Friday, March 1, 2024

Season 3, Episode 5:

Money, Power, & Trust: Reimagining Equitable Funding in Research

In today’s episode, we’re talking with Dr. Rachel Powell about how we can reimagine funding, power, and research through trust-based philanthropy to drive positive impact and health equity.

Season 3, Episode 5: Money, Power, & Trust: Reimagining Equitable Funding in Research

by Dr. Joyee Washington and Dr. Rachel Powell


Welcome to the Public Health Joy Podcast — the safe space for real and honest conversations about what it takes to transform public health research into life-changing solutions for our communities.

I’m your host, Dr. Joyee, a public health researcher, PhD survivor, and entrepreneur. In today’s episode, we’re talking with Dr. Rachel Powell about how we can reimagine funding, power, and research through trust-based philanthropy to drive positive impact and health equity.

 This is the joy ride you’ve been waiting for. Join us as we revolutionize public health through research done … with … for … and BY our communities. Together, let’s create our Public Health Joy!


Traditionally, there are a number of power imbalances that exist between foundations and nonprofits in the public health space, but trust-based philanthropy involves creating and sustaining more collaborative, transparent, and holistic partnerships between grantmakers and grantees.

To help us explore how we can reimagine funding, power, and research through trust-based philanthropy to drive positive impact and health equity, we are joined by Dr. Rachel Powell, a passionate public health professional, consultant, educator, and qualitative researcher trained in culturally responsive and equitable evaluation. Dr. Powell has more than a decade of public health experience, working with both federal and local government, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions alike.

In this episode, she highlights the importance of building authentic partnerships with donors and explains why it’s going to take time to see more culturally responsive, equitable, and trust-based practices. We also touch on the value of self-evaluation, a strong focus on community, seeing the work we do through a cultural lens, and much more! For a fascinating (and joyful) conversation with someone who is committed to equitable, accessible, and community-centered solutions to drive social change, tune in now!

To connect with Guest:

Dr. Rachel Powell on LinkedIn

Links mentioned in this episode: 

The Association of Black Researchers (ABR)

WE Public Health

LEEAD (Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity)

Trust-Based Philanthropy

For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit

Key Points

  • Dr. Powell introduces herself and emphasizes the importance of a cultural lens. [02:44]
  • Defining trust-based philanthropy and the role it plays in public health. [04:56]
  • Equitable considerations about the RFP (request for proposal) process. [14:17]
  • Debunking some common criticisms of trust-based philanthropy. [17:40]
  • Reasons that building authentic partnerships with funders is crucial. [19:29]
  • Rethinking power dynamics: why it’s important to challenge donors and institutions. [22:49]
  • Highlighting the value of self-evaluation, transparency, and open communication. [26:01]
  • The patience needed to see true change and resources to help you take the next step. [27:37]
  • Intention versus impact: issues that can accompany academic partnerships. [33:57]
  • Why pushing organizations to focus on community brings Dr. Powell joy. [36:56]

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[00:01:01] JW: Welcome to another great episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. Today, we have Dr. Rachel Powell who is a passionate public health professional, consultant, educator, and qualitative researcher trained in culturally responsive and equitable evaluation. Rachel and I, we met each other through ABR, which is the Association of Black Researchers, which is an amazing nonprofit organization. 


Now, Rachel and I are both collaborators and consultants with WE Public Health, which is a public health collective consisting of 35 consultants and growing across the country who are talented evaluators, trainers, strategists, thought partners, facilitators, researchers, community advocates, and creatives. I mean, you name it. We got it. We offer a wide range of quality consulting services such as technical assistance, training, facilitation, project design and management, evaluation, and all the things. 


Most importantly, we share a common vision for justice and equity. So we partner with our clients to walk hand in hand bringing people-first, compassion-centered, and evidence-based design to amplify public health work. I’m so excited to have Rachel with us today. So I’m going to turn it over. Turn it over to you. Tell the people what’s happening, what’s going on, who you are, what you do. 


[00:02:31] RP: Listen, I am so grateful to be here. Thank you so much for the space. I am excited. I will share in full disclosure, this is my first podcast. So I’m feeling fancy. I’m feeling –


[00:02:42] JW: Rachel, welcome to the [inaudible 00:02:43]. Welcome to the [inaudible 00:02:44]. 


