This Spotlight is authored by guest writer Caitlin Kelly as part of a special blog series by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector.
For millions of Americans, the promise of affordable health care remains elusive. The fact of the matter is that for many without a steady income or their own source of wealth, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be healthy. That’s where the DC-based Consumer Health Foundation (CHF) steps in. The Foundation is an advocate for health and racial equity through programs and investments that advance the health and well-being of low-income communities and communities of color.
“I think we embody many of the Be Fearless principles, like reaching beyond your bubble, experimenting and making big bets,” says Yanique Redwood, President and CEO of CHF. Looking at the work of the Foundation, Redwood sees these principles as core drivers to the work she and her team are leading in the DC region.
Now 20 years old, CHF exists thanks to the sale of a health insurance company, the Group Health Association, founded in the 1930s and sold in 1994. The proceeds of that sale created the seed funding for CHF, whose endowment is now $25 million and which gives $1 million in grants each year to groups advocating for better health and racial equity in DC, northern Virginia and Maryland. Thirty-three area applicants have been awarded grants, each worth between $25,000 and $50,000 per year; half are worth about $30,000 per year.
One of the Foundation’s current aims is to generate greater wealth for the local community by creating more worker-owned jobs. In 2011, working with its foundation partners, the Community Wealth Building Initiative was begun. “Much of the work we do [through this initiative] supports low-wage workers. We fight for policies like paid sick days and living wages and I think we have an opportunity to bring business together with our community.”
In support of this program, Redwood has been reaching out to other funders, to the business community and to local government. “That hasn’t been our place in the past, but to make a big bet and experiment, we’ve got to reach beyond our traditional partners.”
CHF has also created a Health Economic and Racial Equity fund to support organizations that “can make worker ownership a reality,” a big bet for the foundation. “Worker-owned businesses are still on the margins,” says Redwood. Which makes CHF’s effort to find national partners and funders a bit of a challenge—but not impossible. “We’ve talked to national funders, but it takes time. We have until the end of 2016 to see if we can make this work.”
CHF wants the fund to reach $1.2 million, and has seeded it with an initial CHF donation of $200,000 in cash and another $200,000 worth of staff time and skill. But reactions so far have been “mixed,” she admits. “There are misconceptions about the DC region and how wealthy it is,” Redwood says. “People don’t think there’s need here.”
Its board, with members that include doctors, health policy experts, activists and a law professor have also embraced a Be Fearless approach and actively support and drive Redwood’s commitment to trying new things. “One of our core values is risk-taking. They’re definitely willing to fail, to experiment and to learn from it,” she says. “Our board has a saying that we punch above our weight-class; we’re willing to be a part of the first money…at the table to influence what happens from there. The risk we’re taking is not so much in our grant-making, but getting other funders to come along with us and our partners.”
What is Redwood and her team up to next? Perhaps the most fearless reach the Foundation has made in recent history—working with the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers (WRAG) to create a series of educational sessions with the goal of “consciousness-raising” among the CEOs and trustees of fellow foundations and non-profits. The presentations, each with an audience of 100, address thorny and challenging issues of racism and white privilege. “We’ll be offering deep dives on issues people are very uncomfortable with, but there’s an educational piece I think we sorely need,” says Redwood. Like all of CHF’s work, it’s being done in partnership with 10 other funders.
Redwood has learned the hard way that some risks she is willing to take feel too daunting for others. After the uprising in Baltimore, Redwood wrote an op-ed in response and asked other funders to participate. “I took the lead, but when it came time to sign on very few said they could. People were nervous that they didn’t know enough about the issues. We wondered what could be possible.”
The educational sessions in partnership with WRAG are the result, and she’s philosophical about the outcome.
“It led to something different and good.”
Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.