If investing $100 on cultivating health yields $200 in lowered costs and improved outcomes, shouldn’t individuals and communities act based on this knowledge?

Angel investor Esther Dyson founded Wellville to answer this question. Wellville is a national nonprofit project to demonstrate the value of investing in health. Our approach is to generate real-world evidence by supporting multi-sector teams in five U.S. communities over 10 years, and to share what we learn as models for national change.

Our Approach

We believe wise, long-term investments in health create lasting, sustainable benefits to collective health and well-being. The conditions that cultivate health – healthy environments, strong families and resilient communities – also contribute to positive social and economic outcomes. We’ve set out to make the business case for investing our nation’s resources in these things instead of on remedial care after illness and other problems occur.

Wellville supports its communities the way a business accelerator helps startups, by offering coaching and guidance as well as access to the Wellville National team’s expertise. Each Wellville community, supported by a dedicated Wellville National advisor, determines its own specific areas of focus and initiatives, driven by local needs.

We believe that a well-functioning multi-sector collaborative is key to producing long-term, sustainable, positive health outcomes. The collaborative can take many forms, from a formal standalone institution to a relatively informal federation of local organizations. With support from Wellville, each collaborative develops leadership teams and implements approaches that are responsive to changing conditions. Over time, each community will demonstrate value that attracts investment needed to scale, spread and sustain impact over time.

In 2014, Wellville conducted a national search that drew 42 applicants from 26 states. The five Wellville communities were selected based on their track record of results, entrepreneurial approach, and willingness to share data and stories to help other communities find their way to Wellville. Currently, Wellville communities are pursuing a range of initiatives, including: pay-for-success financing of prenatal care and universal prekindergarten; reversing the epidemic of opioid overdoses; strengthening families and community support systems to increase resilience and prevent the harmful effects of trauma; improving healthy food access and nutrition at scale; and transforming social, economic, and environmental conditions to eliminate health inequities.

At the end of 10 years, we will show what happens when five communities invest “upstream” in the things that make us healthy, resilient, happy and productive, while reducing the “downstream” costs. To accomplish this, each community has a cross-sector collaborative that is self-sustaining, entrepreneurial, and responsive to its own community’s specific needs.

As the Wellville 5 see returns on these investments, their stories will serve as real-world inspiration for other communities, policymakers, and investors to copy…and improve upon! Follow these stories on the Wellville blog and by subscribing to the Greater Wellville mailing list.

The Problem…and Some Hope

The Wellville 5 communities will help unravel a wicked problem with many complex layers and seemingly intractable forces propping up the status quo. Existing health care business models pose serious challenges. Paying for health care when we’re sick accounts for nearly 18 percent of GDP – versus about 10 percent of our disposable income for the food that often contributes to our illnesses. Our culture, neighborhoods and pocketbooks too often favor the unhealthy choices. And even the best-intentioned community health coalitions break down over turf and scarce funding. While the Affordable Care Act places more emphasis on access to medical care and clinical prevention, the biggest opportunities remain mostly unaddressed: a coordinated approach that shifts social, environmental and economic systems toward health.

There are some bright spots emerging. Communities are increasingly taking a “collective impact” approach, coordinating across sectors and stakeholders to fundamentally shift the conditions that matter most to health. There’s growing recognition of the nonmedical factors driving high rates of illness, creating promising new business opportunities. Health systems and payers are experimenting with value-based initiatives and pay-for-success financing. And so-called “social impact investing” drew $9 billion from investor groups in 2013.

Can better data, investing for impact, and critical density of well-coordinated, mutually reinforcing initiatives point the way to a healthier health system? The Wellville communities will provide five “innovation labs” to develop, test and refine solutions over the next five years.

How is the Way to Wellville funded?

Wellville is a project of HICCup, a nonprofit supported since mid-2013 through charitable contributions from Esther Dyson, in-kind resources, and extensive field research and development among a growing group of guiding organizations, partners and communities. HICCup is fiscally sponsored by New Venture Fund (www.newventurefund.org).

Tell us if you’d like to learn more about Wellville.