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Philanthropic organizations have a unique role to play as connectors, conveners and supporters within ecosystems.

Philanthropic organizations have a unique role to play as connectors, conveners and supporters within ecosystems.

In our two year research and design phase, we spent significant time trying to understand the issue of child and youth mental health, the context of school-based efforts to foster wellbeing, and the overall systemic issues in this field. We began to shape WellAhead as a response to these gaps, which resulted in a strategy that had our team delivering an intervention directly with school districts. 

In retrospect, the strategic question to ask ourselves was perhaps not “what needs to be done” but “what is the best role for the Foundation in this space?” This additional filter would have required us to think more critically about existing leaders in the field, the ways in which their efforts could be maximized, and how a philanthropic strategy could complement this work.

Through our experience in Year 1, we found that the best way to leverage our role as a philanthropic initiative was actually as a connector, convener and systems supporter. In BC,
WellAhead played this role at two levels:

  • Pilot districts: WellAhead brought the six pilot districts together in-person three times throughout the year to share their work and learn from each other. These rich opportunities to learn from peers were seen as a significant value-add that would not have been possible without WellAhead’s support.
  • Province and ecosystem: WellAhead was a participant, observer, and sometimes convener or facilitator at a province-wide level. As a fairly neutral, “outside the system” actor, we had a unique role to play. WellAhead helped to catalyze and support initiatives that bridged between sector leaders, the “passionate and committed”, and practitioners. 

One participant in a meeting of K-12 education sector leaders noted the value of WellAhead’s convening role: 

“What a pleasure it was to hear from leaders in Education at a meeting supported by the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and McConnell. The three of you are leading the ‘charge’ in the critical need for the alignment of values, beliefs and practices in mental health for all. It has long been recognized that schools will be the epicentre for significant and sustainable change in the development and promotion of mental wellbeing. Well done!”