A Health Collaboration to Improve Children’s Health

Editor’s note:  Today we share this recent post from new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and National Hispanic Medical Association President & CEO Elena Rios that accessibly places protection of children’s health and disparities reduction into a broad environmental health context, including kids’ exposures to local environmental hazards, their families’ access to affordable health care, and the health impacts of carbon pollution and climate change.  The post’s flag of a federal environmental health focus on tackling asthma disparities is worth noting.  So is the point (not referenced in this post) that public funding levels for such environmental health efforts have been flat or declining. Making the case for improving environmental conditions for health — and supporting the work required — both matter.

When we travel to cities and communities large and small, we see first-hand the direct link between a healthy environment and healthy lives, especially for our country’s children. But as we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s worth remembering that too many of our children, especially in minority communities, live in unhealthy environments that lead to unhealthy lives.

Scientific studies show that minority children who live, learn, and play in low-income communities are at a greater risk of environmental health problems such as asthma, lead poisoning, pesticides exposure, among others.

Image source: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO)

Image source: U.S. Census Bureau, Public Information Office (PIO)

In 2009, approximately 70 percent of Hispanic children lived where air quality standards were subpar, contributing to higher incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases. In fact, Puerto Rican American children have among the highest levels of reported current asthma as compared to all other racial and ethnicity groups. In the United States, nearly 1 in 10 school-aged children live with asthma every day, those most affected live in lower-income communities of color.

These health disparities are more than just hospital visits and more medicine. They also mean more missed school days, and a higher incidence of obesity due to less exercise.

That’s why improving children’s health and fighting for environmental justice are critical to the work we do. And that’s why we’re proud that EPA and the National Hispanic Medical Association (NHMA) have collaborated with federal, state, and community partners to increase awareness on key environmental health issues, particularly among the most vulnerable minority populations.

Just last year, EPA and the NHMA actively participated in President Obama’s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children, which launched the Coordinated Federal Action Plan to reduce racial and ethnic asthma disparities. This plan now provides a framework for federal agencies with measurable goals and outcomes to enhance environmental health among our nation’s children in partnership with our healthcare professionals.

Another key way to fight health disparities is increasing access to quality health care. The Affordable Care Act will help by connecting people to high-quality, affordable health insurance through the new Health Insurance Marketplace, Medicaid expansion, and consumer protections like prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or asthma that disproportionately affect minority communities.

But if we are serious about addressing large scale public health disparities, especially for our children—we must be serious about reducing carbon pollution and fighting climate change.

Climate change is about more than extreme weather.  It’s also about children’s health. It’s about clean, healthy air they breathe. The carbon pollution that fuels climate change brings about hotter weather—worsening levels of pollen and smog and leading to longer allergy seasons and increased heat-related deaths, especially for children.

The urgency to act on climate change couldn’t be clearer. That’s why we’re proud to follow President Obama’s leadership to bring communities together so we can take simple steps at home and in our neighborhoods to reduce the adverse impact of a changing climate and do right by our children.

As we travel the country, we see that a healthy environment means healthy children. And as we observe the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, it’s our promise to the American people to continue fighting for cleaner water, cleaner air, and stronger public health standards for all of our children and families—regardless of who they are, where they come from, or where they live.

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Dr. Elena Rios serves as President & CEO of the National Hispanic Medical Association, (NHMA), representing 45,000 Hispanic physicians in the United States. She also serves as President of NHMA’s National Hispanic Health Foundation affiliated with the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University, to direct educational and research activities. This post orginally ran on EPA Connect, the official blog of EPA’s leadership, in October 2013. It is reprinted with permission.

Thanks to the Heroes

In this Thanksgiving week, the HEFN staff sends out a big thank-you to all of our members, colleagues, and friends who do so much to make this world healthier, greener, and fairer.  Thank you!

We are especially appreciative of HEFN’s leaders.  If committed leadership is an asset – and it surely is – then HEFN has been one of the best-endowed funder groups around.   HEFN is stronger because many funders who helped get HEFN off the ground years ago still are actively engaged.  HEFN also is stronger because many of those veterans have made it a priority to invite and make space for new leadership.

So, in this week of appreciations, we send out special thanks to four long-time HEFN leaders who will rotate out of the Steering Committee at the end of 2013.

Thank you Mary Tyler Johnson!   As a Johnson Family Foundation board member and environmental health consultant, Mary has played critical roles in raising awareness of the links between environmental toxins and the health of women and girls.  Among Mary’s many contributions to HEFN are several years of organizing a Women’s Environmental Health group, talent-spotting and recruitment of great new funder leaders, and gracious relationship-building  for HEFN with other funder groups interested in women’s health and leadership.

