Regional cross-sector collaborations are growing rapidly across the U.S. leading to the creation of integrated, equitable, and sustainable systems for health and well-being. In these venues, organizations from many sectors come together and recognize that health and well-being will never thrive if we work in fragmented ways; nor will it emerge by defining health as a product of health care alone. When we address the many interconnected areas influencing health, communities can reach their full potential. It’s important to recognize, however, that there is a long way to go before cross-sector partnerships reach a mature state in regions across the country—and there are many ways that philanthropy can help move things along.
What do we know about these collaborations? At ReThink Health, an initiative of The Rippel Foundation, we conducted a 2016 Pulse Check survey of 237 health-focused cross-sector groups. We found that many have existed for decades, and since 2010 their numbers have steadily increased! We also learned that participants most commonly come from public health, health care delivery, education, social services, and community-based organizations. These collaboratives work primarily at a county or multi-county level and focus on issues like improving clinical care, health behaviors, socioeconomic factors, and the physical environment.
The breadth and diversity of these efforts are impressive, as are their bold visions and deep engagement from a broad range of stakeholders. The trouble is that most face significant obstacles and are not as far along in their development as observers like us suspected. Among the largest barriers from the research we published in the January 2018 issue of Health Affairs are:
What can philanthropy do to help collaborations overcome obstacles? Philanthropy often plays a central role in advancing this regional work—both as funders and collaborative participants. To help cross-sector groups break through barriers, here are some strategies philanthropy can consider:
Overcoming the barriers to creating an integrated, equitable, and sustainable system for health and well-being will require having the courage to take risks, try new approaches, step out of one’s comfort zone, and embrace collaboration. While many philanthropists are already embracing some of these important practices, we are increasingly hearing calls for the sector to be even bolder and go beyond where historical evidence-based approaches will take us. We have yet to tackle many of the health challenges we face on a national scale, but we increasingly know that approaches of the past may not be what will help us move forward. Rather, we should be bold in embracing new tactics, while learning from our past. Cross-sector collaborations are positioned to be key players in shaping a new future for health. We invite you to share in the comments below: how will you take advantage of the opportunities to support their impact and success?