Highlights and High Lights: GIH 2013

March 25, 2013

Grantmakers In Health (GIH) just held its 2013 annual meeting, drawing about 550 participants to San Francisco for a three-day convening of health philanthropy.  Lauren Linville and I from the HEFN staff, as well as a number of HEFN members, attended to learn, share, and network.  Here’s a report of some highlights, insights, and observations we picked up along the way:

One happy moment for us was watching Faith Mitchell, long-time GIH colleague and friend, open the meeting in her new role as GIH’s President and CEO.  It also was great to see other affinity group colleagues, like Virginia Clarke with the Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders.

HEFN staff and members hosted a workshop on grantmaking to “Assess and Address:  Protecting Health Where We Live, Work, and Play.”  I kicked off this workshop by sharing a new presentation and toolkit for funders interested in improving environmental conditions in communities.  Three HEFN members then shared great stories from their own grantmaking.  Michele Prichard (Liberty Hill Foundation) described a multi-phased effort to identify and remediate hazards in Los Angeles neighborhoods.  Earl Lui (California Wellness Foundation) talked about an environmental monitoring project that successfully tracked and resolved community hazards in Imperial Valley and about the spread of this model to other California counties.  David Fukuzawa (Kresge Foundation) explained why and how he has focused on improving low-income housing conditions, in the Detroit area and nationally, as a way of advancing better health outcomes for children.

At a panel on Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) hosted by the California Endowment, I heard Beatriz Soliz describe the Endowment’s support of HIAs as ways of engaging and empowering community voices for health in local decisions.  On a site visit organized by the Health and Housing Funders Forum, we toured a West Oakland project renovating buildings to create healthier affordable indoor environments for families, as well as the Fishbone Project, an EPA program reducing lead exposures on residential properties in South Prescott.

As Faith Mitchell wrote in an essay for the GIH meeting, health philanthropy is striving to improve health and health care amidst great changes and uncertainties.  The recent passage of the Affordable Care Act lent a backdrop of buzz to this year’s gathering, creating a sense of major movement towards more universal US health care coverage and lively discussion of what comes next.

Having attended GIH meetings since 2000 (!), I was struck at the 2013 event by how much more attention and investment health philanthropy is devoting to social determinants of health – the economic, social, environmental and other factors in everyday life that have major impacts on health outcomes.  I also heard some interesting shifts in language from earlier emphases on “disparities in health” towards more talk of health equity.  We’d like to learn more about this apparent move to integrate equity concerns within a positive, inclusive commitment to “health for all”.

And on a purely touristy note, one evening’s reception in the Ferry Building offered spectacular views of the Bay Lights, a new installation on the Bay Bridge representing the world’s largest LED light sculpture.  Talk about “high lights”!  If you have occasion to get to San Francisco, it is well worth a trip to the waterfront at night.

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