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DOI

10.9707/1944-5660.1656

Key Points

Place-based efforts represent a key approach for philanthropies committed to addressing social determinants of health. This article shares insights and reflections from an experience funding and evaluating the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative, a $22 million, six-year, place-based effort by two grantmaking foundations in nine geographically and demographically diverse communities across New York state.

The initiative aimed to facilitate healthy living by fostering environmental and policy changes to enhance access to nourishing, affordable food and effective spaces for physical activity. Strategies to attain the goals were identified by actors most familiar with local community conditions. The funders provided substantial technical assistance, opportunities for collaborative learning, and flexible funding, and maintained ongoing bidirectional communications with the sites. An external, mixed methods evaluation provided frequent feedback to the funders on achievements, challenges, and learnings.

The flexible funding approach, well-grounded in the unique circumstances of each site, allowed for support of resident-identified priorities and emerging needs. Within this flexible framework, local partnership structures building on existing relationships, rather than newly formed for the purpose of the initiative, and those that had or could quickly build trust of key actors and community residents were more effective at sustaining strategic activities and engagement. While working at the community level had many benefits, particularly the ability to quickly pivot during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to leverage strategies to create policy changes at the city or state level.

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