To improve our communities -- to make them places where people are healthy, safe, and cared for -- takes a lot of work. As community organizers, we know all too well that we can't do it alone. The ability to partner effectively with other individuals and organizations -- both inside and outside the community -- is absolutely essential to doing what we like to call "the work" of building healthy communities.
When we talk about building healthier communities, we mean the process of people working together to address what matters to them -- whether that is reducing violence, revitalizing an urban neighborhood, or promoting child health. Civic engagement is promoted among all of the members of the community. By community, we mean people who share a common place, such as a rural community or urban neighborhood, or experience, including being an adolescent or a member of an ethnic minority group.
Developing an action plan for bringing about community and systems change to community -determined goals for health for health and development.
It's very important that the planning process is inclusive, involving people who have significant influence in the community (for example, elected officials), as well as the people who are most affected by the concern (such as residents of low-income neighborhoods). Finally, it is often helpful to organize members in working committees for each specific objective, such as creating a Task Force on Substance Abuse. This coordinates and focuses efforts so they will have the greatest possible impact.
Grantmakers: Grantmakers can help community groups get in touch with other organizations with special expertise in specific goal areas. For example, if one of the goals a grantee has is to promote caring relationships for children, the grantmaker might get the group in touch with another of their grantees doing similar work in another community or state. Grantmakers can also assist in bringing about broader changes, such as implementing more effective grantmaking practices; or helping change regional planning policies that concentrate on poverty in a few urban neighborhoods. These "systems changes" can work to improve the conditions under which community improvement efforts occur.
Community health -- the well being of the people who share a common place or experience -- requires changes in both the behaviors of large numbers of individuals and in the conditions that affect their health. Although community members are best positioned to determine their concerns and strategies, other partners are needed to help with technical support, and in obtaining financial and other needed resources. In this section, we recommend adjusting the related roles and responsibilities of community partnerships, support organizations, and grantmakers. The aim is to build the capacity of community members to address what matters to them. Our hope is that these ideas for a new "social contract" will stimulate dialogue and enhance collaboration among those committed to building healthier communities.
Vincent T. Francisco