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Health justice and participatory democracy: An interview with Hanh Cao Yu, Chief Learning Officer, California Endowment

October 27, 2021

Headshot_Hanh_Cao_Yu_TCEEven before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, the California Endowment (TCE) had been working to move from Building Healthy Communities, its place-based initiative, to an effort that provides more flexible funding to the organizations and communities it works with to build power across California. For example, TCE increased the share of grant dollars awarded in general operating support from 3 percent in 2010 to 20 percent by 2020.The foundation is on track to further increase flexible funding so that communities and grantees have more freedom to determine how best to use those funds.

Hanh Cao Yu is TCE's chief learning officer, in which role she is responsible for learning, evaluation, and impact activities and ensures that local communities, local and state grantees, board members, and staff understand the results and lessons of the foundation's investments.

PND's Matt Sinclair spoke with Yu about the foundation's effort to promote "People Power" and how the pandemic has affected its relationships with grantees.

Philanthropy News Digest: What does "health equity" mean? How is it different from "health justice," and to what extent has the foundation's idea of "health justice" changed in the wake of the pandemic and its impact, especially on communities of color?

Hanh Cao Yu: For us at the California Endowment, health equity has three parts: We want to achieve the highest level of health for all Californians, improve the systems and conditions of health for all groups, and make sure that those who've experienced racism and socioeconomic and historic injustices are helped and supported — because health equity helps advance social justice.

In terms of health justice, which is also a North Star of ours, the focus is on outcomes, whereas health equity is focused on the process of how we got to where we are today. At the heart of equity is the ability to meaningfully participate, to have a voice, to be heard, and to help set the agenda of the priorities for your community.

Even before the pandemic, TCE was working to achieve health equity in a major initiative called Building Healthy Communities, which is about investing in groups that are serving and led by Black, Indigenous, and people of color fighting for health systems reforms and the transformation of our justice system, as well as equitable public education and more inclusive community economic development.

Health justice is also about robust, participatory democracy, and it's good for equitable community health.

Read the full interview with Hanh Cao Yu.

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