Introduction to the Nourish Initiative – McConnell Foundation

Par Beth Hunter , Exiting Project Director at the McConnell Foundation
23 October 2021

In the context of PhiLab’s reflections on the grantmaking practices of foundations, PhiLab asked the McConnell Foundation to present their role in the Nourish collaboration and their 10-year, $14 million Sustainable Food Systems Initiative.

Find the original article published by The Philanthropist here

Introduction to Nourish: Transforming food in healthcare using systems innovation

Nourish McConnell Foundation

The article that follows is a reflection on systems change by two former McConnell Foundation colleagues and systems scientist Peter Senge. While it focuses on the inception period of a food and healthcare initiative which McConnell hosted, there is a broader context and history worth sharing: a 10-year, $14 million Sustainable Food Systems Initiative.

In 2010, McConnell’s Board of Directors approved the creation of a new initiative that aimed to use food to get at more seemingly thorny and hard-to-grasp issues like climate change, biodiversity and poverty. An initial, broadly focused Request for Proposals aimed to hear from and support a diversity of projects from across the food system. Out of this, several multi-year national grants were approved, and over time three specific programs were created, each funding 8-15 organizations: a Regional Value Chain program (a 3-stage program to strengthen local food systems); Banking on Change (supporting healthy food procurement and civic engagement in food banks); and the Institutional Food program. Each program also supported networking and learning, in partnership with organizations including Community Food Centres Canada, Food Banks Canada and Food Secure Canada.

The Institutional Food program was open to schools, long term care centres, hospitals, universities and colleges, to increase the local and sustainable food served in their facilities. At the time, food was clearly a concern for parents and teachers of school-age kids (learning and advocacy networks included the Coalition for Healthy School Food, Breakfast Clubs of Canada, and Farm to Cafeteria) and a hot topic on university campuses (supported by Meal Exchange). McConnell funded these efforts at various times.

But the hospital food front was quiet. Despite the fact that healthcare represents about half of all institutional food purchases, and despite the obvious links between food, health and the missions of healthcare organizations, there was little innovation taking place. In particular, there was no organizations working on food with the kind of creative, Indigenous-inspired, action-oriented approach that we felt was needed to support leadership in both inner and outer transformation. A series of stakeholder interviews suggested that there was untapped potential with ‘’middle managers’’ in healthcare: the dieticians, food service directors, supply managers and patient well-being staff who make decisions about food every day. With a strong strategy and a combination of external consultants, in-house staff and an experienced partner organization (Food Secure Canada), McConnell launched the program which became Nourish.

Fast forward five years and Nourish has become an independent organization with diversified funding and a history of catalyzing change on essential issues, including Indigenous reconciliation and the role of healthcare in climate change. McConnell has moved into the role of a supportive and active funding partner, and the set of health sector partners which has been involved since Nourish’s beginning is becoming broader, with deeper commitments. The following article pulls out key learnings from that experience, particularly from the first phase of work. It is one example of how a foundation can apply a broad range of tools to help drive systemic change.

Nourish McConnell Foundation

Read the original article on The Philanthropist website: Nourish: Transforming food in healthcare using systems innovation