About Wellville

Wellville is a 10-year national nonprofit project to promote foster equitable wellbeing. Esther Dyson and Rick Brush co-launched Wellville in 2014. 

At the center of our work are the Wellville 5: Five US communities working to improve their own health and wellbeing and inspiring other communities to do the same. 

Since complex challenges are bigger than any one institution, individual or government entity can solve alone, we built Wellville to support and foster collaboration.

Bruce Spoelman at Camp Pendalouan

Our Mission

Equitable wellbeing happens when everyone has a fair and just opportunity to construct a life well-lived and contribute to our common good. Short-term thinking does the opposite, because people, institutions and systems pit their immediate self-interest over the long-term, equitable wellbeing of all.

To address these issues, we’re working towards two major outcomes:

  • Improve Equitable Wellbeing: Wellville supports five US communities (the “W5”) as they improve equitable wellbeing through effective, shared investments that have long-term benefits for all.
  • Influence National Action: By showcasing evidence and actions in the W5, Wellville will influence how our nation invests in its people, institutions and systems to achieve equitable wellbeing for all Americans for generations to come.

Our Approach

Make Mistakes. Try Again.
Wise words! Art by https://www.instagram.com/miki__mu/

Wellville is distinctive in that we don’t have a set of programs to implement. We don’t award grants. We don’t even take the same approach in all of the W5 communities! Here’s how we approach our work:

  1. Five Wellville National Advisors work together with local teams in their W5 community to foster effective, shared, long-term investment in their communities’ people, institutions, and systems. Advisors listen to what local partners want to do and support them in that work. We act as coaches: asking questions, providing encouragement, connecting to outside resources, and so on. We also give the W5 communities a platform to learn from each other.
  2. Forge national partnerships that:
    • improve the W5’s capacity to achieve and sustain their equitable wellbeing goals; and
    • advocate for local and national policies, actions, and investments that will improve the equitable wellbeing of all Americans.
  3. Implement a cross-community evaluation and learning system to track and improve W5 actions and outcomes and to facilitate sharing.
  4. Help the W5 conduct social and economic impact analyses that detail current and predicted outcomes (including positive and negative externalities), counterfactuals, and the value of proposed/implemented solutions.
  5. Share our data and stories to national influencers in order to
    • influence local policies, actions, and investments; and
    • encourage other communities and regions to copy and improve on our work.

Jamie Hekker presenting Muskegon plans as Marquis Childers looks on
Jamie Hekker presents Muskegon's plans at the end of the 2019 Gathering, as Marquis Childers looks on.

Some of What We’ve Learned (so far)

  1. The heart of the matter is moving from short-term self interest to long-term shared interest. It’s easy to think of examples of individuals, institutions and systems that fall into this trap: Election cycles. Quarterly returns. Philanthropic grants. In contrast, health and equity require that we transform thinking and systems to create long-term outcomes. 
  1. Same same, but different. The W5 communities face many similar challenges, but the solutions need to reflect local circumstances. For example, many of the W5 face a shortage of affordable housing, but the underlying systems causing these shortages – and the local partners and assets working to solve it – are unique to each community. 
  1. Relationships and trust matter. A lot. There can be no true, long-term collaboration without trust. Among institutions. Among residents. Between residents and institutions. But once trust is established, collaboration capacity skyrockets.
  1. We must continuously emphasize the value of the W5’s work – the outcomes that have value to the whole community. For example, North Hartford is focused on creating a healthier food system. That will be beneficial to existing residents and make the area more attractive to potential new residents. Nutrition-related disease and food insecurity will decrease, which has value to institutions like healthcare systems, employers, schools, and the criminal justice system.
  1. The enabling environment – state and local policies, laws and customs – is critical. Working in 5 states allows us to see this, because each state offers a different environment: California’s MediCal system works very differently from Connecticut’s Medicaid system, which is mostly fee-for-service. 

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