Wellville Applies for MacArthur Grant

Like just about every other non-profit focused on making the world a better place, Wellville applied for the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change grant. In the event we win the $100 million prize our plan is to invest it in our communities to help accelerate their work to make serious health change. While we know the money would make a big difference to our communities, we had more realistic expectations for our involvement in the competition. We found the application process itself worth the effort. It forced us to sharpen our focus, and it encouraged healthy debate among us. Beyond that, we believe the process will lead to broader exposure for Wellville, and our five communities.

Because we think there might be some interest in how we answered simple questions like “What problem are you trying to solve?” we’re going to publish our application here, in regular installments. The first of which follows…

Executive Summary

The problem we’re targeting is “global sickening” – the alarming rise in non-communicable diseases and related conditions, the huge toll it takes on human agency and well-being, and the costs of remedial healthcare spending and impaired productivity. The problem of global sickening is complicated in the US by a system of financing and policy fraught with perverse incentives, entrenched special interests and unrealistic expectations of personal responsibility and human nature, to name just a few challenges. To address the problem, we will scale what works – evidence-based programs for health and engagement – rather than search for some miracle cure. We have been working with leaders in five underserved communities for two years, and have helped our partners get ready to set clear goals and milestones, and to find vendors, train staff and hold them accountable, as they roll out proven programs to generate health and overall well-being.

Team Purpose

Our organization’s only purpose is to contribute to solving this problem of global sickening, well beyond the five US communities we work with. We plan to have significant impact on public awareness of global sickening and to inspire an effective response at scale, by showing what happens when regular communities invest effectively in health. By design, we do nothing extraordinary or revolutionary; we simply help community leaders take responsibility for implementing known, evidence-based approaches to community health. But we help them to do so at scale (relative to their communities) and with rollouts rather than pilots and experiments. In other words, we figure out how to make the programs effective, rather than whether they work. Our ultimate audience – the entities who can scale further – includes everyone from the broad public to community organizations, businesses, insurers, clinicians, governments and other policy makers, both in and outside the US.

Team Structure

We are a flat organization, currently five team members with two roles each. First, each team member is a “navigator” for one of our five Wellville communities: Navigators interact weekly or more and visit in-person 6+ times/year with community leaders from our local partner organizations – CareOregon, the Medicaid Coordinated Care Organization serving Clatsop County, OR; 1 in 21, the Rotary Club/Public Health initiative in Muskegon County, MI; the Mary Black Foundation in Spartanburg, SC; the planned Adventist/Sutter Hospital joint venture we are facilitating in Lake County, CA; Community Solutions in North Hartford, CT – as well as with other community members. We work like personal trainers: we advise and prompt, and suggest programs (both services and approaches) and funding sources; we introduce partners* and funders. But ultimately the communities are responsible for implementing and sustaining the interventions they implement and the institutions they build, just as trainers’ clients are responsible for their own bodies.

Second, each Wellville team member has an area of functional expertise applicable across the Wellville 5, such as operations, partnerships with vendors or experts, investment strategies, and communications/marketing. We report to the CEO with weekly team check-in calls and monthly in-person team meetings.

*Our executive founder, Esther Dyson, had invested in several relevant companies (Omada Health, ProofPilot, Kurbo, Voxiva) before founding Way to Wellville in 2013, and now takes care to disclose those relationships and recuse herself from any Wellville decisions involving them