The Power of Partnership

January 15, 2014

Cutting-edge Partnerships, Decades in the Making

For more than two decades, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Local Funding Partnerships (LFP) program has created partnerships with local and regional funders and organizations in communities across the country to address critical health and health care issues. I’ve served as LFP’s program officer for the past 14 years, and work closely with LFP’s National Program Director Polly Seitz, former chair of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers. Some readers may also be familiar with the Foundation’s  New Jersey Health Initiatives program, a portfolio of grants in our “home” state that focus on improving health and health care. (See

With the LFP program in its final year of operation, we celebrate the hundreds of partnerships that have improved the health of communities across the US, not the least of which is our relationship with regional associations such as the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers and its national network the Forum of Regional Associations.  Over the years, we’ve networked with the Forum Network, Grantmakers in Health, and other affinity groups— they have spread the word about our call for proposals, and we’ve presented at their conference sessions with local funders about cutting edge projects. We thank them for modeling collaboration with us.

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Terry Keenan first articulated a vision of a local initiative program in the late 1980s. He knew that no national philanthropy could know the best way to remove barriers to health and improve care in local communities. Only by engaging with funders and people in towns and neighborhoods across the country could real changes in health happen, and innovative solutions take root and flourish.

Indeed, LFP was one of the first genuine collaborative efforts between a large national foundation and more regional philanthropies. It was set apart from other philanthropic endeavors in that communities were charged with surfacing ideas and implementing local solutions, while RWJF matched contributions from local funders.  It was radical, a real break with tradition, for a foundation of RWJF’s size to weave together the expertise and technical know-how of local funders and community organizations to forge partnerships for change.

Co-funded grants through LFP have both reflected and shaped RWJF’s strategic priorities. Working with local funders has allowed us to take the pulse of local communities, identify common threads across different parts of the country and support local innovation, while advancing our own strategy. Through LFP we have learned how issues evolve locally and, as we saw more grants move away from access to health care to addressing social factors such as education and employment, we learned to work across sectors. Today, the social determinants of health are a central focus of much of our work at RWJF.

Scaling Ideas and Shaping New Norms

In time, the lessons from LFP helped RWJF think in terms of scaling for broad social impact. Cure Violence. Child First. The Early Detection and Intervention to Prevent Psychosis program. Vote and Vax. They all had their origins in initial LFP grants, and grew to become powerful models that we and other funders have invested in to strengthen and spread. Although RWJF funding for LFP is winding down, many of the program’s grants will continue thanks to strong partnerships between local and regional funders and grantees.

For a quarter-century, LFP set examples of how to partner on a national and a local level, to accomplish projects and outcomes that improve health for all Americans. Today, partnership has become our norm, and is a widely accepted philanthropic practice to foster and sustain social change. RWJF will continue to build strong partnerships with other funders, policymakers and other sectors to source innovative ideas and scale promising programs. It is this weaving together of resources, expertise, and leadership that will help all of us build a culture of health in communities across the nation.

Jane Lowe is senior adviser for program development at RWJF.
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