[00:02:44] RP: Yes, yes. Thank you. I feel like I’m finally on the podcast train, right? Everybody been on it, and I’m finally on it. I got a seat, so I’m excited. I do just want to start in gratitude to ABR and WE Public Health for bringing us together, two amazing spaces for people to come together and collaborate. I’m just always grateful for those spaces and the people that I’m able to meet like you and so many others. So I just want to start with gratitude for those two organizations. Shout out to ABR and WE Public Health. 


Yes, you did a wonderful introduction. I’m Rachel Powell. I am so passionate about public health, community, philanthropy, qualitative research, storytelling, and really giving a seat at the table for the community, and having their voices be heard in all the spaces and places that public health is. Within the public health infrastructure, particularly in the philanthropic space, making a way for their voices to be central in all the work that we do, I think, is so important in making sure that we are looking at it through a cultural lens because everything we do has a cultural aspect as people, as community. It’s important that we’re not losing that cultural lens when we talk about research and evaluation. That has to be there as well. 


I’m excited to talk to you today. I’m looking forward to the discussion. It’s December 1st. It’s been a year of really working and serving and doing the hard work of trying to make public health spaces more equitable, more culturally relevant. I’m a little tired, but I got me some coffee today, and we’re going to rock and roll on this conversation. So thank you for the time. 


[00:04:32] JW: Yes, amazing. One of the things that you talked about was philanthropy, right? I feel like philanthropy is one of those words that we don’t talk enough about in public health. It’s there but that’s not – we hear funding. We hear money. We hear RFP, request for approval. We hear about all these other types of words. But what we know is that there’s power in money. We have to start recognizing that, but we don’t often talk about the philanthropic space and the role that that plays in public health. So let’s – I want to hear from you because I’m not in that space. I’m not into philanthropy. So let’s talk a little bit more about what is philanthropy and what does that look like in the public health space. 


[00:05:24] RP: Yes. Let me back up a little bit and give a little background for the listeners. As mentioned, I’m Rachel. What I’m bringing to this space, I always like to be transparent about what experiences I’m bringing to spaces, right? So I want them to know, the listeners to know a little bit about who I am and what I bring to the table as far as my experiences and what I’ve seen. 


I’m trained in public health research. I have a PhD. I have an MPH. Right when I launched my career, I really wanted to get more into evaluation because I think that research and evaluation are so core to what we do. But I wanted to do it in not their traditional way. There was an opportunity for me to be a part of a training program called LEEAD, so Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity. It’s for evaluators of color who want to specifically get more information experience with culturally responsive and equitable evaluation. 


I did that program. I was LEEAD scholar. Shout out to Cohort 3. I’m an alum of Cohort 3, and that’s through Expanding the Bench. So for any listeners that are interested in that, LEEAD scholar is what you should be Googling with Expanding the Bench. I got this training and learned more about culturally responsive and equal evaluation. I thought it was just so powerful how we were centering culture and thinking about evaluation measures. Did we do what we say we were going to do? Was our program, was our initiative a success? 


We have to take a step back. A success based on whose definition, right? Is it a success based on the funder’s definition? Because there are times where a funder, a donor will think, “Yes, this was a successful program.” But the community is like, “This didn’t serve our needs. This served your needs,” right? So it starts to feel extractive. It starts to feel like this was not really a program for us. This was not an initiative for us based on what we think would have been a success, based on what our greatest needs were. 


When I thought about that, I started thinking about that and applying it to my work, in my day job, as well as some of my consulting work. I do work at a public health foundation, but I also have an LLC where I do consulting, research, and strategy. I started to see and think about, okay, like you said, philanthropy, funding. We see these words, right? Truly, if you look at the landscape with which public health is in, philanthropy and philanthropic funding are often supporting a lot of public health initiatives, organizations across the country because there are so many community-based organizations that rely on philanthropic funding, right? So, it is a structural piece. 


I really think philanthropy is a structural piece of public health, right? We know we have the state and local health departments, and they do a wonderful job of serving our communities. But they can’t be the only ones, and they can’t reach all the needs of the communities. So you have this entire network of CBOs and nonprofits, faith-based organizations, all these different types of community-based organizations and community-centered organizations, community-serving organizations that are really at the core of public health and doing public health work, even if they don’t always recognize themselves as a public health organization. They are really surviving off of this boom and bust of philanthropy funding, right? 


