires organizations to complete a racial equity impact assessment tool. Prior to this requirement, we conducted workshops on the assessment tool so that organizations understood the tool and knew how to use it. Some of these organizations have used the tool in their own advocacy work on issues that impact low-income communities of color.
As part of our capacity building work, we have organized racial equity workshops for both grantee partners and other nonprofit organizations. CHF is also developing partnerships with institutions that are committed to racial equity. For example, we are part of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers’ Racial Equity Working Group, the Healthy Communities Working Group – which supports a social determinants of health framework – as well as the Greater Washington Workforce Development Collaborative, which CHF also funds. In addition, CHF is now advocating with local governments on how to operationalize racial equity. We are a member of the DC Initiative on Racial Equity and Local Governments and we partner with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), which is composed of jurisdictions across the country that are committed to racial equity.
We lift up racial equity through our communications work on our website and through our blog posts and presentations; and we work to align our investment and internal policies, such as human resources and vendor policies, with our mission.
CHF is also starting to discuss how we engage with local low-income communities of color and what community engagement means for us as a foundation. How do we ensure that the voices of community members are lifted up and they are at the decisionmaking tables? What does authentic and accountable community engagement mean for a foundation?
What are the challenges you’ve seen in operationalizing this work? What are the lessons learned and what are the successes?
Operationalizing racial equity is a journey. It is long-term work; it is evolving; and it never ends. Each institution creates its own journey and lessons learned. Successes are difficult to define because racial equity is aspirational. The Western States Center has developed a Racial Justice Organizational Assessment Tool that can serve as a guide for institutions and organizations that are committed to this journey.
The Government Alliance on Race and Equity has also developed an approach which I am adapting for the purposes of our conversation. This approach includes:
- Understanding racial equity – It is important that institutions have a collective understanding of what racial equity means.
- Institutional commitment to racial equity – Organizations need leaders and boards which are explicitly committed to racial equity.
- Operationalizing racial equity – What does it mean to embed racial equity in a foundation? Each foundation will have its own journey answering this question, along with its own challenges. This journey will evolve and change.
- Building the infrastructure for racial equity – What resources, processes and systems will be needed for a foundation to operationalize racial equity?
How can we create more effective cross-affinity group partnerships to move this work forward?
We need to continue to develop joint learning opportunities. For example, we recently launched a cross-sector initiative around the 2020 census in partnership with foundations in the region and have participated in learning events focusing on the intersections between economic security and health. These are important models to build on.
We need to develop a more intersectional framework instead of working solely in silos based on issues or specific interests. As progressive funders, we are often serving the same communities. There is a value to focusing on specific issues but let us also develop a more intersectional framework. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that there are elements or factors that are specific to certain communities. For example, immigration status is an extremely important factor that affects health. CHF, in partnership with nonprofit organizations, developed publications on this topic with a focus on health and food security.
Developing a racial equity framework and using the racial equity impact assessment tool could be ways to create joint learning opportunities across issues and populations and it is a framework in which all issues can be evaluated and addressed.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
The Consumer Health Foundation has been doing this work for many years, and we are constantly evolving and learning. This work is a process. We would be interested in exchanging information with other foundations about CHF’s and their learning journeys in understanding and operationalizing racial equity.