Through a participatory grants process, Shift moves $200,000 to California community health initiatives

August 1, 2022 9:10 am | by


Written by Equity Advisor Caitlin Dunklee and Randall Lewis Health Policy Fellow Hena Dhir

With the support of the Blue Shield of California Foundation, Shift launched a participatory grant-making process to allocate a shared pot of $200,000 to California organizations advancing the cause of health equity. To achieve community governance of the funds, a team of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leaders was paired with local community leaders to design and implement the grants process. This Collaborative Fund team developed the grant eligibility criteria, the RFP, and served as the grant decision-making committee.

The Collaborative Fund team established four goals:

  • The Shift Health Accelerator Collaborative Fund will reduce barriers to funding for  vulnerable communities by implementing a participatory grantmaking process that is  driven by the experience and leadership of the communities it will serve. 
  • The Shift Health Accelerator Collaborative Fund will increase understanding of effective  strategies and catalyze meaningful change in health equity. 
  • The Shift Health Accelerator Collaborative Fund will improve the physical, emotional,  and spiritual well-being of people in local movements through innovative projects.  
  • The Shift Health Accelerator Collaborative Fund will address the immediate,  intermediate, and long-term health needs of vulnerable communities by supporting  community-driven strategies and projects.

The Collaborative Fund team prioritized initiatives/projects that:

  • Build and increase organizational and individual capacity, and empower the
    people being served by them.
  • Are defined by communities-centered approaches, led by the communities they
    work alongside, and build community-defined evidence.
  • Increase opportunities and activities that support whole-person healing for the
    organizations and communities they work alongside.
  • Support economic mobility, at all levels, to improve health outcomes for
    communities served.

An additional outcome was developed that helps the IC remain focused on its obligation to influence changes in health philanthropy:

  • The Shift Health Accelerator Collaborative Fund will shift the understanding within
    philanthropic spaces that community-relevant healing practices are valid, credible, and
    should be financed fairly and equitably.

The ultimate goal of establishing the Collaborative Fund was to reduce common systemic and structural barriers to funding, catalyze reforms in health equity, ensure a participatory process in funds allocation, foster innovation and illustrate trust in community-led organizations by funding innovative healing projects and strategies determined by the the populations they serve, improve the overall health of the communities served, and mitigate barriers to achieving optimal community health. This test was intended to develop an end-to-end process of community owned decision making for health funding and builds on other examples in the field including ones analyzed by Ford Foundation, the historical roots of participatory grantmaking and related practices outlined by Nonprofit Quarterly, and tools such as Grantcraft’s Deciding Together resource

Ultimately, eight California organizations were funded at $25,000 for projects ranging from advocating for in-prison healing programs to a neighborhood food sovereignty and economic development project to a youth Latinx mindfulness platform to embedding equity commitments into government offices. In addition to funding, Collaborative Fund members grew their skills and capacity in community governance, self-determination, and equity–based grant-making. Three team members are now facilitating participatory processes in their communities.

Check out the list organizations that participated and were funded: California Black Women’s Health Project, Transformative In-Prison Workgroup, Insight Garden Program, Conscious Cultura, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Office of Equity, East Los Angeles Community Corporation, Del Paso Heights Growers’ Alliance and Reflections Behind Bars - Going Back to the Start. The Shift team looks forward to reporting back on the impact of the participatory grants process and funding in the New Year.