A HEFN Farewell

July 27, 2019

This blog was authored by Kathy Sessions, HEFN's founding staffer and outgoing Executive Director.

In 1999, Michael Lerner at the Jenifer Altman Foundation and his colleagues were concerned that the health of people, wildlife, and ecosystems all were being harmed by toxic pollution, but they saw philanthropy divided by human health and environmental interests. They hired me as a part-time consultant to help them launch a new funder network, to build bridges across environmental and health philanthropy and to expand philanthropy's investment in environmental health. Read the 1999 HEFN launch letter

In the ensuing twenty years, the Health and Environmental Funders Network (HEFN) and the philanthropy it promotes have grown dramatically. Read an overview of HEFN’s history and a 2019 profile of the HEFN community.  (Photo to right:   Michael Lerner)

The fields and social movements addressing environmental health and justice issues grew up and spread out, building knowledge, tools, and power to improve conditions where people live, learn, work, and play. HEFN will celebrate its twentieth anniversary in November with a meeting that once again draws funders together, across portfolios and places, to strategize about transformative work needed today and tomorrow. 

This institutional milestone coincides with a personal one, as I leave the staff on July 31. There’s only one way for me to wrap up the experiences of the past two decades: with gratitude. I am profoundly grateful to all the fabulous folks I’ve worked with, including: current and former staff colleagues at HEFN and Virginia Organizing; HEFN’s current and former Steering Committee leaders and other members; colleagues at other philanthropy-serving organizations and the United Philanthropy Forum; consultants; and many advocates, researchers, and organizers.

  (Photo to left:  Sessions & members of 2019 Steering Committee)

If you’re reading this, you’re in the circle of appreciation! Your work and what we’ve done together is what I’m most proud of, most influenced by, and most hopeful about.

That bridge-building charge I got in 1999 has become part of my and HEFN’s DNA. We have learned so much about drawing diverse interests together to tackle wicked social problems. We’ve seen big shifts -- in  hazard reductions, communities, markets, and policies -- as philanthropy supported impacted communities and their allies as change agents. We’ve learned how important it is to weave equity into how we work, as both an ethical imperative and to build power over the long run. Those lessons and HEFN’s work are needed now more than ever. 

Because of that -- and so many of you -- my transition is a lovely bittersweet one, fueled by knowing that this is a healthy time for me to shift into a new phase of work, and that team HEFN will thrive and make even more impactful change from here.  (Photo to right:  HEFN staff, Detroit 2017)

I hope to stay connected! Starting August 1, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me through Leaven Partners or via email to ksessions@leavenpartnersllc.com.

And thank you, one and all.

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