Resources The Power of Giving

How to Make Health-Based Philanthropy Work

Many of us have a desire to save the world in whatever way we can—that’s why philanthropy is so important and widespread. But what’s the most effective way to approach health initiatives? It’s all good and well to throw money at a problem, or even try to swoop in and save the day—but will that cause real, lasting change? Organizations like the Gates Foundation (founded by Bill and Melinda Gates) and the J.C. Flowers Foundation (founded by private equity giant J.C. Flowers & Co.) follow what studies say is the best way to approach community activism: they support change as run by the community itself, rather than just coming in as an outside influence.

“Numerous agencies of the federal government of the US have concluded that community engagement is a critical component of any public health strategy,” write Barbara J. Zappia and Deborah L. Puntenney in their study on grassroots activism and community health initiatives. That’s why agencies like the US Department of Health and Human Services the National Institutes for Health, and the Centers for Disease Control have chosen to focus a large part of their energies on community engagement.

Effective activism that engages the community can be positively supported by business, despite the sometimes negative connotation of combining philanthropy with “profit-making.”

The J.C. Flowers Foundation is one example of this. Its extremely effective work to eradicate malaria in “last mile” African communities has inspired philanthropists both locally and internationally. The Foundation believes in focusing on the local community when it comes to supporting its initiatives. According to their website, they “believe that the people who live in the communities have the best knowledge about how to solve their own problems.” The J.C. Flowers Foundation brings its organizational skills, as well as financial and technical know-how, to the table, but count on local communities to spearhead initiatives.

The Gates Foundation also has a focus on malaria eradication from the inside out. To date they’ve invested $2 billion in grants to fight the disease, and they are committed to working with a broad range of partners, including local communities, to treat and prevent future outbreaks. Because they are a large organization, they’re able to invest financially in ways local communities can’t always manage; however, they also acknowledge the importance of working with the people on the ground who make these areas home.

Whether abroad or at home, philanthropy focused on health initiatives can make great strides if the groups working on it focus on partnering with and strengthening local communities.