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Betting Big on New Leaders in Health Equity

Resource type: News

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies |


This is an historic year for The Atlantic Philanthropies. In 2016, we have reached our 35th year of grantmaking, and also our last.

In recent updates, I’ve discussed our culminating grants that build on our three and a half decades of work to address global challenges such as dementia and brain health, migration, socioeconomic inequality, and the continuing legacy of racial injustice. The common drive behind these investments is to promote and enhance opportunities for people, especially in places where systemic barriers unfairly hold them back, and to address the root causes of inequity rather than the symptoms.

Today, I’m excited to announce a number of major investments to improve access to quality health care for people in both Southeast Asia and the United States. Our goals for these investments are ambitious but achievable: to raise the quality of health care, health outcomes and, indeed, quality of life across entire populations, without disparities associated with socioeconomic status. They aim to help foster health equity by breaking down barriers and establishing fair and patient-focused policy and practice, increasing an educated and engaged health workforce, and providing equal access to quality care and prevention services—particularly for those who have been denied these benefits due to disadvantage or vulnerability.

Why Health Equity?

For years, Atlantic has invested in expanding the availability of health services and building a talented health care workforce around the world. We believe access to affordable, quality care to be a fundamental human right—the absence of which is detrimental to the health of individuals, communities and nations. We have emphasized delivering high-quality primary services in local communities; reducing avoidable disparities in access, care and outcomes; and producing measurable, sustainable and scalable results.

VIETNAM. Nha Trang. Khanh Hoa Commune Health Center.
Over 940 Atlantic-funded commune health centers now serve more than 9 million people in rural Viet Nam. Photo: Magnum Foundation.

When it comes to health equity, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Still, we are certain that successful leadership development—the process of identifying, connecting and preparing a generation of young leaders committed to driving systemic change in health care systems and practices—is vital to improving health equity. Building the capacity and cooperation of the next generation of leaders—activists, scientists, advocates, students, physicians, nurses, photographers, journalists, artists—across sectors and disciplines, oceans and borders can go a long way to advancing opportunities and genuine improvements for affected countries and afflicted constituencies. That’s one of the key elements of the new Global Brain Health Institute, which I wrote about in November. Several other initiatives, with specific geographical focus, are now underway.

A Pioneering Fellowship Program in Southeast Asia

I am excited to announce Atlantic’s $40 million investment, in partnership with the China Medical Board (CMB), to support a new 20-year fellowship initiative in Southeast Asia that seeks to dramatically reduce disparities in health access and quality of care, through leadership development in this vibrant but rapidly changing region. Designed by local leaders and specifically for enterprising, energetic and visionary professionals at the early stages of their careers, Transformative Leaders for Health Equity plans to graduate 500 socially conscious, passionate innovators over 20 years, employing pioneering methods of peer, experiential and online learning. Focusing first on the countries of the greater Mekong subregion—Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam—and neighboring Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi, the initiative will later expand to all 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members.

Despite significant economic growth of ASEAN countries, the region’s 600 million people have seen rapid demographic shifts in types, rates and causes of disease that both affect and have been exacerbated by unequal socioeconomic development. Vast health inequities remain across the region, and health and prevention services—especially in the poorer countries where the need is greatest—are inadequate.

Health workers from provinces throughout Viet Nam study to bring advanced care back to their home. Photo: Magnum Foundation.
Health workers from provinces throughout Viet Nam study to bring advanced care back to their home. Photo: Magnum Foundation.

By developing and supporting new leaders, the health equity fellowship program will not only educate and inform, but inspire creativity and long-term commitment to the field. Fellows will gain the skills and experience in research and policy advocacy necessary to drive change in health systems, while building a community of mentors and partner organizations spanning disciplines across the ASEAN states. Overseen by the China Medical Board, which has contributed $10 million and has deep experience and leadership in the region, the initiative will be headquartered in both Ha Noi and Bangkok and run by leaders deeply rooted and respected in the field and region and with strong connections to Atlantic, its work and values.

Investing in a Healthy Future for All Americans

Although we have seen significant progress since passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), much work still needs to be done before everyone in the United States is able to experience true health equity. To ensure that ACA implementation and related policies and practices respond to those needs, Atlantic made a number of big grants in 2015 to support health care advocates, innovators and practitioners striving to make the system fairer and work better in a cost-effective and sustainable way.

The largest of Atlantic’s concluding U.S. health equity investments includes two grants, totaling $14.8 million, to Community Catalyst, a longstanding Atlantic grantee that provides strategic, technical and policy support for state-based consumer health advocates. Our funding is supporting the launch of a new Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation to serve as a national resource hub for consumer advocacy. The center will be both a learning lab and source of technical and strategic assistance devoted to developing, testing and disseminating effective advocacy, research and communications tools and knowledge about transforming the health care system. It will focus on vulnerable populations and the consumer groups that advocate with and for them.

VIDEO: How integrated care has changed the lives of one older adult and her daughter. Community Catalyst’s Voices for Better Health program helps educate policymakers about what’s needed to improve health care for millions.

Atlantic also committed $12.5 million to Vital Health Care Capital (V-Cap), a new community development lender, to address significant gaps in health care financing for patient-centered models serving vulnerable populations. V-Cap provides loans and development services to nonprofit, mission-driven health care plans and providers that deliver critical services and create good health care jobs within disadvantaged and underserved communities. To read more about this impact investment, please see this recent commentary in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, co-authored by Sara Kay, Atlantic’s Head of Advocacy and Health Equity Programs.

The final grant in Atlantic’s U.S. health equity strategy was to the Camden Coalition of Health Care Providers, a leading innovator in the nascent field of “complex care.” The Camden Coalition provides integrated health and community-based care to high-cost patients whose complex physical, behavioral and social needs are not fully met through the current fragmented health care system. This $4.4 million grant, in collaboration with other funders, provides for a national center to support shared learning among health providers who are developing, testing and disseminating multidisciplinary approaches to improving care for this vulnerable population. The Camden Coalition will organize providers into a strong constituency and advocacy network within the health care system for improving practices and outcomes and containing health care costs for many of the nation’s sickest and most vulnerable people.

mediumAtlantic’s Health Equity Champions

For years, Atlantic has invested in expanding the availability of health services and building a talented health care workforce around the world. Learn more >


More Big Plans Ahead in Our Final Months

For decades, Atlantic’s approach to advancing opportunity and human dignity has put people at the center of our grantmaking. Our most recent work to advance health equity and health innovation is no different. From Ha Noi to Dublin, Camden to Oakland, the well-being of future generations depends on successfully expanding access to care and cultivating the talent, experiences and commitment of today’s emerging change agents.

To strengthen health care systems around the world, our culminating investments will develop these emerging health leaders, advocates and influencers to foster a shared experience that builds networks focused on common solutions, skills and values. While leadership development is a long-term strategy and no silver bullet, we believe this is an investment in lasting impact. By fostering and cultivating relationships across regions and fields, promising, public-minded leaders will enhance their capacity to create and sustain lasting improvements.

We are engaged in some exceptional and exciting work as we prepare our final grants. I look forward to sharing more with you as we announce some of our most significant investments over the course of 2016.

Happy New Year. It’s a big one.

Christopher G. Oechsli, President and CEO, The Atlantic Philanthropies

Best Regards,


Christopher G. Oechsli
President and CEO