Thoughts on Equity

The power of actively listening and involving others to help guide our KHF work

June 7, 2021

Thoughts on Equity is a blog series presented by the Kansas Health Foundation to feature written, video and audio content from multiple KHF contributors. Through this blog, KHF will discuss issues of equity, systemic racism, health disparities and how Kansans have the opportunity to shape a more equitable and inclusive future.

The power of actively listening and involving others to help guide our KHF work

In our ongoing efforts to chart a new course for the Kansas Health Foundation (KHF), I’m enjoying the opportunity to listen, read and learn from others. During the last decade, other foundations have focused on powerful work related to equity and community impact. Their learned experiences will be a wonderful resource as we determine how these takeaways translate to Kansas solutions. It has been great to have meaningful conversations with such a diverse group of organizations, including Colorado Trust, Colorado Health Foundation, California Endowment and some of the health foundations in Kansas. Our state is very fortunate, and unique, to have six health foundations: Health Forward Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation, Sunflower Foundation, United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Wyandotte Health Foundation and KHF. It has been amazing for me to see how these groups often collaborate on initiatives – pooling financial and staffing resources to address disparities and inequities – to make our Kansas communities healthier and stronger. It’s not about turf or competition, but shared values about equity and healthier Kansans. That is POWER right there!

Each time I meet with someone, I gain new insights and perspectives. I am excited to share what I’ve learned as someone who recently moved to Kansas and what I believe will guide our KHF team work.

  • The most important takeaway is the reminder of how valuable it is to engage with others so we learn from their experiences. Every solution is better when you bring different perspectives to the table. If we are reaching conclusions without the right stakeholders, our solutions are likely flawed.
  • It’s incredibly important to build relationships in communities we aim to serve. But for too long, we have thought our practice of “inviting” people to our meetings was inclusive. Instead, we need to meet people where they live and work.
  • Power is both a means and an end – building power is a strategy for communities to enhance their own futures. The transition of power can be an outcome. KHF traditionally has held power with our grantmaking and in the way we have engaged with organizations over the years. When we give up that power to communities, and actually center our work in these areas working alongside them to create community-based solutions, there is greater impact.
  • Lead with “place.” When we look at neighborhoods and communities, and use data to understand life expectancy and health disparities, we will see WHY these places are so different. We need to look at health from a macro level rather than an individual lens – it’s beyond health behaviors, access to health care and genetics. Data will illuminate where there are inequities, including by race, and help us better focus resources.
  • It is easy for us as foundations to sit back in our ivory tower offices, losing sight of the “who” and “what” is at the core of our work. We must go TO communities and fully understand their unique needs.
  • There’s no one right way to approach equity, reduce disparities, address systemic racism and create paths for change. There is never a perfect process, the work doesn’t happen overnight and someone will always call you out! However, it is important to continue talking and building the environment for change. We realize we also may have unintentional missteps along the way, but we are committed to this work and finding Kansas solutions.

I expect over the next few months I will become more familiar with Kansas communities and better understand how KHF can shift and build power. Transparency is a core value of our organization, and a real value of mine, so I will continue to share my “aha” moments and how we are evolving as we focus on impact. We are anxious to dive into the data, listen to communities and be more deliberate in how we approach equity.


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