Thank you, Heeten Kalan!  As the New World Foundation’s Senior Program Officer for Environmental Justice, Heeten has helped fundamentally shift environmental health philanthropy towards the full integration of environmental justice into strategies and investments.  Heeten’s many HEFN contributions include leadership of an Environmental Health and Environmental Justice working group, authorship of one of our most re-posted blog posts ever, and expansion of HEFN’s funder collaboration work into energy issues.

Thank you, Anita Nager!  Through successive perches at the New York Community Trust, the Beldon Fund, and now the Jenifer Altman Foundation and philanthropic consultantAnita has been a savvy strategist, tireless proponent, and sage counsel for the environmental health movement and its campaigns for safer chemicals.  Anita has served in many leadership roles for HEFN, including as co-chair of HEFN’s national steering committee and of its Catalysts group on chemicals.  She also has significantly advanced the art of weaving fun into funder collaboration on tough issues.

And thank you, Michael Lerner!  HEFN’s founder will rotate out of his Chair Emeritus role at the end of 2013.  HEFN owes its existence to Michael, who founded the network with colleagues in 1999.  As Executive Director of the Jenifer Altman Foundation, Michael guided HEFN’s growth from concept into a community, chairing its Steering Committee for years and then serving as Chair Emeritus.   Mirroring the depth of moral reflection in his writing about philanthropy, Michael embedded in HEFN’s culture the aim not of serving philanthropy per se but rather of serving society through philanthropy.

We just presented each of these leaders with a “HEFN Hero” jacket, as a small token of appreciation for their dedicated service and leadership.  We are glad these HEFN Heroes are still fully engaged in this community, even as they rotate into other roles.

Best wishes to you and yours for a happy, healthy Thanksgiving!

Raising the Flag in Philanthropy: How to Get Your Issue Noticed and Bring Colleagues in to Collaborate with You

Once upon a time I was a health advocate, working hard to capture attention for my issues: uninsurance, tobacco use, and other public health issues.  That was my job – grabbing attention – and I learned how to do it: planning rallies, meeting with legislators, and thinking of new ways to get media attention for my issues.

I often draw on lessons from that work to inform my work today at HEFN. Today, I bring you my 5 steps that will help you capture the attention of your philanthropic colleagues.

Step 1: Raise Your Flag.  Sometimes finding partners is as simple as letting people know what you’re interested in and that you’re seeking partners.  If you are interested in addressing the air quality in your town or state, you are probably not alone.  So, start hoisting: get involved with a relevant issue or regional affinity group or write about your issue for a philanthropic publication.

Once you have brought in your peers, you may still need more people.  This is where the work gets a bit harder.

TED Talk imageStep 2: Charisma Counts.  Not everyone is naturally charismatic, but trust me, charisma counts.  Bloomberg has a guide for how you can hone your charismatic leadership.  Your issue may be an important one, but facts aren’t enough.  Create a narrative, an engaging story to put your facts in context.  Think Ted Talk.  Be thoughtful, succinct, and make people care.  And don’t forget…

Step 3: A Compelling Strategy.  A veteran grantmaker once told me that the best outreach tool is a compelling strategy and I’ve been parroting her words ever since.  Philanthropy is excited by new and compelling strategies.  There are so many grants to make and so little time that opportunities that appear strategic and innovative really do sparkle.  There are tools out there to support you, like Grantcraft’s nifty new website that compiles many of the technologies out there to help you develop your strategy.  So make your pitch sparkle with strategy too.Grantcraft screenshot

Step 4: Create Hero Opportunities.  This is a term Judy Meredith used years ago in her book, Lobbying on a Shoestring Budget.  I worked for Judy and this was one of mantras in her day-to-day work with NGOs.  She said that it was critical to create Hero Opportunities to champion legislators, like a photo op at a bill signing or an award at a local health center.  She believed that legislators yearned to make a difference and that by giving them these public cheers and accolades for their social change efforts, you would garner a more committed leader for your issue.

This can work in philanthropy as well.  For example: You are funding a new project, and you’ve helped raise most of the budget, but it still needs $20,000 to launch.  This is a hero opportunity.  Give your colleagues the opportunity to be heroes.  It could help you garner their support this time, and maybe next time too.

Step 5: Fly the Flag of Success.  Highlighting successes, whether big or small, helps encourage more funders to see the value of an investment.  When these moments appear is when philanthropy has an opportunity to help its team cross the goal line. The flag must be raised higher to truly galvanize philanthropy’s potential to support significant social change.

So, get to it.  Craft your strategy, hone your charisma, create opportunities, and get ready to raise that flag – and win!

