This is the final article in our four-part series, “Equity in Action: How Awardee Leadership is Shaping Racial Justice at The BUILD Health Challenge.” Through partnership with alumni from The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD) over the last year, we sought to address questions about racial justice in the context of strategic planning and decision-making at BUILD and learn how to support BUILD awardees in their racial justice work. This four-part series covers 1) the awardee engagement process, 2) community-level learnings , 3) awardee recommendations for BUILD, and 4) BUILD’s commitments going forward (here).   

For The BUILD Health Challenge® (BUILD), 2023 was a year of change. We welcomed a new cohort of communities — the fourth since we launched — bringing the total to 68 BUILD awards. We included new partners in BUILD’s core collaboratives, recognizing the role that health plans can play in addressing social determinants of health and elevating the key voices of community members. Internally, we added new staff to our team as we said goodbye to others. Finally, we released a new strategic plan that grounds us in our core values of community leadership, health equity, and racial justice.

Meaningful change requires accountability. BUILD operates in service to the communities that are leading the work, and accordingly, it was important that those communities played a role in shaping our strategy. BUILD awardees not only shared reflections on what racial justice work looks like in a multi-sector, community-based collaborative — and what can have impact — but also how BUILD can strengthen our commitment to and practice of supporting communities in this work.

Accountability, in turn, requires transparency. As a result of recommendations and insights shared with us during our racial equity learning process, we developed a series of commitments to document how we plan to put those recommendations into action. Here, we lay out what tangible steps we have taken to advance racial justice, including the ideas and practices we are committed to exploring and where we see the future of BUILD’s work.

Strengthening BUILD’s Racial Justice Commitment

While BUILD’s racial equity learning process was ongoing throughout most of 2023, we immediately began incorporating racial equity in BUILD’s mission and goals after it was raised as a key focus for BUILD communities in our 2021 Listening Tour. Racial justice was named explicitly and embedded in our updated mission and strategic plan, released last year. In addition to updating language across our work, we have updated our evaluation frameworks to better document how we are working toward racial equity (more to come on this later). Throughout the application, accelerator, and onboarding processes for the fourth cohort, we have been clear about our commitment to racial justice and in supporting communities as they work toward it. While BUILD communities are on a broad spectrum of practice, we are continually exploring the support we can provide for those who want to have tough conversations, navigate complex issues, and move the field forward.

Our team is committed to centering Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) leaders and authors, and to highlighting a diversity of professional and personal experiences at our events. Where we lack relevant expertise or experience, we have set aside funding to bring in BIPOC-led organizations and leaders. Internally, we changed our hiring language to be more inclusive of potential staff who bring lived experience and diverse backgrounds to our leadership.

Field-Building and Thought Leadership

While BUILD is still on a journey toward racial equity and justice as an organization, we want to share our story as one example of what this path might look like for others who are walking alongside us. We heard this call to action from our awardees; while this report was originally written to be an internal reflection and learning piece, we recognize the importance of transparency and learning from our past — both our stumbles and our achievements. Our decision to share this process and commitment is in response to that recommendation and builds upon other foundational learning processes we’ve embarked on in the past, including our Equity Journey report and our Listening Tour. We’ll continue to share our story in the hopes that others will commit to self-evaluation, learning, and advancing racial justice with us.

We also plan to continue learning from our awardees, alumni, and partners to ensure that BUILD is guided by those who are most impacted by our work. One ongoing method is our advisor program, which compensates members of our community who provide input on BUILD’s plans and strategies. Over the coming year, we will be restructuring and expanding that program. We have also engaged awardees as mentors and technical assistance (TA) providers for current BUILD awardees, and will continue to advocate for them to tell their stories and share their knowledge on bigger platforms.

Interactions and Supportive Pathways for Awardees

At BUILD, we’ve always believed that philanthropic funding is important but not enough on its own to make change. From our inception, we’ve dedicated as much to funding the work as we have in learning from our model and the cross-sector collaboratives that embody it. Our investments have included advocating for better understanding of systems change and upstream health interventions, centering community voice, and building the capacity of the partners who are leading the work.

For the first time, we included community representatives and residents as an official partner in each BUILD collaborative. To better amplify community voice, we must recognize their power and importance. This acknowledgement reflected what BUILD communities had long done – but it also explicitly requires us, and other institutional partners, to resource and support community partners in the same way that we do organizational partners. We need to make more space at the table.

For this most recent cohort, we expanded the award cycle to three years and moved to general operating support funding. This was an intentional choice, recognizing that communities know best what they need and how to achieve it, and to allow flexibility to respond to unexpected opportunities and emerging best practices when other grant dollars cannot. Three years is just a small part of the much longer arc of systemic change. It is important not only to be realistic about what we ask for, but also to set up our partners for long-term success beyond the award. We’ll be spending more time making sure that we celebrate the small wins and incremental impacts as well as the big changes, and making sure that everyone has the language to do so.

BUILD’s TA team will continue to acknowledge and provide resources for advancing racial equity, including training on strategic communications, providing resources and tools to improve community engagement, advocating for language justice in health, and navigating power dynamics in cross-sector partnerships. In addition to ensuring that communities understand and use systems-level framing for their collaboratives, we’ll also continue expanding our network to make sure the investment goes further and with greater impact.

Ultimately, this work becomes much less daunting — and much more impactful — when we recognize that we are not alone. We have committed to formalizing and resourcing our National Network, which will offer opportunities for BUILD alumni and current BUILD awardees to connect, learn, and work together. We have increased the frequency of TA-facilitated peer calls, and next year for the first time, we will offer funding for BUILD awardees to visit other BUILD communities. Nobody knows better what it is like to do this work than those who do it every day. Doing it together lightens the load.

Our gratitude

We are deeply grateful to the BUILD communities across the country. They are continuously working toward health equity and racial justice in uniquely powerful ways. Their unified commitment shows up in the impact they have every day in creating communities that allow everyone to be their fullest, healthiest selves; to eliminate white supremacy and racial discrimination; and to take ownership over their health and community in ways that feel meaningful to them. This work is hard, and it matters deeply.

BUILD is proud to support these community leaders, and grateful to learn from them. To all who have taken time to share their insights, learnings, and ideas with BUILD over the last nine years, please know that your contributions are making a difference. Thank you for your time, your expertise, and everything that you do to make our communities more equitable and just.

Join the conversation

Do you have ideas about what changes BUILD can make, how we can be most impactful, or the commitments we’ve outlined above? Register here for a community conversation on April 18, 2024 at noon ET/9am PT where we’ll share more insight into how we plan to support communities and our strategic efforts moving forward, and open the conversation to your insights, ideas, and feedback.