Gratitude and a Greater Good: Farewell reflections from Peter Long

Dear friends and colleagues,

On March 14, we announced that I would be leaving the Foundation to join Blue Shield of California as senior vice president, healthcare and community health transformation. After nearly nine years as president & CEO of Blue Shield of California Foundation, this is a major transition for me personally and for the Foundation. In the past few weeks, I’ve had opportunities to reflect on the significance of leaving this Foundation and leaving the field of philanthropy. Over the course of 25 years in this wonderful field, I’ve made many dear friends and have been privileged to contribute to meaningful work. I’ve seen the power of philanthropy to enable us to effect change in service of causes bigger than ourselves — to build a better future for all.

I realize the news of my transition was unexpected for many. Indeed, this opportunity was unexpected for me. Change, particularly when it comes quickly,  can feel intimidating, but I am sustained by the core values that led me here and that will continue to guide me as I move forward in my career. I’ve learned that risks and opportunities often go hand-in-hand. The chance to make meaningful change rarely comes without some risk. My hope for myself, and for you, is that we do not let fear of the unknown prevent us from pursuing worthwhile challenges.

When I joined the Foundation in July 2010, the world looked very different. The Affordable Care Act had just been signed into law, and the California healthcare landscape was primed for a seismic shift in how it delivered care. We decided to focus the Foundation’s resources on improving quality and accessibility of care in California’s health care safety net so that when families gained access to health coverage, it translated into better health care and improved health. We’ve made remarkable progress in expanding access to specialty care, integrating domestic violence services and primary care, and lifting up the patients’ and survivors’ voices to guide our actions. In early 2016, we observed a new set of challenges – threats to our communities and barriers to health and well-being that were difficult to resolve using our existing approach. The Foundation, with the full support of our Board of Trustees, chose to address the root causes of poor health and violence with the goal of making California the healthiest state and ending domestic violence. We knew that the moment called for transformation of our health and domestic violence systems. Pursuing those changes over the past three years has been both daunting and exhilarating. One thing is clear to me: it is work that is necessary at this moment in our history.

Leaving the Foundation at such an exciting moment is bittersweet for me — even to pursue such an incredible opportunity to work at scale. I really enjoy coming to work every day. Our staff is so well prepared to achieve our mission. They are creative, kind, brilliant, and good-humored. Our Board is fully supportive of our transformational agenda. It is for these reasons that I am comfortable leaving right now. The Foundation’s work has never been more important, and we have the right people in place to make it happen. Under the capable leadership of Dr. Ray Baxter, the team will continue to do amazing work, including attracting the right person to take over as president & CEO to guide the Foundation into a brighter future.

At my first staff meeting as Foundation president & CEO, a staff member asked me to describe my leadership style. I honestly hadn’t thought much about leadership styles, but my mind immediately jumped to something that I had learned while working in South Africa. It was the Bantu idea of ubuntu, “people are people through other people.” Nine years later, it still feels right. The truth is that it is not about me, and it never has been. I have not achieved anything in this role, nor in my career, alone. All that we have achieved, we have achieved in partnership, through a common commitment to a shared vision for a better future. I hope I have contributed something to that vision; I know that this Foundation has — and that it will continue to contribute. I’m incredibly proud of the progress we have made together, and I will remain forever grateful to have shared curiosities, struggles, resilient moments, successes, and joy with each of you. It’s been the greatest privilege of my professional life thus far.

I owe a debt of gratitude to many people who have supported me in my journey.

First, thanks to my family who make many sacrifices daily that allow me to do this work. Thank you to Dr. Bob Ross and Laura Hogan of The California Endowment and Dr. Drew Altman and Dr. Diane Rowland of Kaiser Family Foundation, who all believed in me and invested many long years mentoring me. I am grateful to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees, not only for their unwavering support of our mission, but for taking a chance on me to lead this organization nine years ago. I am grateful for the support and partnership of Paul Markovich, president & CEO of Blue Shield of California. He is a visionary leader, whose dedication to the Foundation’s mission has been invaluable in creating the space for us to pursue a truly transformational vision. To my beloved colleagues on the Foundation staff, past and present, thank you for always bringing your full and best selves to this work (and for laughing at my jokes). Of course, my most sincere gratitude goes to the Foundation’s grantees and partners throughout California. Though there are too many people to name here, collectively your work is tangibly making life better for millions of Californians every day. It has been my privilege to support you, work with you, and learn from you. As I transition into this next phase of my career, I promise to continue to “Be the change we want to see in the world.”

In partnership,

Peter

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