President's Message: Finding New Frontiers

Peter Long, Ph.D.

Last month, people around the world watched in near-real-time as NASA’s Mars InSight spacecraft touched down safely on Mars. In addition to providing us with a feel-good news story (how could you not feel joy for those engineers and scientists on the live stream?), the landing reminded me that success doesn’t happen by accident. Rather, it is the result of years of planning, calculations, collaboration, hard work, testing, setbacks, and modifications. For those of us tuning in, NASA’s achievement unfolded over about 10 tense minutes, with the first image beamed back to Earth just four minutes after touchdown. For the team behind InSight, it marked the latest step in a long journey, spanning years and covering hundreds of millions of miles.

No, the Foundation has not decided to fund space exploration. But as we near the end of 2018, I find myself reflecting on the Foundation’s own journey—both where we’ve been and where we’re going. We began 2018 by launching our new strategy, and while we set out on that journey without knowing exactly where it would take us, we felt compelled to follow a new strategic direction. After considerable analysis and consultation, we were confident that this shift, at this moment, represented our best chance to shape a better future that we all want to see—in which California is the healthiest state with the lowest rates of domestic violence.

Throughout 2018, we vigorously defended progress made in California to ensure access to health care and domestic violence services. We spoke up when policy proposals challenged our core values and threatened to prevent us from achieving our mission. We funded many dedicated organizations who are addressing threats to California’s immigrant families, who we are proud to call our neighbors.  

As I reflect on the year, I also see much that promises the potential to move us further forward, together. I’m reminded of science fiction writer William Gibson’s assertion that “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” So how do we ensure a brighter future for all Californians? We don’t have all the answers, but some of the leaders that we met and efforts that we funded in 2018 lead us to believe that we are asking the right questions—and making progress on our own journey to new frontiers.  

We know that part of the equation is to identify, support, and amplify energetic leaders with exciting and bold ideas that are promoting health and well-being in communities across California. Ideas like SmartAirLA’s Smart Inhaler Project amount to more than just a novel medical device for isolated communities in Los Angeles. Transformational ideas rely on comprehensive health interventions that are catalytic for families, organizations, and entire ecosystems.

At the Foundation, we clearly see our role in making innovative approaches the rule as opposed to the heroic exception. First, it requires all of us to challenge existing definitions and measures of what health means for our communities. That’s why we were so excited to announce support for sixteen new projects to explore the value of prevention earlier this year. These leaders and organizations asked different questions about how we can prevent illness and promote health and well-being. We are excited to learn and apply what they discover.

Poor health and domestic violence are the products of complex factors that occur over long timeframes and across generations. Partnership has been a core value of the Foundation, and we know that making California the healthiest state and ending domestic violence requires meaningful and sustainable collaboration in our communities. If you want to go quickly, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. That’s the intention behind the Safety Through Connection initiative we launched this year in partnership with the Prevention Institute. The initiative enables five established multi-sector collaboratives across California to add domestic violence prevention as a primary focus area of their work. In addition, our Leveraging Collaboration to End Domestic Violence grant is supporting existing domestic violence coalitions in six communities. The lessons learned from these eleven communities will inform and accelerate progress to end domestic violence.

In order to realize our shared vision for the future, however, we must do more than promote innovative ideas and encourage collaboration—we must make sure we have systems and institutions that will nourish and sustain these ideas. This is incredibly complex work. We are seeing bright spots here, too. For example, the California Future Health Workforce Commission is laying out a series of recommendations to build a vibrant, diverse workforce, who will support the health and well-being of people all across our state in the future. We are committed to ensuring that systems and policies are designed to embrace innovations and collaborations that demonstrate improvements in health and well-being for all Californians. We continue to partner with the Center for Care Innovations to support efforts to address the myriad connected factors that influence health at a personal and community level.

Each promising step reminds me of the tremendous work ahead of us. I am not sure that our successes will ever be heralded in a single moment as triumphant as touching down on a distant planet. I am certain, however, that if we continue to challenge the status quo and invest in new ideas and leaders, we will make California the healthiest state in the nation with the lowest rates of domestic violence. I am equally confident that we will look back and appreciate the importance of these early steps of an incredible journey. One year into our new strategy, I feel more energized than ever and ready to seize new opportunities and explore new frontiers. We hope that you will join us in 2019 as we take our next exciting steps. 

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