Reflections from HEFN’s 2013 Annual Meeting

Amy Solomon, Ruth Hennig, and Anita Nager at HEFN's 2013 Annual Meeting. Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

Amy Solomon, Ruth Hennig, and Anita Nager at HEFN’s 2013 Annual Meeting. Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

What keeps funders and advocates in this field going when the stakes are high and the obstacles seem even higher? Knowing that people – when given a little help and half a chance – can build power to protect health, the environment, and communities.

Even more uplifting is the news that shifts in the American electorate indicate great opportunities to galvanize support for environmental health and justice issues, as unmarried women, people of color, and young voters become the new majority. These realities were front and center for HEFN’s 2013 Annual Meeting,   “Power of People: Moving Hearts, Minds, & Policy to Win,” held in Washington, DC on October 29-30.

This event highlighted demographic shifts and political contexts shaping environment, health, and justice outcomes. Speakers described innovative state alliances, demonstrated cool monitoring tools, and explained new science about how environmental exposures affect human health. Short “TED talk” style sessions provided need-to-know information on civic engagement topics like demographics, redistricting, and money-in-politics. A stirring keynote presentation from Judith Browne Dianis of the Advancement Project offered insights into the frontlines of civil rights and voter engagement issues and made the case that protecting democracy is key to making progress on environmental health and environmental justice.

A handful of themes and takeaways emerged over the two-day meeting:

Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

Arlene Rodriguez and Virginia Clarke. Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

Develop authentic alliances

Many advocates are struggling to move their issues forward in the face of powerful interests.  Over and over again, speakers emphasized the importance of building authentic, transformational relationships, not just transactional alliances. An example of partnerships among farmworkers, labor union organizers and LGBTQ advocates in Oregon illustrated ways in which groups have harnessed the “power in numbers” to win on multiple issues.

Demography is not destiny

The changing demographics of the U.S. electorate are exciting opportunities for the progressive movement.  Research shows young people, unmarried women and people of color are among the most supportive of issues like environmental heath and justice.  However, work must be done on the ground to build relationships with these groups, support their work, and develop strategies for moving environmental health and justice goals forward.

Democracy matters

The changing demographics of the U.S. States won’t translate into political power if people can’t vote. So far this year, nine states enacted legislation that poses numerous obstacles on voter rights, including ID requirements, shortening voting hours, and reducing early voting. Coupled with the Supreme Court ruling that struck down critical provisions of the Voting Rights Act, these attacks on democracy are concerns for everyone hoping to mobilize the emerging majorities to get out and vote.

Citizen science can help make change

Academics, scientists, and advocates are deploying new tools and technology to support work on critical environmental health and science issues. Often using household items, simple observation methods, and free and open source software, these groups are making it easier for communities to investigate and take action on environmental health hazards like air pollution.

Stick with it

It takes time to build lasting relationships and integrate work across issues and priorities. Revitalizing democracy and civic participation will require sustained work; there is no “off-year”.  Funders can play a key role by providing long-term investment, support, and leadership to groups building capacities for voter engagement and strategic alliances.

Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

Lauren Davis and Shorey Myers. Image source: Andrea Levinson, HEFN

Watch our website next week for presentations and other materials related to this year’s Annual Meeting.

Philanthropy’s Power to Lead on Divest-Invest

Imagine an economy fueled daily by the sun’s energy.  Jobs are opening up in sustainable companies that previously struggled to survive in a fossil fuel dependent world.  Imagine that this robust, creative economy is no longer undermined by the political power of the fossil fuel industry, that energy markets are driven by consumers rather than by political manipulation and industry leverage.

Progressive philanthropy can help turn this vision into reality.  Doing so will require divesting from fossil fuels and investing in preferred alternatives:  in infrastructure and local efficiencies; in clean energy and technology; and in sustainable agriculture and consumer products.

This vision has compelled me to purge my personal and philanthropic assets of the fossil fuel industry.  It was not “simple.”  The deep-rooted conservative, Nebraskan father figure financier often surfaced arguing, “Divestment isn’t practical.  How will you maintain your asset allocation, how will you replace that return on investment?”

Image source; The Economist

Image source; The Economist

Moral reasons are my core impetus for divesting.  Fortunately, though, any doubts raised by that stern-voiced specter in the black suit are quelled by financial data.  In fact, financial literature and testimony show divestment to be a prudent and risk adverse decision.

Fossil fuel stocks, whose valuations are linked to their reserves, are over-valued.  Conservative estimates point to a “carbon bubble” many times larger than the recent $2 trillion housing bust.  When investors realize that up to 80% of current fossil fuel reserves cannot be used, the carbon bubble will pop, with profound economic consequences.

