Communities RISE Together to Advance Health Equity in the Context of COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic and the shifts in life that came from it (shutdown, essential workers, etc) revealed the fault lines of inequity across the world. Communities of color, people in poverty, LGBTQ+ youth and older adults were disproportionately affected in terms of their health, wealth and well-being.

Resources to alleviate challenges disproportionately went to communities that were wealthier. In an unfair playing field, those with advantage are able to better access resources. In addition, hundreds of years of mistrust and a system of misinformation and disinformation meant that communities that most needed life-saving vaccines didn’t trust them.

We knew our response to the pandemic would lead to poor outcomes in health and well-being over generations.

Why Does this Challenge Exist?

Communities of color and communities in poverty were already affected by chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease from living in places of concentrated poverty and from experiences of racism, poverty, and other forms of exclusion.  In addition, these same groups didn’t have the freedom to work from home, didn’t have generational wealth to ride out the pandemic and were more exposed to the financial and health impacts of the pandemic.  This meant they lost access to all their vital conditions–food, housing, meaningful work, and more.

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Who Came Together?

WE in the World convened a national partnership of organizations who brought deep relationships and lived experience with communities experiencing inequities in 2400+ communities across the nation to bend the trend toward well-being and justice.  The Public Health Institute stepped forward to act as the fiscal sponsor for the effort.

Together, we bent a $27 million pipeline of federal funding toward communities experiencing inequities and created a response that created jobs and met people’s need for food, health and well-being.  Together, we’re investing in building civic capacity to change the system so that these communities do not remain vulnerable to future pandemics.

The Role of WE in the World

Convener, partner, facilitator

What Changed

Funding pipeline to make it possible for those most proximate to the problems to lead the strategy in their communities

Real-time data systems in communities

Strategic partnerships across organizations that represent Black, indigenous, Latinx, migrant, and older adult communities.


  • 100+ million people reached in communities experiences inequities
  • 372,344 people connected to vaccinations and social needs
  • 190,207 people vaccinated

How We Did It

Approach & Building Blocks

Building trust

Strengthening civic capacity

Transforming systems

Key Insight

There is strength and power in community to build equity and transform systems when we all work together and can learn from each other.


And Failings Forward

It took a lot of time and trust for those experiencing inequities to trust in the vaccine. It helped to honestly acknowledge reasons for mistrust, to be in relationship as questions arose, to be able to say when we don’t know and think together about how we can approach change in a way that builds long term trust.

We needed to build workaround systems to make sure money could get to communities that had the greatest trust and assets to lead. This required building equitable intermediary processes to shift the balance of power. In the long term, the rules that prevent these groups from accessing funds directly need to be changed.

Communities often experienced data requirements from funding sources that were not aligned with their strategies or priorities. We had to build data systems that worked for them.


Framework and tools to strategically advance health equity for public health change agents

A detailed case study of the RISE approach to creating an equitable COVID response by building trust, civic capacity and transforming systems, filled with stories and interviews from partners and communities.

A 3-page overview of how to create an equitable response to the intertwined aspects of the COVID “syndemic” by building a team to work closely with the impacted communities.

A 14-page report advocating three key steps: 1) Providing impacted people with needed resources through trusted networks; 2) Build resilient communities to change systems and policies; 3) Build a support system for an equitable response at scale.