Senior Program Officer
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation makes a healthy difference in communities across Minnesota by advancing health equity and improving the conditions where people live, learn, work, and play.
Minnesota is widely considered one of the healthiest states in the country – but it is also home to some of the worst health inequities. Many Minnesotans who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) encounter significant barriers to health and experience worse health outcomes. That is why we invest in communities experiencing these significant inequities, through our focus on social determinants of health and our collaborations with grantee partners who are constituent-led and have the greatest potential for impact.
We focus on three main strategic priorities that considerably influence overall health:
- Creating and nurturing more connected, resilient and inclusive communities where all people have the support and resources to reach their full health potential;
- Improving access to quality early education; and
- Increasing health care coverage across the state.
A Safe and Connected Community Is a Healthy Community
Our commitment to create more connected, resilient, and inclusive communities was formalized in early 2017. At that time, we heeded what we were hearing from our grantee and community partners—that increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and new anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies were creating a climate of heightened fear and anxiety, particularly among communities of color and immigrant, refugee, and faith communities.
It is undeniable that violence, threats of violence, and discrimination contribute to toxic stress and social isolation on a community level—and these factors are connected to negative health outcomes.
Partnering with community organizations to deepen connections
One of the core commitments of our foundation is centering the voices of those most impacted by inequities. This commitment is a thread that runs through all of our grantee partnerships, including those that were established in our Healthy Connections grant opportunities.
In 2019, we evolved our commitment, intentionally partnering with community-led organizations to address the ways health is impacted by structural barriers to safety and connectedness—barriers like escalating Islamophobia, antisemitism, and white nationalism. One of our grantee partners in this work is Reviving Islamic Sisterhood for Empowerment (RISE), which led its community through uncertain times while finding partnership and support in fellow community organizations, including the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
Through their individual and collective efforts, both RISE and NCJW affirmed that the deep roots of systemic racism have historically worked to sow dissent between communities of color and faith communities, resulting in diluted progress against racism in all forms. It was this reality that led the leaders of RISE and NCJW to lean on each other and find strength and support in their collaboration.
Nausheena Hussain, Executive Director of RISE, recently shared her thoughts about standing in solidarity with NCJW:
“As Muslims and Jews, we’re socialized to believe negative stereotypes about each other. We need to back up and better understand the systems of oppression—Islamophobia and antisemitism—that drive those false narratives, and work to break them down together, in relationship with each other. We build our shared power to make change in the progressive policy areas in which our beliefs and values intersect. We do our work rooted in faith, with the understanding that our voices together are greater than the sum of their parts. We imagine a future where Muslims and Jews feel safe, know they belong and are deeply connected.”
What We Learned
As a foundation, we are committed to being strategic and responsive to our grantee partners and the needs of the community, and are steadfast in our pursuit of continuous improvement. Here are some key takeaways that continue to inform our work:
- Let community lead the way.
Communities inherently know the issues they are facing and hold the wisdom and knowledge to create and implement the most effective solutions. It is our responsibility in the philanthropic sector to respond to community needs and provide resources in a way that supports the community in making the most impact.
- Act as a conduit for connections between community organizations.
The wisdom and expertise held by our grantee partners is vast, and there is power in creating opportunities for them to connect and collaborate with each other.
- Broaden the definition of health.
Health is more than health care. Health is impacted by our environment, the safety of our community, family and social support, and access to things like education, employment, and a living wage. By focusing upstream on these and other socioeconomic factors, we can improve health outcomes for generations.
Islamophobia, antisemitism, and white nationalism are an abhorrent part of our society’s past and present. Moving past these institutions of hate, and toward a future of equitable health for everyone requires vigilance and dedication. Through our collaboration with and support of community organizations, we act as a true partner as we all work toward racial and health equity.