Colorado mountains and trees

Transforming through Turmoil: The New Normal

As we embark on a new year and continue to face the collective turmoil of uncertain times, let’s take a moment to honor the many we have lost and others who are today suffering or experiencing trauma. 

Once you’re ready, I’d like to spend some time thinking about our relationship with change, and how we can harness it to transform toward that new normal so many of us keep talking about. 

The news, social media and even our data from Pulse: The Colorado Health Foundation Poll show that many Coloradans are in survival mode when it comes to keeping healthy and safe in the midst of an ever-evolving pandemic and so much more. Families and communities are feeling pinched and overwhelmed by high costs for the basics – from housing to child care – while grappling with mental health and well-being challenges like never before. Many wonder if the burgeoning 2020 movement around racial reckoning has fizzled, and what that means for continually exacerbated inequities we’ve been fighting now for generations. 

Health is further from reach than ever, especially for communities of color and those who live on low incomes in our state. Hoping to return to the normal that existed before isn’t going to cut it. And, creating a new normal needs some real definition and a common understanding.

While it may feel like a tough start to the new year, the light we need could emerge from the very thing that is constant in our lives: change. 

What if we viewed our relationship with change differently than ever before?:

  • Can we harness change to disrupt the status quo
  • Instead of viewing our current environment as an impediment to change, what if we viewed it as a facilitating agent for change?
  • What if change and uncertainty is the new normal? If so, what’s it going to take for us to commonly agree and accept that? 

We asked ourselves these questions throughout last year at the Foundation, because the other constant for us is mission, and that means creating transformation toward equity is a non-negotiable. In exploring what today’s world means for our mission in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, we found many opportunities to advance work we were already doing while making an even deeper commitment to justice and equity than ever before. Here’s how that’s taking shape for us:

  • Racial justice is our best bet to achieve health equity. Since 2015, we have prioritized health equity as a goal for Coloradans for whom health is out of reach. And, the past two years have underscored that goal, which still holds true for us. However, we have determined that our key pathway to achieving that goal is by pursuing racial justice. We have prioritized this pathway because systemic racism is simply the biggest driver of the issues that we and many, many others are trying to solve in Colorado. 
  • We sharpened the focus on who we serve. We continue to be in service to, with and for all Coloradans who have less power, privilege and income, but we now prioritize Coloradans of color. This is one of three cornerstones that double as “must-haves” in terms of our work and that of our partners. 
  • We are accountable to you, the work and the communities we serve. We are holding ourselves publicly accountable by collecting and sharing data annually that reflects our progress in centering race. Our accountabilities are commitments that demonstrate how our investments, advisors, partners, grantees and staff encapsulate and represent diverse experiences and perspectives. I encourage you to visit the new accountabilities section of our website for a complete picture of this data, but here’s a brief snapshot of those commitments and our progress to date: 
    • We’re committed to having people of color represent at least half of our Board of Directors. In 2021, 46% of our Board is represented by people of color. Read about how our Board has shifted demographically over time.
    • By 2025, at least 25% of our total managed investment portfolio will be managed by firms owned by women and/or people of color, or firms with a significant number of women and/or people of color in key decision-making roles. As of November 2021, we’re at 17%. 
    • Starting last year, we committed that at least 50% of any new funding would be directed to organizations with programs where at least half of the people served are people of color. By the end of last year, 57% of payments for work approved during the year went to organizations with programs of this nature. 
    • By 2024, at least 25% of our overall funding will benefit organizations that are led by and accountable to communities of color. We met this goal in 2021, with 35% of our funding directed to these types of organizations. 
    • At least 50% of our capacity building funding through 2025 will benefit organizations that are led by people of color or centered on communities of color. We met this goal in 2021, with 79% of funding for capacity building directed to organizations of this nature.
    • By 2024, we are aiming for 50% of our vendors and contractors to represent businesses principally owned or led by women and/or people of color, or that have significant people of color represented among senior leadership/board. In 2021, 39% of consultants/vendors reported they were owned by women, and 20% reported they were owned by people of color. Forty-seven percent of consultants/vendors reported that at least 35% of their leadership were women, while 14% of consultants/vendors reported that at least 35% of their leadership were people of color. 
    • And finally, in 2021, we began an annual effort to collect staff demographic information, including race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and disability status. Read about the current demographic characteristics of our staff
  • Equity and justice practices are prioritized in every aspect of what we do. For a few years now, we’ve been working to cultivate an operational approach and organizational culture that prioritizes equity, justice and inclusion practices. From learning and evaluation, to how we fund, communicate and hire, our leadership and staff are intentionally institutionalizing anti-racist practices in every department. Four key attributes guide and drive our internal culture: mission-obsession, equity-propelled, nimble and fearless. Performance expectations for all staff include embodying those cultural attributes in their work as inclusive colleagues, including actively participating in racial affinity groups where personal equity and justice journeys are nurtured.
  • We prioritize key “levers of disruption” in our work to maximize impact. While funding continues to be one of our primary and most visible tools, we know money, alone, can’t bring health in reach for Coloradans of color. Last year, staff developed an internal racial justice framework that provides explicit guidance on how to center equity and justice practices and approaches more robustly within our current strategic priorities. As a result, we are deepening our use of disruptive levers, including consideration of our own power, how we can aid in elevating the power inherent in communities, our approach to community engagement, how we develop and nurture relationships, our role in public discourse, and how to best leverage public policy for lasting impact. 
  • Mistakes happen, and we need to know if you have a concern about our work. The transformational process is imperfect, and so are we. We have great aspirations, but we can’t always see opportunities for improvement or when we’ve made a mistake. Our commitment to being community-informed means there are many opportunities for us to hear from you, and we invite you to ask questions and make inquiries about our work when you’re left wondering about something. Connect with our program officers who work in your community or engage with me directly. For example, I am continuing this year to host virtual sessions with nonprofit leaders from all over Colorado to hear the most current context of your work and your constituencies. What’s been gratifying for me has been watching first-hand the connections and care that our nonprofit leaders share with one another. 

To learn more about how we’re committing more deeply to health equity by pursuing racial justice, you can find a detailed view here.

Let me know what you think about how we’re tackling the new normal here at our Foundation. The spirit of change can disrupt us when least expected - so please take good care and stay well. I look forward to a day, hopefully very soon, where we can safely see one another in person. 

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