We really have to think about that, how – we talk about philanthropy, but it’s important to acknowledge the structural elements that it has within public health. In my day job, as I started to get more into kind of grant-making and working with community-based organizations in a broader and more specific and intensive way, I learned about this initiative called Trust-Based Philanthropy. I encourage everyone who’s interested to visit their website, They have a lot of great resources on their different grant-making tenants, their overview, their framework. 


What I’ve learned from reading about them and taking trainings through them and their practices is that it’s really about what you said, Joy, taking the power. We know that there is power in funding. We know that there’s power in the donor-recipient relationship. How do we share that power to make more of a shared decision without philanthropy coming in and being the one saying, “This is what you need to do. This is how you need to do it,” and no cultural context of who they’re serving, what impact is, right? 


We know that if you’re evaluating something, 100 people over here and 100 people over there are not the same 100 people because we don’t know what the 100 people in town A are going through, what their situations are, versus town B. So it’s really just wanting to kind of share those two major areas of learning that I’ve been doing in culturally responsive and equitable evaluation, as well as trust-based philanthropy and thinking about that broadly and how they interconnect. 


[00:10:52] JW: There are so many things that – I mean, you just dropped a whole treasure chest of gems in here, and there’s just so much to unpack and think about. We’re always talking about in public health, how do we deal with structural systemic racism, oppression? How do these things show up in our work and how we interact with communities? The thing is it starts from the top. A lot of times, we don’t address who the top is and who’s in control. Let’s be real. You can’t do nothing in public health without money, all right. 


[00:11:31] RP: No, you don’t. 


[00:11:32] JW: You can’t do nothing. 


[00:11:32] RP: We’re already underfunded. We’re already underfunded. We know that. We never get enough money, right? Ever. 


[00:11:38] JW: Right. Ever, yes. It’s like we have to start thinking about where this money is, where this power is. How do we start sharing the power equitably? I think it’s such an interesting word, trust-based. Not just any kind of philanthropy. This has to be trust-based philanthropy which speaks to the importance of building relationships when we’re talking about money, when we’re talking about funding, when we’re talking about power. It all starts there. It starts with the trust. 


Like you explained and gave the example of, you have funders who give the money. We want you to go out. They’ve already picked the topic. They’ve already said these are the measures in order to be successful. They have already dictated everything that needs to be done, how it needs to be done. Usually, there is not a whole lot of leeway. When you come back, when you get that money and you say, “Okay, we’re going to go and do A, B, C, D, and E,” and you have work with communities, you know A, B, C, D, and E may not work. You have to come back and tell the funder, “Well, we couldn’t do this. We couldn’t do that.” 


A lot of times, you can’t do that. You got to do what you said you’re going to do. It’s no place to come back and tell the funder, “Oh. Well, this didn’t work because this, that, and the other.” You better be prepared to get their money back. 


[00:13:07] RP: Right, exactly. 


[00:13:08] JW: Or have a bad relationship with the funder. 


[00:13:10] RP: Right, right. It starts from there. It’s like sometimes you have to think about it in a very different way. You telling everybody they all have to eat chicken. Well, we have some people who are vegan, some people who are pescatarian. It’s like one size does not fit all. We are not a monolith, even within our own communities. Black people alone, we are not a monolith. So what might work in one community over here may not be the same and work for another community over here, even if they happen to be the same race, even if they happen to be the same age because we are such complex people and where we work, live, play, worship, all of those things. 


We always talk about social determinants of health. All of those things come into play in what our needs are. That’s why they’re so vast, and we have to think about that it’s not always going to be a square peg. A square peg does not fit in every hole. Some holes are circle. Some holes are triangle. Some holes are oval because the needs of the community are different. I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier. Even the RFP process, everybody, especially if you are a solopreneur, a small business, you got lots to say about the RFP process, okay?


[00:14:30] JW: Oh, yes. 


[00:14:31] RP: A lot to say, individual or community. You take that mindset and you, okay, think about it from evaluation standpoint. Well, we put out an RFP, and we made it available on the website for three weeks, and we had no organizations that serve Black communities or Alaskan native communities or whatever apply. Well, let’s look into that. Why did they not apply? Are you asking them for 100 million things that they as a small community-based organization may not have? That doesn’t mean they’re not doing the work. Is it in a language that is not their preferred language? Is it in a place that they know where to find it? All of these things. Do they have the funds? 


