Convergence Partnership Origins
The Convergence Partnership (the Partnership) first emerged in 2007 as the Healthy Eating, Active Living Convergence Partnership. Our founding members knew they could have greater impact and influence if they worked together to address rising rates of chronic disease and associated health inequities. When we launched, we were among a small group of funder collaboratives using pooled grantmaking, a signed MOU, and programmatic staff to guide the work.
We anchored our work in a vision of Healthy People, Healthy Places and the goal of accelerating efforts to create environments that support healthy eating and active living in every community. Our vision was guided by three core principles:
- Equity as the means to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate and prosper;
- Policies and systems change to create conditions that sustain healthy people and healthy places; and
- Connections across different fields and partners to catalyze and accelerate innovation, bold leadership, and increased investments.
In 2009, we expanded beyond healthy eating and active living and changed our name to become the Convergence Partnership. This expansion allowed us to emphasize more of the community systems and structures that are critical to achieving health and equity. Our broadened scope included food systems, resilient equitable development (transportation, housing, and climate), and prevention and health systems. Read more about our origins here.
A decade of Impact: 2007-2017 Accomplishments
The Partnership proudly contributed to many local and national policy and practice wins in our first decade. Our direct grantmaking and capacity building efforts supported a vibrant network of aligned advocates and funders working across key health and equity priorities. We called this building ‘a field of fields’. An intentional focus on building and connecting multiple fields and actors along with our own national voice as funders allowed us to advance equity practice, understanding, and innovation by:
Creating New, Unexpected Connections and Alliances
The Partnership seized opportunities to strengthen equity outcomes by cultivating ties and relationships across sectors and issues to work towards shared, cross-cutting goals by:
- Establishing the Transportation Equity Caucus (Transportation for America, the American Public Health Association, and the Leadership Conference for Civil and Human Rights) in 2009 to bring together equity and health concerns during federal transportation discussions. Results included protecting critical programs such as dedicated funding for public transportation and active transportation funds.
- Launching the Food & Agriculture Policy Collaborative (Fair Food Network, Food Research & Action Center, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Policy Link, Reinvestment Fund and The Food Trust) to advance shared policy priorities across food security, food access, and sustainable agriculture. Joint advocacy efforts during the 2014 Farm Bill resulted in $100 million in mandatory resources for healthy food incentives through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives grant program.
- Supporting community practitioners and advocates to explore the intersections between healthy eating, active living and violence prevention. This work resulted in recommendations for how to approach chronic disease prevention in communities that are heavily impacted by violence.
Shaping and informing the Design of Federal Policies and Programs
The Partnership has always recognized that a strong and unified advocacy voice is key to advancing equity through transformative policies. Alongside our network of local and regional funders and community partners, we have directly shaped a number of federal initiatives, including:
- Providing national leadership and funding support to establish the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative which has invested $220 million in direct grants and loans and enabled grantees to leverage over $1 billion in additional resources to increase access to fresh, healthy food in low-income communities across the country.
- Guiding the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Sustainable Communities initiatives to include dedicated health equity elements in the regional development plans; place emphasis on addressing food systems issues through an equity lens; and incentivizing the meaningful engagement of equity partners and community leaders as part of the framework to leverage more than $245 million in local and federal funding.
- Urging and amplifying support for prevention and equity through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work program, and the inclusion of a Prevention and Public Health Fund in the Affordable Care Act.
- Guiding the Prevention and Public Health Fund’s national Community Transformation Grant program ($177 million) to include an explicit focus on equity, policy, and environmental change; require community engagement; and promote connection and coordination with other place-based initiatives.
Strengthening the Field of Philanthropy
Influencing the adoption of equity-focused practices within philanthropy was a core Convergence Partnership approach from the beginning. As a national partnership we recognized that we could not achieve meaningful impacts without partnering with local and regional funders. As part of our philanthropic field building efforts, we launched two initiatives to support the capacity building, leadership, and impacts of local and regional funders. Together these efforts were the foundation of building and growing the Convergence Network, a bold and engaged network of more than 70 local and regional funders across the country:
- Investments in Regional Convergence Partnerships supported the formation and growth of 14 regional multi-funder collaborations from 2008 to 2015. Modeled on the approaches of the national Convergence Partnership, the Regional Convergence Partnerships operated in metropolitan areas, counties, states, and in some cases, across multiple states. The regional partnerships received technical assistance, peer-to-peer networking opportunities, and infrastructure support to advance regional equity outcomes, build partnerships across fields, and develop collective policy and action agendas.
- The Innovation Fund launched at the end of 2009 and provided matching funds to 28 local and regional funders to spark innovation and risk-taking. The goal of the Innovation Fund was to build funder capacity and leadership to advance equity-focused policy and systems changes through their grantmaking. There were two Innovation Fund cohorts: the first in 2010-2012, and the second in 2013-2015. The Fund leveraged an additional $59.7 million in local and federal funding and resulted in nearly 100 local policy changes on healthy food access and built environment improvements.
- The Convergence Leadership Institute launched in 2014 as a team-based, action-oriented equity training and development program for funders in the Convergence Network.
Evolution of the Convergence Partnership: 2017 to 2021
After reflecting on our first decade of collective action, and in light of changes to the political and economic environment, we explored opportunities to further hone our strategic edge as a funder collaborative. In early 2017 we turned to national and grassroots equity advocates and our local and regional funder partners and asked them: “What do you need now from the Partnership and what are the greatest opportunities and needs to advance equity at this moment?”
Several clear priorities emerged from these explorations. We heard clearly that we could no longer focus on health equity alone without centering racial equity as core to the work. Our Convergence Network partners identified that more direct investments in grassroots organizing and a greater focus on effective messaging, framing, and storytelling were actionable opportunities to advance racial justice and health equity in their regions. The Partnership followed through on these recommendations in 2018 by launching learning grants in seven places to directly support grassroots organizing, policy advocacy, and narrative change towards racial and health equity. In addition to leveraging strong relationships with regional funders committed to advancing racial justice and health equity, the selection of the seven places was further informed by a political landscape analysis. The learnings from these initial grants affirmed the need to go even deeper and focus directly on the underlying systems and structures that intentionally oppress and marginalize BIPOC communities from opportunity. And we learned that if we wanted to better support grassroots organizers and movement leaders, we could no longer restrict funding to predetermined issue areas.
After two years of critical self-examination and learning, we launched a co-design process in 2019 to fully reimagine our future work and structure. We invited our local and regional funder partners, and grassroots organizing and narrative change advisors to join us as full decision-makers in this process. Together we grappled with how we could hold ourselves more accountable as a funder collaborative in advancing racial justice and health equity. The co-design process unfolded over nine months and concluded in March 2020. Read more about our new vision and mission, strategic priorities, and new governance structure.
New Strategies Take Root in Our New Home: 2022
As the Convergence Partnership enters its 15th year it is launching as an independent entity, with Amanda Navarro at the helm as executive director and with NEO Philanthropy to serve as the fiscal home of the organization. The move comes as the Partnership steps into the second year of our new strategic plan to focus funding on community power-building through grassroots organizations to advance racial justice and health equity in cities across the country.
Aligned with Convergence Partnership's values and vision, NEO Philanthropy has more than 30 years of experience helping nonprofit organizations and funders build movements for justice, equity, and dignity.