Businesses are paradoxically both more than the sum of the individuals that make them, and also only made up of and by those individuals and communities. Years of research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and US Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) have shown that business, community, and individual health all strongly correlate. Healthier people make for healthier businesses; healthier businesses make for healthier people. This concept laid the foundation for the Health Means Business (HMB) Campaign and the Healthy10 Awards, started in 2015 by USCCF and RWJF with help from CollaborateUp with the goal of bringing about healthier communities by putting tools and techniques in the hands of those “more than, yet only” entities – business and community.

As the economist Milton Friedman wrote in his book, Capitalism and Freedom, “specialization of function and division of labor would not go far if the ultimate productive unit were the household.” Friedman explained how enterprise created the capacity for groups larger than families to act collectively toward a common purpose. But watching the Health Means Business National Summit, one can see that Friedman could have gone further with his claim. By utilizing business, promoting better health can go further than the productive unit of the household. Businesses can – and should – significantly invest in fostering better individual and community health. This idea has gained significant traction, and in only its first year the HMB National Summit was electrified by speakers like business leader Arianna Huffington, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, and Washington Redskins Linebacker Will Compton, plus dozens of businesses and communities from around the country.

No matter what background one came from or their relationship to business, the goal was clear. Making businesses work for health means creating a culture of poor health prevention in the workplace and at home. Arianna Huffington spoke about businesses fostering self-care, end-of-day rituals, and avoiding burnout in employees. Surgeon General Murthy spoke about the value of business cultures that promote nutrition, emotional well-being, and physical activity – and the costs of letting employee health fall to the wayside.

But how can businesses best promote the health of their employees and communities? Lets step back for a moment and take Friedman’s idea even further. If collaboration among individuals fosters business and amplifies collective impact, can collaboration among businesses do the same? The inaugural Healthy10 Awards at this year’s HMB National Summit responded with a resounding “Yes!”

The Partnership of the Year Award went to the “Los Angeles Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program”, which brought national corporate retailer Target together with medical provider Eisner Health to collaborate with the food equity organization Wholesome Wave. Through their partnership, this initiative has leveraged market based incentives to make healthy eating an affordable choice for low-income families and individuals in Los Angeles, California. By building a better partnership, these organizations created better health outcomes for communities and people, while creating market value for better businesses.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Director and Senior Program Manager Marjorie Paloma spoke at the Summit about the Power of Partnerships, alongside Jackie Sharp with Sodexo.

Multi-sector partnerships sound fantastic, but they fall outside of the top-down, single-organization management structure that researchers have written about for decades. They require that partners dedicate their time, loyalty, and skills to their parent organization as well as to the larger partnership. Friedman noted in his book that with the birth of enterprise came new challenges to organization, which needed new skills and frameworks for success. In the same vein, multi-sector partnerships that go in thinking that they can collaborate by doing “business as usual” will find themselves floundering, and possibly even fail. The Health Means Business Campaign exemplifies the kind of community engagement that fosters multi-sector partnership, and enables businesses to come together to become “more than” collaborators. Driving these kinds of multi-sector partnerships requires a new set of tools and techniques to turn collective strategy into collective impact. We saw time and again on the road for the Health Means Business Campaign that community-wide partnerships took a new kind of skill.

These new skills – perhaps the next evolution of the skills and frameworks referenced by Friedman – unlock the potential for driving community-wide outcomes, like those envisioned by the Health Means Business Campaign. At CollaborateUp, we’ve developed just these kinds of skills and frameworks – and we want to share them with you. We bring people together around the tough issues they face in common to quickly create innovative solutions using experience-tested knowledge and skills in multi-sector collaboration.

By Marcos Da Silva, Associate at CollaborateUp