Special thanks to the “BUILD Health Mobility” team for sharing their reflections and learnings on their BUILD Opportunity Fund Award in this blog. BUILD awardees were eligible for ad hoc funding awards to catalyze efforts in policy, data, system change, and/or health equity that complemented their ongoing efforts to support community health.

Many New Orleans residents rely on public transportation to access jobs, health care, food, and other community resources that influence health and wellbeing. Today, about 1 in 5 New Orleanians lack access to a reliable vehicle—twice the national average. The high poverty rates, high numbers of carless households in the region, and the high cost of owning a car – estimated at $8,469 annually in 2017 – mean that better public transit is a necessity. This is especially true for residents of New Orleans’ Claiborne Corridor, which comprises 13 neighborhoods which were disrupted by the development of a highway overpass along historic Claiborne Avenue.

Recognizing the importance of transportation to health and economic opportunity, several organizations came together to form BUILD Health Mobility, a collaborative effort to improve health and mobility in the Claiborne Corridor. Partners include UMC, Louisiana Public Health Institute (LPHI), Foundation for Louisiana (FFL), NOHD, Ride New Orleans, the Regional Transit Authority (RTA)/Transdev, and Ujamaa Economic Development Corporation.

When the collaborative came together, significant transportation planning efforts were already underway, and the partners were primed to be key informants and advocates in those processes. The team’s first accomplishment was their successful advocacy for the inclusion of several new health-related strategies and metrics into the RTA’s Strategic Mobility Plan, which now serves as a roadmap for improving public transit in the city for the next 20 years.

With this first win under their belts, the collaborative partners recognized the need to engage and support residents to become the leaders of this work. This idea, and the support of the BUILD Health Challenge Opportunity Fund, is what led them to develop and implement the BUILD Health Mobility LEAD (Leadership, Engagement, Advocacy, Development) Program.

New Orleans LEAD Resident Leaders

Developed by FFL as part of its TOGETHER Initiative framework, the LEAD program model was already successful in addressing other issues, including police accountability and environmental sustainability. The heart of the model is to assist neighborhood leaders and advocates in developing the necessary competencies to engage in and influence policymaking. Led by FFL, the BUILD Health Mobility collaborative designed and delivered the 8-week LEAD curriculum focused on public transit, the built environment, and health and racial equity with a cohort of 18 resident leaders.

Claiborne Corridor residents have long felt frustrated and powerless when it comes to voicing concerns about the reliability, timeliness, and quality of public transit. Danielle Burrell, a wellness consultant and community leader, decided to become a BUILD Health Mobility LEAD fellow having already experienced first-hand the deficits of the transportation system in the city. She had to drive her daughter to school every day of kindergarten through 12th grade because of a lack of good options. She explained, “There wasn’t a big yellow school bus or even public transit. [I saw] the need for citizens to step up and get their needs stated.”

The LEAD program provided education and training on advocacy and policy change with a focus on BUILD Health Mobility’s goals around transportation and health. The training focused on building and owning both individual and collective power, and how to, for example, use a two-minute presentation at City Hall powerfully or use personal and professional networks to advance a cause. LEAD has also connected fellows to local leaders and decision makers in order to facilitate their presence “out front” as advocates for their communities.

Danielle wanted to use advocacy to lift her voice and share her concerns about the need for change. As part of the LEAD training, fellows were taught how to “share the facts about what your community needs, not just why you’re angry.” The training has ultimately helped participants move into community leadership roles, making a difference in transit planning and policy and advancing equity more broadly. The Regional Planning Commission (RPC) invited several LEAD fellows to join the advisory committee for New Links, a year-long project to study and propose a redesign of the regional transit routes. Now, two LEAD participants are serving on the project’s advisory board, cementing their connection to transportation decision-makers and affirming their ability to amplify the voice of community residents.

Overall, BUILD Health Mobility partners aim to help Claiborne Corridor and New Orleans residents see the power of their voice and experience and to feel a sense of self-efficacy. The transit system has committed to making improvements to the built environment and access to resources, influenced by their guidance. Danielle’s hope is that the LEAD fellows’ impact will be long-lasting for city residents.

Months after the LEAD graduation event, the LEAD cohort continues to meet and plan for next steps and greater impact. They developed and submitted a conference presentation abstract to share their learnings with other communities, which was accepted. Two fellows will be leading a panel presentation at the Community Indicators Consortium Impact Summit in October 2019. The panel will highlight strategies for building an effective collaboration to strengthen relationships and leverage resources to inform plans and policies for altering the built environment and creating greater community connectivity.

Guided by the next phase of the TOGETHER Initiative, FFL is continuing to work with the cohort to identify specific strategies that address key barriers to equitable health and mobility in the Claiborne Corridor. Currently, the cohort is in the process of convening several local leaders and experts in transportation and equity to understand where the greatest opportunity exists for increased community engagement and leadership to advocate for long-lasting changes. From there, FFL will support the resident leaders to obtain funding and implement the selected strategies. The cohort will support the design of the next LEAD training program, which will help bring more powerful voices into this new cadre of community advocates. The BUILD Health Mobility partners are eager to continue working together alongside the resident leaders to create system-level solutions that promote health and equity in New Orleans.


About BUILD’s Opportunity Fund:

In 2018, BUILD’s funder collaborative allocated $250,000 (total) to be made available for past BUILD awardees in an effort to support BUILD projects and improve community health. The goal of this fund is to provide monetary support to awardees when a unique opportunity to catalyze efforts in a targeted manner presented itself. From these projects, BUILD sought to gain insights into the BUILD model, systems change, and better understand the role of targeted interventions that have the potential to be replicated or scaled.