This is what we see a lot of. Do you have the funds to hire a grant writer? Or is it an executive director who’s also a community health worker, who’s also trying to run the books, and they just have too much going on? From a traditional standpoint, we would have “evaluated” that and said, “Well, we made it available, and what came back from the evaluation is that we didn’t have enough applicants.” But we need to think about that a little bit differently and not check a box and say we did it and move on. We need to look at the underbelly of what’s actually going on and why was that the case. 


[00:15:58] JW: It’s not just the money. It’s the time. Do you all know how long it takes to apply now for a RFP and all the resources you already have to have in place? A lot of times, those RFPs are not up for very long. 


[00:16:15] RP: No. They’re asking for 20 pages of your methods and your this and your that. It’s like who has time to do that? 


[00:16:23] JW: This is the thing. When it comes to communities, we’re talking about humans. We’re talking about people who have their own lives. They’ve got kids. They are caregivers. They are taking care of folk. They’ve got to go to the grocery store. They’ve got to go do whatever, just like they got to go pay bills. There’s a video. I can’t remember. It was on Instagram or something TikTok, one of those. Somebody was like, “I was just sitting here thinking about how we live on a rock in the middle of space and we’re paying bills.” That’s the [inaudible 00:16:59] thing on everybody’s mind, not your RFP. We’re on a rock in the middle of space paying bills, and you’re worried about RFP. 


[00:17:06] RP: Those bill people asking for their money every 30 days. 


[00:17:09] JW: Baby, the rent is due today. It is [inaudible 00:17:11]. 


[00:17:12] RP: It is December 1st. Right. You are paying a mortgage or rent today. You thought you had some money in sight. No, you don’t. Like you said, these are people. These are not machines working. So it’s like is that the only way that we can assess if they can do the work, a 35-page document? No, probably not. We can lighten that load, and it’s all about lightening the load but in a way. I want to make this very clear. The counter to trust-based philanthropy is that it doesn’t have the rigor, and you’re opening yourself up to too much risk. That’s not actually accurate, right? Because you can lighten the load and still have the proper controls or checks in place to make sure that people are not running off with the money and that they are doing what they said they’re going to do. 


For example, a lot of organizations or foundations are moving away from narrative reports, and the way that they’re doing their “reporting” are conversations. So that lightens the load. It’s easier for a CBO to get on Zoom and talk to you for an hour about what they’re doing than have to sit here, document all of it, have someone else check it, upload it into the template you provided or on the website that you provided and all of that. But you’re still getting the same information just in a different format. What it does is shift the responsibility of analyzing and assessing that information from the CBO or the recipient of the funding to the donor. 


That is where we are sharing that process of documenting impact. I have talked to other foundations and organizations who are doing that, right? They are like, “We’re doing one final report,” but the interim report are all oral, they’re conversations. It’s helping – that’s not only getting at the reporting. But what that’s also doing is helping to build an authentic partnership, where they can say to you, “Hey, this is what I’m struggling with. I want you to know as the donor to help invest in our learning as a team. This is what we’re struggling with in the community. These are the things that I’m coming up with as far as helping to overcome those barriers. Do you have any ideas? Is there someone you can connect me to?” 


Building authentic partnerships, thought partnerships in the work, and also offering strategies to help the project be better, right? You don’t want it to be, “I’m too scared to tell the donor the issues that I’m having.” But you don’t have that authentic partnership if the way that you are conducting the relationship is very, very strict, only reporting, not a lot of conversation. So what happens is that, yes, you get that funding, you report, and then you move on because you never built that authentic partnership. 


Those are some of the ways that we – again, it’s the same results. It’s just a different way of getting there because there is conversation sometimes about, well, trust-based philanthropy. You don’t have the same way to check in on the project or mechanism to understand if things are going off track. But you actually do. It’s just in a more authentic human form that really does end up serving you in a much better way. 


[00:20:27] JW: I think one of the things that you said, authentic partnerships, right? Even just saying the word relationship, a lot of times, we don’t have a relationship with the funder when it comes to – and it’s very one-directional, right? The funders like, “I have money. Well, let me give it to you if I deem you worthy of having this money, and then you’re going to report to me what you’ve done with this money.” That is a very one-directional, almost a dictatorship, almost [inaudible 00:20:56]. But thinking about how do we build those relationships between the funder and the recipients, right? 


