Blue Shield of California Foundation
The foundation takes a preventative approach to achieving equity—looking upstream to the determinants of health, with economic equity as a key pathway to health and wellbeing.
What is the mission of your foundation and how does addressing economic equity and opportunity fit in?
Blue Shield of California Foundation supports lasting and equitable solutions to make California the healthiest state and to end domestic violence. That’s our mission. Within this I work on strengthening economic security. The foundation takes a preventative approach to achieving equity—looking upstream to the determinants of health, with economic equity as a key pathway to health and wellbeing. This has been our focus for some time and the focus has also sharpened since the pandemic—we have all seen how COVID impacted health and financial wellbeing and how these are connected.
The strategy goal in my portfolio is to ensure that low-income people in the state live a dignified life, and I work in the ecosystem connected to that—income supports and benefits, tax credits, guaranteed income, the safety net systems, wages, job quality of domestic workers, and supports for victim of domestic violence. These are the streams of the foundation’s work that all weave into achieving the mission.
As you think about your work, what excites you? What is some of the work you are most proud of?
There’s a lot that excites me and we’re in an exciting moment. As terrible as the pandemic has been, it’s also been a moment of reckoning—current systems are just not working for the people who need them most. Leaders, policy makers, and funders have had to take a step back and rethink what it means to support people. Public health used to operate primarily in the realms of chronic illness, now we’re seeing a bold shift that includes centering how people and communities want to be supported. We’re at the cutting edge of challenging the principles of what health means and looks like.
I’m also proud of the role we’re playing in guaranteed income and tax credits work. It’s exhilarating. There are such incredible people leading the way here, including former Mayor Michael Tubbs. I’m proud that I get to channel the resources of the foundation and use this platform to elevate the voice and needs of people benefiting from tax credits and income supports.
Recently we brought forward a proposal for a Guaranteed Income pilot with the city and the county of San Francisco. The pilot would give monthly income payments to indigenous people, often in the direst need, and missed; it’s also a community that has an overlap with survivors of domestic violence. This is unique and exciting. We’ve included an evaluation in the pilot, which is so important for the scaling of this work. It will track how the benefits lift people up and perhaps will provide data for other initiatives or allow people to think more about who’s missing in other pilots.
What do you see as the biggest barriers or challenges in your work?
Because this is cutting edge work and is new to public health—preventing illness through cash, tax benefits and credits—there’s resistance. We’re working outside of the typical systems that have been churning in this realm for so long.
We’re also calling for a narrative shift when talking to decision-makers. These new ideas challenge lots of systems all at the same time. Even when leaders do agree with the ‘new’ narratives, it’s hard to make this sort of systemic change and progress with these new methods, like ensuring that thousands of safety net employees are trained up on these new norms and administrative changes.
Another concern for the work is that, at the moment, it’s exciting, new, flashy, sexy. Tax credits and guaranteed income have been a quick way for people to demonstrate that they care about other people’s health. The stimulus checks opened the door for cash assistance, and it’s been the moment for cash. The concern is that it is just a moment.
Once the pandemic finally leaves us alone (fingers crossed) will cash fade into the background? Will people begin wondering why we need to create something new when we can just make some minor changes to existing systems and call it a day? In a time of an economic downturn, will the new shiny thing be the first to go? Will people begin to forget the teachings of the pandemic, that going back to normal doesn’t work?
How does participating in the EOF network benefit your work?
EOF has been wonderful. It’s a space where funders grappling with the same issues can touch base and share. We’re a community that can tend toward silos; we have our own strategies and leadership. EOF gives an opportunity to see where you might be re-inventing the wheel. A place for exploring how people are working in different and aligned ways that you didn’t know about. It gives access to learning and sharing, to community, and empathy for the challenges we all face.
Outside of community, there’s the resources, TA, webinars, convenings, the sharing what’s happening in the field—what do funders need to be thinking about? The distillation of knowledge that helps get to how this applies to me. What do I need to bring back to my team? My leaders? These have all been super useful to me as a new grantmaker.
What is one question you would like to engage your funder colleagues in?
I’m interested in the intersection of trust-based philanthropy, the concept and the practice, how this applies to economic security principles, and the narrative shift needed to build momentum around guaranteed income and tax benefits and credits. At the juncture is the narrative of trust, and a shift—that grantees and families both know what they need. The work of trust-based philanthropy and guaranteed income and tax benefits/credits hinges on this shift. How do we build that? How do we show up differently for grantees and the communities we serve to be fully effective in our grantmaking and funding?
Who is someone who has inspired you?
There are so many people in this work who inspire me, but I come back to Anne Price, the former president at the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. I was first introduced to Anne and her work around economic security when I was working at a non-profit. How she saw closing the equity and gender pay gaps enlightened me. She was so unapologetic. She didn’t dance around what needed to be said about a guaranteed income and communities of color. She and her team have been so instrumental in my leadership. They furthered my understanding of language—how to be brave enough without pushing too many buttons. I have carried her work into my grantmaking. I still look up to her both personally and professionally.
Thank you so much Asma for your time and support of our network! If you’d like to reach out to Asma directly to learn more, she can be reached at Asma.Day@blueshieldcafoundation.org.
This interview was completed by Sarah Griffiths, consultant to Economic Opportunity Funders.