The Advisory Board Company is a technology, research, and consultancy firm, but we’re more than that, too. We view ourselves as a social enterprise making a difference in the world by improving health care and education as well as through our commitment to volunteerism, environmental responsibility, and using our economic power for good. At the same time, we are a publicly traded company with shareholders who expect positive returns, and we also take that commitment seriously.

When considering any new initiative, we always use the lens of mission-driven impact and shareholder return, and we will not engage in something if it does not deliver on both.

On the business side, we work to deliver “ahead of the curve” insights to our member hospitals and health systems. In our current era of accountable care, one of the most pressing issues from a margin and mission standpoint for hospital executives is to keep people healthy. However, the infrastructure of health care delivery has been developed to treat people when they’re sick rather than prevent someone from needing to go to the hospital in the first place.

As our Population Health team delivers best practices and insights for the accountable care world, we at The Advisory Board Company also wanted to “put our money where our mouth is,” and fund innovative solutions to drive lasting, systemic change. By partnering health systems with community groups and public health officials, we could positively impact population health while learning what does and does not work to fuel future efforts nationwide.


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The Advisory Board Company’s annual Corporate Social Responsibility report broke down the firm’s commitment to skills-based volunteering. Learn more at

We quickly realized that launching a grant program on our own wouldn’t be feasible – but forging relationships with new partners from outside of the private sector would. One by one, we became part of a funder collaborative with philanthropies whose missions aligned with ours: The Kresge Foundation, the de Beaumont Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Colorado Health Foundation.

Together, with our collective resources and expertise harnessed towards a single vision, we were able to make an investment in the future of population health.

That was in the fall of 2014. Today, less than two years after we all sat down for the first time to hammer out a plan for action, we’ve launched and are managing the BUILD Health Challenge, a competitive nationwide grants program awarding $8.5 million dollars to 18 community partnerships across the country.


With the combined resources of the five funders, several other technical assistance providers, and the on-the-ground know-how of our BUILD communities, we have a bigger platform by which to share learnings from this initiative that can prepare health systems for this new era of population health and enhance health care overall. And in partnership with committed, mission-driven partners who are focused on social good, it has allowed us, as a corporation, to have a multiplier effect on our investment. It also demonstrates to our 3,500 employees worldwide (who volunteered 38,000 hours in 2015) that we, as a firm, match their commitment to community.

As in any collaboration, there have been bumps in the road, but our partners’ commitment to the goals and vision of the BUILD Health Challenge has stayed strong. This partnership has worked because we each bring our own specialties to the table and have our unique areas of focus. At the same time, we are aligned on our overall goal of finding, nurturing, and ultimately syndicating bold, upstream, innovative, local, data-driven approaches that will improve health. At The Advisory Board Company, we continue to believe that we can do good in the world while delivering world-class services to our clients and returns to our shareholders.

I believe that other funders can look to the BUILD Health Challenge as a model. For those willing to embark on the challenging but rewarding work of creating cross-sectoral collaborations, the combined investment has allowed us to have a deeper impact and drive more positive social value than we could have done alone.

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About the Author

Graham McLaughlin is the Managing Director of Corporate Responsibility at The Advisory Board Company, one of the founding members of the BUILD Health Challenge. Graham has been published or profiled in Guardian Sustainable Business, Forbes, National Journal, ABC News, Washington Business Journal, and in a number of national and regional blogs on corporate social responsibility as well as being a frequent speaker at national conferences on the topic. His own personal efforts in making a positive upstream impact on health include helping formerly incarcerated individuals launch social enterprises and mentoring two boys in the DC area.