What Does it Take for a Community To Be Strong?
What are the ingredients of a healthy community? And how can philanthropy ensure that healthy communities become so and remain so? Philanthropy in Canada asks these questions all the time. And of course there are many answers. But increasingly there is consensus that healthy strong communities are those where a good start in life is recognized as essential and where the supports are available to mothers, children and families to ensure that lives begun well turn out well. The early years of life set us on the path leading to – or away from- good health.
This thinking is embedded in the approach to health that is assumed under the heading “social determinants of health” (SDH). This somewhat technical term covers a way of thinking about the social context in which Canadians succeed, or not, in leading healthy and productive lives. Our physical and mental health is affected not only by health care but by everything in our environment – housing, income, education, parenting, family life, and childhood experience. So thinking about SDH is actually what many in organized philanthropy do when they are considering their impact and areas of intervention in community.
What does this mean to foundations in practice? Using an SDH approach can help to frame the reasons and logic for any philanthropic intervention to support healthier communities. But how do you go about this? Advice is coming from an advisory group to the federal Public Health Agency, the Canadian Council on Social Determinants of Health. This Council is an unusual multipartite collaboration that brings together organizations from many sectors in Canada, such as urban planning, social policy, public health, municipalities, Aboriginal organizations, philanthropy and research. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the Council representing the philanthropic community). The Council has been around since 2005 but in the last few years it has expanded its mandate and membership. Realizing the need to communicate with the community at large, it has also begun to produce reports and tools on the elements of SDH. Among them are a report on how mapping community data can lead to more informed choices on where and how to act on health, social and economic issues. In the near future, the Council will be publishing a report on Frameworks for SDH that will help readers understand the different ways in which such frameworks can be built and used.
The Council has chosen to focus on two key areas for intersectoral action on SDH: inequities faced by the aboriginal peoples of Canada; and healthy child development. In support of the former, the Council has produced a report on self-determination strategies in aboriginal communities The Roots of Resilience: Overcoming Inequities in Aboriginal Communities. It is also exploring tools for inclusion and engagement with Aboriginal Peoples that could be helpful to any funder organization looking to engage more effectively with aboriginal communities. Among these tools are cultural competency training courses to help funders and others explore how to support community development processes within aboriginal communities.
Philanthropy is very important as a catalyst in helping communities develop their own strategies for becoming healthier. But it starts with knowledge-sharing within communities. The good news is that multisectoral groups such as the CCSDH are going to help us all get there now that much faster.