Such warnings are coming from a growing body of financial analysis, including Carbon Tracker, the London School of Economics, Lord Nicholas Stern, The Grantham Institute, HSBC, Standard & Poor’s the University of Oxford, and the Economist. The existence of a global carbon bubble and the reality of stranded fossil assets are fast becoming mainstream wisdom.

So here’s my invitation: join me and significant portfolios like the Wallace Global Fund (WGF) in a Divest-Invest Foundation Initiative.  Two years ago, WGF committed to full divestment of its portfolio from the fossil fuel industry by 2014.  In partnership with other foundations — including newer ones that never invested in fossil fuels — we can create a community of practice.  Together we can use philanthropy’s resources, power, reputation and credibility to support a broader Divest–Invest movement and other campaigns.  Now is the time for philanthropy to direct its power toward creative investments scaled to meet the challenges of the global climate crisis.

Whether you decide to divest just your personal assets or those of a foundation, I commend you.  If you could start with a 5% carve out for reinvestment, I urge to begin.

Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in new energy solutions emanates from the courage to help steer humanity away from fossil fuel dependence. It asserts our say in our future. It demands that we support solutions rather than sinking further into a destructive spiral.  We will need to support expansive, aggressive movements in order to effectively stem climate change.  But our many small steps today can get us where we need to be tomorrow.

Lisa Renstrom

Lisa Renstrom

Lisa Renstrom, a Trustee of Bonwood Social Investment, authored this post.  She is a member and former president of Rachel’s Network and of the Sierra Club.  She serves on the Board of Directors of Interfaith Power and Light, the Green Science Policy Institute, ecoAmerica, and Rachel’s Action Network.  She is an alumna of the Harvard Business School Owner/President Management Program and holds a Master’s degree in Public Policy from the Kennedy School of Government.

Learning from the Dance Floor: Building Equity + Alignment for Impact

Throughout my four years at The Overbrook Foundation, I’ve often heard colleagues describe philanthropy as “more of an art than a science.” My first career was in the arts – modern dance – and when making a dance, two minutes of material can take two weeks to generate. Collaboration is key; the end product is a mixture of visions and vocabularies. And often a finished piece is very different, but much better than what was originally imagined.

So if this philanthropy stuff is “art” why do we seem to stay more or less within our own circles? Why are we so concerned with metrics, grant cycles and deliverables, and who’s defining what it means to “win” anyway?

In an April post for this blog, HEFN Director Kathy Sessions wrote, “Environmental philanthropy as a whole has…held too narrow a view of what power matters, too limited a view of who has power, and too short-sighted a view of whose power is worth building.” Kathy’s sentiment reflects a need for change throughout the field.

Yet change is not happening fast enough, or at a large enough scale. As Sarah Hansen reported in a National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy paper “Cultivating the Grassroots,” just two percent of the most resourced environmental groups in the U.S. get 50 percent of the funding. This is a call to action for funders to take a hard look at the power dynamics we help perpetuate.

Last July, Overbrook and partners launched a process to address historic rifts and strategize authentic collaborations among grassroots, “big green” groups and philanthropy. The meeting, hosted by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, followed the Jemez Principles and worked off the equation “Equity + Alignment = Impact.” In other words, grassroots organizations must be able to expand and contribute their base-building capacity in a meaningful way (equity) and various parts of the movement must be working with a common strategy and purpose (alignment). We believe that equity and alignment together will increase impact, building a broader, stronger progressive movement that looks like the country it serves rather than the few who hold the purse strings.

Building Equity and Alignment Meeting Participants at the Wingspread meeting convened as part of Overbrook’s Building Equity and Alignment (BEA) Initiative. Once assembled, the group led the process, sharing stories and building narratives to strategize from a place of deep understanding and respect.  To address inequity from the outset, Overbrook supported every grassroots representative with travel and work stipends. It was just one small way to start “walking our talk” as a foundation. The meeting produced a collaboratively-written Vision Statement and a strategy for new workgroups to tackle tasks toward achieving equitable collaborations and resource-shifts to the grassroots.

As funders, we are seeing how authentic partnerships help all sectors soar.  It is now our task to build an allied funders group to accompany the BEA Initiative. Although still in development, this group could work together to shift harmful inequities, building broad support for a bottom-up approach. More tangibly, the allied funders group could also result in a community-advised, pooled fund to increase resources for movement-building and the grassroots organizing sector.

