Grantmakers often must look beyond a narrow reading of their missions and collaborate across sectors to maximize their impact. Carolyn Link, executive director of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation, shares here what that means for the Blue Cross Foundation as it seeks to improve health in Minnesota.
In 2006, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation introduced Growing Up Healthy: Kids and Communities, a statewide grantmaking initiative to improve the health of Minnesota’s children in low-income communities through a focus on social and environmental determinants of health. At times, we were met with puzzled looks when we explained that there’s a community component to good health beyond the responsibility of the individual — that housing, indeed, has something to do with health. And that early care and learning experiences affect health for life. Even the idea of collaborating across these sectors — creating partnerships and working together on a community condition toward a common goal — was new to some.
The goal of the initiative is to build strong and connected communities where children can thrive and grow up healthy by working at the intersection of health and two or more of the following key health determinants:
- Early childhood development
- Stable, affordable housing
- The environment
To date, the foundation has invested $4.4 million across 30 grantees and spent $1.1 million on evaluation, convenings and other consulting. Commitments to current grantees extend through 2014 and total $1 million.
The initiative uses a two-pronged approach to the grantmaking, through planning grants followed by implementation grants. While working in collaboration sounds like a great idea, we all know that it isn’t always easy. Because it takes time to develop relationships, we offer a $25,000, one-year planning grant to one organization to lead community partners in developing place-based projects that address health and at least two of the three determinants: early childhood education, housing and the environment.
At the end of the planning period, grantees develop a community supported by a written implementation plan for three additional years of funding of up to $150,000.
The initiative was designed to roll out in three phases. The first phase is complete, with a summary report available including lessons learned. In the second phase of the initiative, we added a collaborative leadership training program to assist grantees with skills and tools to develop and implement action plans that are grounded in the needs of the community, have broad-based support and can lead to sustainable change for children. This included grantee site visits, three two-day residential retreats and individual technical assistance through face-to-face visits at grantee sites and by telephone and email.
Currently, we are reviewing the lessons learned during the first two phases. We’ve been encouraged by the progress of these projects and are planning for 2014 and beyond.
Interested in seeing more of the Blue Cross Foundation’s work in Minnesota? Check out Twin Cities Public Television’s program on Growing Up Healthy here.
A longer version of this post originally was published in the Health and Environmental Funders Network blog, Giving InSight.