[Inside Philanthropy]

BUILD Health Challenge


It’s a fascinating time in health philanthropy. The field continues to evolve and expand as more funders look upstream at a range of factors that influence health. In turn, giving more attention to these factors requires new kinds of partnerships and better data. How do you work across sectors to get key institutions on the same page? And how do you measure and track such a wide range of health determinants, including ones that can seem broad?

Well, as we’ve reported, a group of health funders has been working hard on this challenge as part of a larger agenda of improving health in low-income communities. They’ve been scaling up an initiative called the BUILD Health Challenge, an ambitious national effort with lots of moving parts across places, sectors, and health institutions. (BUILD stands for bold, upstream, integrated, local, and data-driven.)

Launched in 2014 with the help of some major funding partners like the Robert Wood Johnson, Kresge, Colorado Health, and de Beaumont foundations, BUILD just took a big step forward as new funders joined the initiative.

Among the key areas where BUILD Health Challenge says it’s looking for new data insights are the social determinants of health, such as the environmental factors that affect and influence peoples’ health, like food security, air quality, public safety, and housing. It’s keen to look upstream at the “community factors that shape health before any clinical intervention is necessary.” It’s also drilling into health disparities, including the differences in health and health outcomes based on things like ethnicity, socio-economic status, and where people live.

That sounds like a pretty heavy lift. But this exercise was not stimulated by random wonky curiosity. Better data along these lines—and new partnerships to use that data—are critical for improving health.

Brian Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, one of the initial backers of the challenge, spoke with Inside Philanthropy last year, saying, “If you look up numbers for diabetes, you’re getting a rate about two years old that represents a sample of about a 35 percent response rate.” For anyone that looks up and uses data in their work—as we often do at IP—two-year-old information, while not completely useless, isn’t incredibly helpful either.

Castrucci also made this big-picture point: “We need to change the health curve of this country, not just the healthcare curve.” And changing the trajectory of that health curve is one of the main goals of the BUILD Health Challenge.

This is an all-hands-on-deck kind of push. BUILD is working with local community organizations, hospitals and health departments throughout the country toward overall health improvement in low-income, urban neighborhoods. In 2015, BUILD awarded grants to 18 cities to help grow their local health partnerships and work collaboratively to address a wide range of public health issues. And no public health challenge—from access to nutritious food to asthma—appears to be off the table.

Lately, BUILD has gained a bunch of new funders including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, New Jersey Health Initiatives, and Episcopal Health Foundation. This injection of new money and regional partners will allow BUILD to increase its national reach and impact.

This year, the goal of the challenge is to award a minimum of 17 grants of $250,000 to local community collaboratives around the nation. The grants come with some big perks like comprehensive technical assistance as well as support services that will help the collaboratives develop and implement their strategies. By the way, qualifying collaboratives need to include a hospital, local health department and a local nonprofit.

A key goal in all of this is fostering collaboration between these institutions to advance public health need to work in concert with each other. Too often, they don’t, and that needs to change.

So will the BUILD Health Challenge accomplish the herculean task of breaking down silos and getting large groups to band together for a common cause? It’s too soon to tell, but gathering new data and getting people on the same page about the problem is often the first step toward determining a real path to progress.