In fall of 2022, the Michigan Health Endowment Fund hosted grantees, leaders, and other partners working in children’s food security, nutrition, and fitness. We wanted to learn about the most persistent challenges and the ripest opportunities in these areas and how the Health Fund can help address them to improve children’s health across the state.

Here are some of our big takeaways.

Address systemic barriers to health

We know that systemic issues have an immense impact on the food and lifestyles of Michigan’s kids. Our stakeholders were clear: the built environment, economic conditions, and a complex web of policies affect how food is grown, where it’s available, how much it costs, and whether kids can live active lifestyles. Because the Health Fund works across sectors, geographies, and interests, we’re uniquely positioned to help address overarching issues like equitable food sourcing, the school food environment, and the infrastructure that influences diet and activity.

In 2023, we’ll likely support initiatives that bring a health equity lens to the built environment, one of the most consequential systems that affects residents’ likely health outcomes. We’ll empower food policy councils and other groups who can help forge healthier institutions, advance equitable food policies, and overcome structural barriers to healthy living.

Support communities

While we can and should improve Michigan’s food system, that doesn’t mean funding only large-scale projects at sizeable institutions. Attendees emphasized that the pathway to lasting change is through community decision-making, collaborative programming over “hero” interventions, and moving from community engagement to community empowerment.

The Health Fund understands that successful systemic changes are driven by the knowledge, experience, and power of those who are impacted by those systems every day.

To that end, we’re increasingly seeking proposals that develop local leaders, rely on input from those most affected by a particular issue, and center the needs of residents. We’re deepening relationships in communities where we’ve already made grants, and reaching out to learn from those we don’t know as well.

In 2023, the Nutrition & Healthy Lifestyles program may consider smaller grant requests and smaller grantee organizations than we have in the past, empowering communities to take the reins to help their youngest residents live healthy lives.

Scale and sustain

Philanthropic support can take a successful model from innovation to best practice and beyond. This can take many shapes—some of the most mentioned were making connections among nonprofits and funding agencies, supporting relationships across sectors, and investing in an idea beyond a single grant cycle. In fact, supporting cross-sector collaboratives was one the most common ways stakeholders said we could help scale effective models and leverage existing resources like national funding programs.

At the Health Fund, we carry our grantees’ stories, successes, and needs with us all the time, and we want to be effective champions of their work at every table where we have a seat. As our own body of work grows, we’re better able to make connections that can meaningfully advance great ideas. While we’re limited by our founding legislation when it comes to long-term grants, our investment in our grantees doesn’t end with a closeout report.

In 2023 and beyond, you’ll see us offer more opportunities for capacity building, convening, and technical assistance—all with the aim of strengthening grantees’ position to replicate, scale, and sustain approaches that lead to healthier communities throughout Michigan.

Stay tuned!

This won’t be the last time we invite feedback on our strategy. Going forward, we’ll expand our convenings to include more people working on children’s physical health. Beyond informing our own approach, we want to provide space for a broader dialogue about how Michigan’s food systems, policies, and communities can help kids grow strong and healthy no matter their zip code.

For a detailed recap of the event, please see the full report prepared by Public Sector Consultants. Stay tuned for more information about the next Children’s Health Forum, planned for fall 2023.

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