Promoting Health at the Root Level

Eugenia Bowman, Class of 2018, is defining a model that starts at the community and works its way up

Current student Eugenia Bowman (center) speaks with the degree's Dan Dohan (left) and Jessaca Machado.

Current student Eugenia Bowman (center) speaks with the degree’s Dan Dohan (left) and Jessaca Machado.


Access to health care.

Access to affordable health care.

Access to affordable health care at the community level.

Social determinants of health.

Who can make that happen?

Eugenia Bowman is on a mission to create a working model that brings together key stakeholders to raise the level of health at the community level. Harnessing her 30 years of volunteering, fundraising and philanthropy experience, Bowman is on the path to realizing that model, thanks to the Health Policy and Law degree. I recently sat down with the enthusiastic 2018 graduate to understand more about this complicated model that serves as her capstone project.

Walk me through your model.
I am dedicated to those left behind or marginalized—those at the bottom have captured my imagination and my greatest empathy and concern. These folks are generally left to the piecemeal approach from myriad stakeholders who never quite grapple with the root causes of poverty. I had a vision of an institution that combines social will with nonprofit organizations, governmental collaboration, corporate responsibility and faith-based, and other influences. This would be a place where people come and give their time and money to solve these types of problems at their local community level—and do it because that’s what they want to.

I’m working with my contacts from my 30 years of networking to shape the determinants of health in the context of small neighborhoods, particularly as it relates to chronic poverty. Working with community leadership, leveraging aspects of each sector, bringing the agenda to the community and lifting the community’s voice, starting with providing and rehabilitating homes. There is a 30-percent poverty rate in Paradise Park [a small community in Oakland, Calif.], and the model amasses resources from all the different departments—social services, the health system, economic development, housing and urban development, community development and local activism—to bring the players there together.

I’m working with my contacts from my 30 years of networking to shape the determinants of health in the context of small neighborhoods.

How does your fundraising and volunteering experience fit in?
Here’s an example. When I was the executive director at Berkeley Community Fund, I began grappling with issues surrounding chronic poverty. I was supporting low-profile organizations that were working with homeless people, those with dual-diagnosis addictions, those recently released from prison. I could see the conditions, the social systems (or lack of them) surrounding the poor. But no organization can solve this issue on its own. It was clear that the faith-based solutions weren’t going to do it, the philanthropic agenda wasn’t going to do it, the public sector wasn’t doing it, and if those organizations didn’t work together, it wasn’t going to work.

So, knowing that change needs to happen when an entire community is mobilized, where does the policy piece come into play?
The HPL degree is really shaping that final piece for me—the policy piece. It’s given me a better understanding of how to use legal mechanisms to execute on my model. What if we could choose to dedicate some or all of your property taxes into a trust account for your own neighborhood’s improvement? And that money went to underwrite a collaboration of interests that focused on workforce development for construction and solar energy that then retrofit and refurbish property and create viable small businesses nearby? What if instead of relying on capital from developers and scrambling for services, we invest directly in the human capital to build and suit to the community’s needs? I’m using coursework to further refine this model. For instance, the stakeholder map is not just an academic experience; it’s people and organizations that are connecting to this tract. People are listening and interested. The president of the Tara Health Foundation showed interest in helping create the revenue model.

The HPL degree is giving me a better understanding of how to use legal mechanisms to execute on my model.

I’m advocating a demonstration project utilizing a community benefits committee with multi-sector leadership and neighborhood representation to test tapping some of these silo’ed funding streams from these different pieces of government and combining them with foundation, social impact and corporate funds to put it into a “Tract Trust” so we can create an integrated, whole neighborhood. I’m lining up the players with the social will and then systematically executing on better housing services, then increased employment and so on—it’s a pathway. The HPL degree is grounding me in the system that needs fixing, how that intersects with other government concerns and entities, particularly if you’re talking about the chronically afflicted and the ones who philanthropy can’t reach.

The program has been phenomenal. And I knew it was the right program when they gave us the first research piece, which said—and I’m paraphrasing here—that our healthcare system stinks because we don’t know how to be neighbors. We need micro-empowerment, neighborhood mobilization and to build our wealth together, alongside each other, just a few city blocks at a time.

I’ve been in philanthropy working change: I changed people’s conditions, and sometimes their minds, but I didn’t change the system. So this is systems change for me.

Are you ready to gain the skills you need to shape health policy and law? Check out how to apply!