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Navigating Currents of Change

January 2018

Suddenly, the 2018 GIH Annual Conference on Health Philanthropy is just months away! We are gearing up for it and are looking forward to the energy and intensity generated by hundreds of funders who are committed to their work and to making positive change in their communities.

This year’s theme, Navigating Currents of Change, recognizes that we are in a period of intense social change that challenges funders from several directions—all at once. Some issues, like the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, the opioid epidemic, and increasing inequality are major attention-getters. Meanwhile, less glamorous problems like chronic diseases quietly increase until, with a shock, we learn that U.S. life expectancy has fallen for another year in a row. And along with these big long-term issues are the immediate ones that are just as important to communities, like the safety-net clinic’s leaking roof or the food bank that is running out of reserves. With every passing day, the demands become more complex, vying for foundations’ resources and attention spans.

Fortunately, funders are prepared to share their guidance, best practices, and lessons learned. The annual conference speeches, sessions, site visits, and other activities will provide a rich array of examples of how foundations are tackling today’s challenging environment.

To get a head-start on the conversation, we asked GIH board members about the tools and strategies they are using in their work to respond to the current environment. We got an interesting array of answers. One board member said she is being careful not to apply technical fixes to complex adaptive problems, the danger being that technical fixes contribute to incrementalism. Another said that he is trying to identify common ground among the range of organizations and leaders in the communities his foundation serves. By doing so, the foundation hopes to foster a shared sense of direction, while also recognizing the importance of acknowledging the diversity of local and regional differences among communities.

One board member’s foundation is part of an ongoing multicommunity project to transform the health ecosystem in order to assure better population health, access to quality health care, and lower health costs, while supporting greater equity and economic prosperity. Another’s foundation is resisting the temptation to retreat to safe and service-oriented grantmaking by speaking forcefully and bearing witness to the times, thereby awakening empathy and evoking action to support health for all. 

Internal and personal actions are also important. One board member is creating a working atmosphere that supports team members by encouraging them to act thoughtfully (slow down!) and by providing opportunities for them to build their confidence while learning. And, in the spirit of the airlines’ guidance to “put on your own oxygen mask first,” she is not neglecting her personal health needs.

How are you and your foundation navigating currents of change? Let us know on Twitter (@GIHealth) or by emailing so that we can share your story!