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Driving Strategic and Systemic Change on the Foundation of Health Equity

A Message from President and CEO Edward B. Burger

Published September 10, 2020

Collaborators, Colleagues, and our Central Texas Community,

Nearly nine months ago, I joined St. David’s Foundation in support of creating a healthier Central Texas – for today and tomorrow. At the time, I never could have imagined what would unfold in the months that followed.

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our world, our nation, and our Central Texas home to its core. It has created a health and economic crisis of epic proportions with a lasting impact we are only now beginning to understand. Moreover, the senseless killings of Black people and countless other cases of race-based violence and discrimination continues to capture worldwide attention and reinforce the historical, unjust inequities faced by communities of color in the United States. A movement is now underway to dismantle systemic racism, and it is our responsibility to ensure health equity remains at the center of all the work we collectively do in Central Texas.


Since joining St. David’s Foundation in January 2020, I’ve had the privilege of working in partnership with our thoughtful and dedicated Foundation team through one of history’s most unprecedented times. We have collectively looked inward to assess, refine and ultimately evolve our strategic approach – initially independent of the challenges of COVID-19. In its wake, we are increasingly compelled to help resolve Central Texas’ most pressing health issues with equity at the forefront. We challenged ourselves with the fundamental question: How do we create systemic change toward a more equitable, healthy future for all Central Texans? We studied independent research, best practices, metrics of success, and listened to community leaders to inform our path forward.

Through this lens, our mindful exercise of assessment and reflection only strengthened our commitments: to underserved populations, to institutions that support health, and certainly to strategic grantmaking. However, our intentional explorations also revealed a need to activate other levers such as capacity building, communications, philanthropy, evaluation and learning along with emerging models and innovative thinking around tackling our region’s most pressing health issues. This process allowed us to strategically refine and recommit to work that will amplify proven efforts while also testing novel ways to solve ongoing challenges.

Beyond our essential work in providing mobile dental service to young students at Title I schools and supporting future health professionals through our St. David’s Neal Kocurek Scholarship program, we have shifted from 13 focus areas to five core goals:

  • Lifting up community members throughout their lifespan, with a particular emphasis on periods of both vulnerability and opportunity, including:
    • Resilient Children     to create the conditions that support young children and their caregivers for improved health, economic and social outcomes
    • Healthy Women and Girls     to ensure women and girls are supported with the resources, respect, and conditions vital for equitable health and well-being
    • Older Adults Age in Place     to increase support for older adults to live safely and independently in their own communities
  • Thriving Rural Communities     to co-create solutions in collaboration with the community and, together, invest in place-based initiatives that address social determinants of health and support rural communities
  • Clinics as Community Hubs for Health     to support safety net clinics by facilitating the growth of infrastructure and capacity as clinics transition to serve as community hubs for health

We considered ways to change systems and conditions rather than dictating how individuals should live or behave – because we genuinely believe the people of Central Texas are strong, capable, and inventive. Thus, we placed an emphasis on community connection, relationships, and mutual support as catalysts for community change because we know unity is a powerful force for good.


These five core goals do not represent a seismic shift in our community investments, but rather a thoughtful refocusing. We want to have an ear to the ground to better understand what our community needs, an eye to the future of how those needs will evolve, and a constant thumb on the pulse of Central Texas, which will allow us to move more nimbly and effectively in response.

Our strength-based approach to social services means we also lock arms with the communities we serve and ground community programs and initiatives in the people who will ultimately benefit from them. We listen and work alongside our grantees and partners to foster organizational strength to ensure nonprofits can achieve and sustain their essential missions.

Our grantmaking strategy is centered on advancing health equity and the tools and levers that will help to work toward this aspirational goal. This strategy includes:

1) fostering peer-driven change by placing individuals and families at the center and empowering them to define and lead the improvements they seek;

2) reducing social isolation and barriers that prevent strong social connection to foster a sense of belonging and of being supported;

3) cultivating strength-based approaches that acknowledge and enable the skills, knowledge and lived-experience of the populations we aim to serve;

4) supporting organizations led and informed by individuals who are representative of the populations they serve.

Amidst our work to address the evolving health needs of our community, so too, will our investments remain ever evolving, opening the opportunity to identify and fund new partners. We view the long-term sustainability of a grantee as a core component of both organizational discipline and innovation. The Foundation is committed to fostering the tools and resources to enable effectiveness and future sustainability. Should a current grant partner not squarely fit within these refined strategic priorities, we look forward to working with that partner to best determine how our support can pivot.

In this uncertain time, we are energized and deeply grateful for the ability to support Central Texas in these new ways. We invite you to learn more about the essential work of the organizations we support, and to join us in rallying together today, to create a better tomorrow.

With gratitude,