The thing that I think we have to really understand is we can’t do the same things we’ve always done. This is not the early 2000s. This is not the 1990s. This is not the 1980s, the 1970s, the sixties, fifties, forties, thirties. Keep on going on back. This ain’t that time. We have evolved in a number of different ways. Our technology is different. Our economics are different. The political environment is different. Everything is different. So we can’t do the same things that we’ve always done if we want to see different results. It’s like how do we start questioning the funder? 


I think that’s what it boils down to, and you kind of mentioned that earlier, like being afraid to say something to the funder about – We can’t be afraid to question the funder and to challenge the funder on their processes, on their systems, on the way that they do things because that feeds into the oppression, right? It just keeps on fueling this monster that’s already been created, the system that’s already been created. So we have to start challenging and questioning because they ain’t thought about it. They have not thought about it. It’s like how do we do that in a way. 


Part of that we feel we’re afraid because we feel like we don’t have the power. It’s not that we don’t. It’s that we’ve been made to feel like. That’s the difference. I try to make that very clear. When you say, “I’m powerless,” it’s that you feel powerless. 


[00:22:47] RP: Power. You’re not actually powerless, right?


[00:22:49] JW: You’re not actually powerless. You have it. It’s a matter of discovering it, identifying it, understanding it, and knowing how to use it. That’s going to be the thing. I feel like in my mind I have this – when we think of the funder, it’s almost like this all-knowing, all-powerful thing that rains down money to us. It’s hard to think about how do you question, how do

you challenge a being or an organization or a foundation like that when you – it’s not right. It’s not right. 


[00:23:27] RP: Yes. I think it’s like my mom used to say. You know better, you do better. You know what I mean? I employ that in all organizations. I think COVID was a reckoning for us as an entity of being in public health and just as a person living through COVID. I think we can all admit, and it has been admitted. The government had some missteps there, right? So these organizations that we typically held in this all-knowing, all-powerful, hey, we made a mistake. We made several mistakes. You’re going to do that because while government and philanthropy are these often pie in the sky kind of organizations, they’re ran by people, and people are going to make mistakes, right?


The thing that I employ us to do is that we’ve got to just apply those things your mom told you, your grandma told you when you were little. You know better, you do better. You learn from your mistake and move forward. Philanthropy, this is our time. We know better. We know better. We know. We need these communities as much as they need us, right? Then who are you funding? How are you saying, “Oh, we’re reaching all of these communities,” if you’re not partnering with the community-based organization?


Let’s be real about the relationship, and let’s get off of our high horse. Get off of our ivory tower. That’s part of trust-based philanthropy is that recognizing we don’t have all the answers. The grantees, the community members, they have a very different perspective that is very important for us to understand and can inform our organization and our strategic work as a funder, as a philanthropic organization so that we can be more successful. We can have a greater impact in the future. We have to honor that experience and that knowledge and those stories that they tell us as being as valuable as what we bring to the table or more as what we bring to the table. It’s about being transparent. It’s about having that open line of communication. We’re in this journey together. 


This is how we did the application process. What did you think of it? Send an evaluation survey. What do you think of it? Did this make sense? Was it too long? Was it too burdensome? What didn’t work for you? It’s interesting because we value evaluation so much in public health but we’ve got to be able to apply and use evaluation on our own systems. Are we evaluating the things that we’re putting out there, the RFP processes, the application processes? Are we evaluating how our partnership was? At the organization I work at, we did a partnership survey. How were we as partners? Did we talk to y’all too much? Did we talk to y’all not enough? Did you feel like your questions were answered? Did you feel like you could get a hold of us? Did you feel like we were responsive to you? Tell us. Would you want to partner with us again? Would you not want to? If not, why? 


We have to be open, and we can’t ask others to do things we’re not willing to do ourselves, right? You want these CBOs to have all this evaluation, all this feedback. Are you evaluating as a philanthropy, as a funder? Are you evaluating your own self, your own processes? Because if you’re not, don’t ask someone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself. 


[00:27:11] JW: Yes. Understanding that even if you are evaluating yourself, as the funder, as that organization, how you evaluate yourself is different than how the community can evaluate themselves or how they want to evaluate themselves or the resources that they have available to evaluate the work that they’re doing is different.


One of the things that came to my mind was, and let’s be real here, when it comes to the government, when it comes to – I’m going to say it because I don’t work for the government, but the government, academia, funders, whatever. It has always been that there are decisions that are made in the interest of those entities. 