Imagine how much more impactful the entire movement could be if equity and alignment underpinned everything we did. We must acknowledge what years of experience have shown. Power and innovation is coming not from the top-down, but from lower-income communities and communities of color, rooted in and accountable to the communities they serve. And finally, we must relax our grip on grantee metrics and deliverables, understanding the end result can be better than what was originally imagined.

It’s easier said than done, but definitely a lot more transformational. Let’s bring the art back to philanthropy. Let’s dance!

Samantha Harvey

Samantha Harvey

Samantha Harvey is Program Manager for the BEA Initiative. The Overbrook-based initiative looks at tools the U.S. environmental movement can use to increase equity and alignment among grassroots, mainstream green groups and philanthropy, shifting resources to the grassroots and strengthening the entire movement in the process.

Room to Move: Protecting Community Health in Transportation Projects

The upcoming widening of the Panama Shipping Canal is causing a global stir, one felt especially in California, where more than half of all imported shipping containers enter the U.S. The fear of losing competitiveness to newly accessible East Coast ports has those on the West scrambling to expand their ability to accommodate super-tankers and efficiently transport consumer goods from ships to trucks and rail, a process also known as the “goods movement.”  Dredging our oceans and widening our superhighways is viewed as the price of participating effectively in the global economy, but is it the only option?  Faced with a proposed multi-billion-dollar expansion of the freeway that runs through their community, residents of Long Beach, California and the Long Beach Freeway Corridor decided to find another path.

Long Beach is part of the country’s largest shipping complex, consisting of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.  Between the rail yards of East Los Angeles and the two ports is the 24-mile stretch of the I-710 freeway.  In order to accommodate projected truck traffic traveling to and from the ports, a $15 billion freeway expansion is under consideration.  The proposal would potentially double the width of the freeway from 8 lanes to 16 – making this the single largest infrastructure project currently under review in the country.

710 Freeway. Image source: East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

710 Freeway. Image source: East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

Current health impacts from diesel truck traffic on the I-710 already threaten the well-being of those who live along the corridor. Residents there suffer disproportionately from asthma, cancer and other conditions related to air pollution.  Soot blankets the windowsills in even the wealthiest areas of Long Beach and the closer to the freeway, the worse things are.

At The California Endowment, we are in the third year of a ten-year investment to improve health outcomes in Long Beach by improving neighborhood conditions.  A quick drive through West Long Beach reveals what we all know:  too often land-use planning does not place people at the heart of decision-making.  So when residents and community groups learned of the proposed I-710 expansion, they knew that without community involvement and organizing, the project might meet the needs of shippers and truckers, but would not address the needs of the people who living in 710 corridor communities.

Together, concerned residents and organizations formed the Coalition for Environmental Health and Justice (CEHAJ), which has worked intensively to ensure the needs of community residents are included through holistic design.  The group pushed Caltrans to include a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in order to quantify the health impacts of the 710 Corridor Project in the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).  However, when the DEIR was finally released at a whopping 10,000 pages, advocates knew they needed help to review the document and offer input that was taken seriously.  A rapid response by local funders, including The Endowment, assisted CEHAJ in hiring technical experts to provide comments on the DEIR.  And rather than simply respond to Caltrans proposals, CEHAJ worked with these experts and community residents to develop an alternative scenario that incorporates the community’s vision. This alternative is called the Community Alternative 7 (CA7).

CA7 envisions a different future for the I-710 corridor: one with zero-emissions trucks, greater investment in public transit, better access to open space and parks, and an improved LA River.  Local residents would be hired for local jobs, and there would be expanded opportunities to walk and bike safely.  In short, a project built for people, not trucks.

As a result of community organizing efforts, the 710 Project Committee made up of local elected officials voted to include the CA7 as an official alternative of the 710 Corridor Project.  If the CA7 is chosen as the final plan for the expansion project, it can serve as a model of what can be done to create projects that support port growth while placing a premium on local health.

The project has not yet crossed the finish line and much work remains.  But this case serves as a valuable example of how funders can play a critical role in holding public systems accountable to considerations of community health in development projects.  The use of HIAs makes health impacts visible and the funding of technical experts ensures these inputs are taken into account in the planning process.  Local government is only as accountable as the community itself can make it.  Through the effort and dedication of local residents, authentic needs may surface and be held up as too important to ignore.

To hear more about the I-710 freeway project and philanthropic efforts to ensure smarter and healthier growth on massive infrastructure projects, please join me on an October 25 webinar for funders co-sponsored by HEFN, the Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, and the Environmental Grantmakers Association. More details and registration information are available here.

Jennifer Chheang

Jennifer Chheang

Jennifer Chheang, a Program Manager working on the California Endowments’ Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative, authored this blog post. She manages the Endowment’s Long Beach BHC site.


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