Smarter Grantmaking in Action: Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City
How listening to the needs of its community inspired a foundation to develop a new capacity building program that supports civic leadership, community collaboration and more equitable outcomes.
The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City began grantmaking in 2005 and has continued to fund in the areas of mental health, safety net health care and healthy communities to remove barriers to quality health care for the underserved and uninsured in its service area.
Shifting from capacity building as usual
In 2010, with a strong desire to encourage and empower community partners and grantees to engage in sustained work in the field, HCF decided it was important to shift the focus of its programs from individual behavior to community behavior focused on policy and system changes. “We were hearing from both our national and community partners that it is really important to encourage behavior around policy change and it was around this time that we made quite a shift from a focus on programs and education to more of an emphasis on policy, mobilization, and community environmental change,” says Brenda Calvin, program officer at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
During check-ins about the shifts in approach, HCF heard its community partners saying, “We understand the work, but we need your help in doing it. We need your help transitioning. The best thing the foundation can do is meet us where we are and help us understand how to do this type of work with the capacity and resources we have.”
Taking that feedback and acting on it, HCF developed the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy in 2013 — a yearlong cohort program that helps participants deepen their knowledge, understanding, and practice in civic leadership, healthy communities policy and system change community collaboration. The Leadership Academy was designed to develop a critical mass of change agents, local expertise, and field capacity to affect policy and community environment changes that result in improved health choices for the underserved. It also helps develop sustained relationships for strategic alignment to further health equity.
We understand the work, but we need your help in doing it. We need your help transitioning. The best thing the foundation can do is meet us where we are and help us understand how to do this type of work with the capacity and resources we have.
The Leadership Academy was a significant shift from capacity building as usual at Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. “The idea came from us wanting to build multisector connections to help our partners know how to be leading voices in mobilizing and engaging people in the community. We’ve always offered capacity building support, but not on such a large scale and not as comprehensively.” says Calvin.
Going beyond the usual suspects
HCF began by doing an assessment of the field to understand and be responsive to the needs of grantees and community partners — to do what it could to build up a pipeline of leaders in the field. Calvin says, “We also saw a lack of diversity in leadership positions at the organizations that we were partnering with, so we wanted to encourage that diversity as well.”
Adriana Pecina, program officer at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, says “the unique part of the Leadership Academy is that it is open to any individual at any level in their career, whether they are fresh out of college or directors of programs or organizations. In the past, any capacity building efforts that we offered were always targeted to the individuals that we tend as funders to have relationships with — typically the development directors or CEOs and people in leadership. The capacity building also only offered technical support like grant writing, policy, advocacy 101, storytelling and budgeting. With the Leadership Academy we shifted to offering adaptive leadership support because leadership is not a position; it’s an activity and all people have potential to be leaders. We had been talking about mobilizing and engaging the community and meeting them where they are and it was important to start walking that talk. That’s the core of why we thought this would be a good opportunity to think differently and offer a different capacity building opportunity.”
We had been talking about mobilizing and engaging the community and meeting them where they are and it was important to start walking that talk.
With nearly 60 graduates of the Leadership Academy to date, HCF is helping to grow the critical mass of champions in the field. The Leadership Academy engages participants through workshops, action learning sessions and individual coaching that incorporate topics such as equity, implicit bias, cultural competency, power and privilege. Calvin says, “There’s plenty of opportunity for participants to connect with one another, share ideas about policy goals and get some real life practice and feedback about the challenges they’re facing.” Participants benefit from the program by improving their ability to create lasting change and impact, increasing their ability to leverage resources in the community, inspiring innovation in the community and tapping into and mobilizing hidden potential.
“We’ve seen great effect in terms of civic level and local policy change and one of the benefits of the academy is having the opportunity to invite and educate individuals from various sectors so we can all be good partners in the work. It’s been so good to have some nontraditional voices at the table; Not only to understand the work, but to understand the intersections between the work that they’re already doing and how some of their policy mobilization efforts could be better leveraged by partnering with others. This is the reason we’ve been able to see some of the policy change we’ve seen happen so quickly. Through multisector partnerships and collaboration, we’ve seen partners make some sacrifices to address broader needs in the community and be willing to share resources for the purposes of those collaborations,” says Pecina.
The development of the Healthy Communities Leadership Academy has allowed the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City to see more authentic and effective collaboration as well as stronger connections and relationships. All of which are vital ingredients for building community capacity to do work focused on policy and system changes and developing more equitable solutions.
Inspiring Ideas for Improvement
Brenda Calvin, program officer, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City
- “We need to stop and remind ourselves and our key stakeholders—particularly board members and other partners in the community—that the nature of our work is adaptive and it takes time to see systemic change happen in communities.”
- “Allow the room, space and time that it takes for authentic relationships to develop and for sustained growth in the field to happen.”
- “Making changes can get really frustrating and it doesn’t always feel good or feel like progress, but in fact it is. Trust the process because eventually the ‘aha’ will come around.”
Adriana Pecina, program officer at the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City
- “Equity is the ‘in’ term now. But what really is equity? What does it mean for us? Equity requires intentionality and we must be flexible and adaptable to make sure we’re modeling that in our actions.”