2021 Annual Retreat: Defining and Addressing Societal Health

Kate Dickerson

On October 21, 2021, members of Women of Impact (WOI) gathered in San Diego, California for an inspiring and restorative retreat.Members of WOI represent all sectors of health and health care.The group’s goals for day one were to:

  • Develop a common definition of societal health
  • Identify WOI’s shared values pertaining to societal health
  • Define personal and organization action steps that support the definition and values

This document is the result of the consensus of the group. Hilary Godwin, Dean of the University of Washington School of Public Health, moderated the day.

Our Definition of Societal Health:

All people everywhere living their best lives.

Societal health meets the needs of individuals, families and communities to achieve physical, cognitive, emotional, social, economic, cultural and spiritual well-being.

Societal health is so large that one group or industry, no matter how well organized, cannot realistically hope to attain this on its own. However, there is a growing movement among health care institutions and industries to embrace what we can do.

As we moved through the day we discussed our values and our priorities and articulated how to reflect them in the work we do through our own organizations and collectively. The group’s conversation continued to return to the values promoted by The Health Anchor Network (HAN) and the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Philosophy of ethics-driven investing.

The Health Anchor Network exists to incubate and scale strategies both internally and in partnership with community to prioritize improving health and well-being. It does this by leveraging all their assets (including hiring, purchasing, and investment) for equitable, local economic impact. It seeks to address root causes of economic and racial inequities that create barriers to health and thriving communities. The HAV values equity, well-being, and sustainability as core principles of healthy communities. Initial efforts have focused on inclusive, local hiring and internal workforce development; place-based investing; inclusive, local purchasing; and leveraging philanthropy.

The HAN strategy is closely aligned with ESG philosophy of ethics-driven investing. In general, socially responsible investing (SRI) aims to revise the long-dominant philosophy of maximizing shareholder value without regard to societal impacts of business decisions and practices. Historically, SRI methods relied primarily on screening out “sin” stocks – or entire industries, such as tobacco, gambling or firearms. Today however, investors, regulators and customers are looking for a sophisticated approach to the ESG issues that are relevant to a particular company or industry.

  • ‘E’ stands for environment or for a company’s impact on the earth. Metrics may take into account the organization’s carbon footprint, how it uses or conserves water, its response to regulatory changes, or the specificity of its reporting on climate-related goals. The goal is to better understand whether the company is a true steward of the natural world.
  • “S” evaluates social components of companies, especially issues that affect people, both within the company and out in the larger world. Raters of social impact consider employee pay and benefits, working conditions, staff turnover, and the company’s public stance on social justice. This dimension also examines the company’s business relationships, including those with suppliers, consumers, and local communities. Actions in this category may include the classic “exclusions” such as avoiding investments in tobacco and weapons.
  • “G” looks closely at governance, how a company is run. Rankings consider the leadership of the company, including executive compensation, the independence and diversity of directors, and stockholders’ ability to vote; the transparency of accounting methods; relationships and history with regulators; and the avoidance of illegal practices.

It is through these philosophies and practices that we arrived at our societal health shared values, priorities, approaches, and action items.

Women of Impact’s Societal Health Shared Values
“Joyfully embracing this messy world!”

•We look where we don’t see, or don’t want to see, problems.

•We respect facts and evidence but also listen to and trust lived experiences.

•We respect all people, their journeys, and the obstacles and biases they have faced.

•We support women as critical change-makers and conveners.

•We own the responsibility to create the change we want to see in the world.

•We commit that our inquiry is driven by a sense of discovery and humility.

•We co-create solutions.

Our Priorities Related to Societal Health Are:

Champion Social and Racial Justice

Re-imagine and Create Structures to Secure Health and Wellbeing

Transform and Harness Data and Metrics


Champion Social and Racial Justice

As social and racial justice are core to the health and well-being of individuals and communities, we will operationalize the dismantling of racist and inequitable frameworks, systems, and practices.

Re-imagine and Create Structures to Secure Health and Wellbeing

We will never be successful in value-based care until we invest in a community infrastructure that promotes health, reduces demand for acute care hospitalization and skilled nursing, and fully recognizes the inter-linking nature of communal infrastructures such as education, workplaces and transportation.

Transform and Harness Data and Metrics:

(Informing Leading Measures Rather than Lagging Measures)

We will modernize the health data ecosystem through minimum data standards, interoperability and data democratization. We will create data accessibility and curate data to make it relevant, understandable and actionable.

Our Common Approaches to Achieving our Priorities Include:

  • Focusing on Root Causes
  • Engaging and Collaborating
  • Listening Actively and Communicating Effectively

Our Approaches

Focus on Root Causes

The main drivers of societal health lie largely outside the healthcare system as we know it, and require active effort to raise incomes, advance education, secure basic foundational needs (such as food and housing), address stigmas, ease social isolation and eliminate social inequities.

Engage and Collaborate

In order to effectively improve societal health, we must build trust, create engagement and collaboration across communities and different societal sectors to empower and align everyone.

Listen Actively and Communicate Clearly

We must ensure that our communication strategy includes and empowers those who are affected or overlooked by the structures and decisions that define societal health.

Our Next Steps & Action Items

Women of Impact will lead a movement to add Health to the ESG framework. This effort will include Thought Leadership and outreach to organizations such as the National Association of Corporate Directors to promote and emphasize societal health within the Environmental, Social and Governance domains. This type of approach allows for collective impact.

We will review and update our organizations’ polices, behaviors, curricula and norms using an antiracist lens.

We will bring new and unheard voices to the table through our organizational, professional and individual spheres of influence.

We will commit to come back next year to share what we’ve done!

Other Encouraged Action Items

  • We will go back to our organizations and institutions and educate about societal health, focusing on trusted “Anchor Institutions” recommendations. If our organizations or institutions are not a part of these groups, we will encourage our organizations or institutions to join.
  • We will go on “walking tours” of our communities that our organizations serve. We will invite members of our teams to go with us.
  • We will implement in our organizations and individual spheres of influence the recommendations from RWJF’s “Transforming PH Data Systems.”
  • We will elevate these important resources and conversations to the boards of our organizations by identifying and incorporating metrics that measure progress towards these goals.
  • We will model differential impacts of proposed policies and interventions.
  • We will use our individual and collective influence to advocate for new federal funds to be directed to addressing priorities related to societal health, including root causes.