[00:27:56] RP: Yes, absolutely. 


[00:27:57] JW: We’re starting to see a shift in how we think about things. It’s just now starting to get to the point where it’s like, “Oh, we need to do something in the best interest of the community, not ourselves as the entity.” So it’s one of those things where it’s going to take time. Is it irritating? Is it annoying like, “Y’all ain’t seen this before?” It’s so frustrating, but we also have to recognize that it’s going to take time. It’s going to take time to understand trust-based philanthropy and what it means and how it’s applied and for organizations to start adopting this mindset, this framework around money. 


It’s not just – I want to say it’s a world issue, but it’s an American approach to how we view money, our perspective on money. It’s an American cultural thing, and it’s some stuff that’s got to be broken down, like torn down from the top down if we want to see true change. But we got to be willing to be patient. This didn’t happen overnight. This stems from centuries, right? Centuries of oppressive systems, right? 


[00:29:22] RP: There are so many of us in public health who are just like, “Burn it all down and start over.” While that would be we wish because, like you said, that’s not the way. We have to –

it might be brick by brick. I think one thing that I have recognized and heard time and time again in my culturally responsive and equitable evaluation trainings and through mentors that I have in that space, as well as the trainings and the resources I’ve read about trust-based philanthropy, is that if you’re looking at this, these are system changes, and they take time. But don’t be so afraid that you don’t start somewhere. Start with one thing. Start one – what is the one thing that you can do in your next round of funding, in your next evaluation to take a step? 


It’s a spectrum, right? So it’s to take a step towards being more culturally responsive and equitable in your evaluation and research, towards being more trust-based in your philanthropic approach. What is one thing you can do? Employ that one thing or two things because, especially, we know that these two types of frameworks, initiatives that you want to apply, you have to get a lot of people involved to make these changes. For culturally responsive and equitable evaluation, if you are hired to do an evaluation and you’re like, “I want to do it with this framework,” and the donor is like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” it’s going to take some conversation. The organization with which you’re doing the evaluation for, the leaders of that organization, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”


We talk about this all the time. You got to meet people where they are, but bring them along on the journey, right? So push them. Do – what is one thing? Let me explain it to you. You said it. Let me explain to you what this is, and let me explain to you the two ways I’m going to do this. My survey is going to be reviewed by someone from this culture to make sure there’s not shifting in the language that needs to be used, right? Or I’m going to employ qualitative methodology to get the stories to make sure that that supplemental information is informing our full evaluation. Or I’m going to hire people from the community to help do some of the evaluation. These are small things that you can do. That’s one way. 


Then for trust-based philanthropy, you’ve got to bring in the legal people. You’ve got to bring in the finance people because your agreements might look different. The way you pay them is going to look different. The compliance people are going to be different. It’s a whole system. Everybody’s not going to get on board at the same time. Let me do one or two things and get the approval to do that and show you what happened, right? I will say for those interested in Trust-based Philanthropy, on the website, they do have some great resources of how to talk to your legal counsel about this, how to talk to your risk people about this, how to talk to your financial people about this because they’re all like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. This is different. This is different.” Yes, it’s going to take it. But I encourage you to do one thing and start them on the journey. Start moving them down the spectrum, and don’t let the fact that it is a system change, shy you away from even trying. 


[00:32:35] JW: One of the other things that I think about is – when it comes to funding, being able to provide resources not only to community members or community-based organizations directly. But one other thing that burns me up is, especially when it comes to community-based participatory research and those types of funding opportunities, those types of funding opportunities will be like, “Oh, it has to be an academic institution,” right? See. 


[00:33:11] RP: Come on. Some – Listen, you said a word. You struck a nerve there. You struck a nerve. 


[00:33:18] JW: Burns me up. But these funding opportunities will say, “Oh, you must be this type of academic institution. Then you have to work with a specific type of community and do these specific things.” Why? Why? Then the part that makes it even worse is you have these academic folks getting this money, getting these RFPs, being awarded. They don’t know the first thing about interacting and engaging with communities. They don’t know how to effectively do community-based participatory research. They haven’t been trained on how to engage communities. 


As a funder, you have to think about all the different pieces. Who are you giving this money to? I understand the intention. But what is the impact? You want to think about intention without thinking about the impact and what that’s going to do. That’s going to do more harm to our communities than anything. 


[00:34:18] RP: There are times and spaces. Yes, we need academic-community partnerships. We definitely. But is that the default? What’s the unintended consequence of that being the default? That’s what I always – what are we – okay, you were talking about what we’re gaining. Let’s flip that question on its head. What are we losing? What are we losing? Are we losing trust with the community? 


I’m going to say the quiet part out loud. We’re certainly losing money because of academics indirect. So we are actually losing funding that are going to the original intent of the project. Now, again, I want to be clear. Sometimes, you do need that level of infrastructure to go through an academic institution. Sometimes, you do. I’m not trying to say we don’t ever. But it should not and cannot be the default for when we want to work with community. Community are experts in their own right, and they have skills. We have to honor and acknowledge that and allow them the opportunity to tell you their own story directly through the work without working through an academic partnership. 


We often talk about what we gain, but we don’t talk about what we lose, and we sometimes do lose a lot with that being the standard model, that needing to be the way every time. It’s not that way all the time. It shouldn’t be that way all the time. Again, going back to one of my original points, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. It’s just not. 


[00:35:56] JW: Yes. We have to start treating it like we want a positive impact in the community, and we want to prioritize communities. So we have to start changing our mindset to start thinking about what is my intention, and will my intention result in the impact of bringing these communities joy, right? Will this serve them well? Am I doing my part? Am I taking my responsibility and my duties to make sure that in every step of the process, these communities are prioritized first? Will that result in joy? What does joy mean to them? We might say what it means to us, but what does it mean to them?


There are so many different things that we have to consider. I know me and you, we talk about this all day long. But we got to get ready to wrap up, so in talking about that and talking about the joy, right? I got to ask you because the people want to know. What brings you joy in your work?


[00:37:04] RP: Oh, I love this question. I love centering joy. I love centering joy for public health professionals, and I love centering joy, particularly for Black women because I think Black women in public health are some of the most serving people I have ever seen. Women as a whole are often serving. Black women are often caregivers in so many different ways in their families and communities. Then you combine that with public health, which is such a giving area, right? People come to that work because of the passion they bring. So I just appreciate and acknowledge this moment of two Black women public health professionals talking about joy. I just want to give a round of applause for that. 


I think what brings me joy is this work; pushing organizations to center and think about community. I will say I have had such wonderful experiences and conversations with leaders at my organization, leaders at other organizations who are really curious about this. That does bring me joy because it gives me hope. It makes me excited for the work that I’m doing because we can’t forget in public health, the reason we got in it is to make people live a healthier life, allowing them to live healthier life where they work and live and play, health and well-being. 


This gets at that directly, right? We are removing barriers for community-based organization leadership, people leading these organizations to be able to do their work, to serve their community. So I’m excited. This brings me joy. It’s hard work. I’m not saying it’s not. But I’m just excited about – you kind of mentioned the space we’re in as a country, as a field now of coming out on the other side of COVID, acknowledging the Black Lives Matter movement and all of these things. Really, I’m excited about that potential to really use this time and space that we’re in now, this context we’re in now, for the good and really, really serve the community. 


[00:39:21] JW: Amazing. I love that. If people want to get in touch, want to have more conversations with you, what’s your contact? How do they need to reach you?


[00:39:30] RP: Yes. Reach out to me on LinkedIn. I’m Rachel Powell Lewis on there. I encourage you to reach out to me. Message me. We can connect. We can have coffee. We can have wine if it’s after five, water. Whatever your drink of choice is, we can have it and talk more about this. I encourage people to reach out and look at I’m not a part of the initiative or anything. I just think that they do great work. 


Then if people are interested in the culturally responsive and equitable evaluation, that scholar program, I encourage you to Google Expanding the Bench LEEAD, L-E-E-A-D scholar. They have a [inaudible 00:40:13] network for people who have a lot more experience. So check that out, and I’m around. Please message me on LinkedIn. I would love to connect. 


[00:40:21] JW: Well, thank you, Rachel, so much for joining me. This has been another amazing conversation, and this is going to wrap up this episode of The Public Health Joy Podcast. 



[00:40:33] JW: I am so grateful for this time we got to spend together. If you enjoyed this episode, I need you to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. For more information on transforming public health research into positive community impact, visit This is where research meets relationship, and I’ll see you next time on The Public Health Joy Podcast.



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