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Principles for Building Healthy and Prosperous Communities

For work across sectors in low-income communities to improve health and wellbeing.

From our unique position as a national convener at the intersection of community development and health, the Build Healthy Places Network developed these Principles to articulate shared values across sectors and lift up best practices.

These Principles are derived from a thematic review of mission statements and principles from 35 organizations representing the community development, health, academic, government, finance, and philanthropic sectors. More than 200 respondents provided over 1,800 comments which helped refine the Principles below (read the full history of how these were written).

Read Dr. Douglas Jutte’s introduction to these Principles.

We hope these Principles will frame and guide efforts across sectors working toward achieving an equitable future where fair opportunity is an outcome for all.

Download as a PDF.

Principle 1: Collaborate with the community

Interventions should be conducted with a community, rather than for a community. Through an inclusive and fair process community members should inform and share in ownership of the work.

A community-led approach to building healthy and prosperous places:

  • Amplifies the voices of diverse community leaders, families, and residents
  • Leverages and builds upon existing community assets and capacity
  • Focuses on priorities identified by the community
  • Builds trust while strengthening and developing community leadership
  • Celebrates and incorporates the cultural history of the community
  • Creates a transparent process to resolve friction and conflict

Principle 2: Embed equity

Persistent discrimination and bias against people due to race, ethnicity, income, ability, gender, sexual identity, and other attributes leads to unfair and avoidable health and economic disparities. Integrating equity into policy, funding, and programs will help narrow these gaps, whether in rural, suburban, or urban communities.

An equitable approach to building healthy and prosperous places:

  • Overcomes entrenched barriers to opportunity by confronting structural racism, discrimination, and disenfranchisement
  • Incorporates equity into all processes and desired outcomes
  • Measures disparities before, during, and after interventions to track progress toward equitable outcomes
  • Ensures that members of low-income communities and communities of color are full partners in planning and implementation
  • Strengthens community resilience and community assets

Principle 3: Mobilize across sectors

The roots of poor health and poverty are complex. A siloed approach is inefficient and ineffective. To be successful, work must intentionally engage multiple sectors to improve the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities.

An integrated approach to building healthy and prosperous places:

  • Forges new partnerships and encourages learning across sectors
  • Coordinates sectors (e.g., education, employment, housing, transportation, and health care) that can influence improvements in health, prosperity, and equitable opportunity
  • Leverages public and private resources and existing community assets
  • Advances equitable policies (e.g., federal, state, and local)
  • Includes members of the community as partners in cross-sector coalitions

Principle 4: Increase prosperity to improve health

Health and wealth are deeply intertwined, with financial struggles limiting opportunities to live a healthy life and poor health limiting opportunities to build wealth. True transformation mandates systems-level interventions, policy changes, and multi-sector investments that aim to break the cycle of poverty and poor health for children and families.

A holistic approach to building healthy and prosperous places:

  • Recognizes that wealth has accrued unevenly due to barriers such as geography, disinvestment, structural racism, discriminatory hiring practices, and inequitable educational opportunities
  • Builds wealth with a focus on low-income people, without leaving anyone behind
  • Works to change systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate income inequality
  • Appropriately harnesses market forces and regulatory power to create opportunities (e.g., in housing, transportation, small business, and other sectors)
  • Measures and monetizes impact to induce additional investments that create equitable outcomes
  • Underscores the belief that American values of prosperity, opportunity, and economic mobility should be accessible to all

Principle 5: Commit over the long term

Quick fixes and one-off projects will not lead to sustained health improvement or lasting prosperity in low-income communities. Poverty and poor health are enduring problems, requiring a long-term commitment among funders, stakeholders, community members, government, and business.

An outcomes-focused approach to building healthy and prosperous places:

  • Articulates the lasting change sought
  • Innovates and adjusts based on the evidence of what works
  • Plans for and mitigates against unintended outcomes, such as displacement
  • Compares how more and less advantaged groups are faring over time
  • Embeds learning, flexibility, and community accountability
  • Establishes measurable short-, medium-, and long-term objectives and continually tracks progress toward those objectives

These Principles reflect our values.



In mid-2017, the Build Healthy Places Network kicked off a process to summarize the best practices across sectors and to demonstrate that there are values we share as we work toward similar aims. We collected the value statements, mission statements, principles, and best practices of 35 organizations that work to improve the health of communities. We asked: What underlies our cross sector movement for healthier families and communities?

We categorized shared and common themes that transcended sector boundaries. Common themes included: equity/inclusion/diversity; collaboration and capacity-building; community outreach; solutions and innovation; excellence and credibility; capital, policy, leadership, and the importance of data. From these broad themes, we pulled language to consolidate around six draft principles, keeping true to the intentions we saw across the work of others, and our own.

With the help of our National Advisory Council we fine-tuned the direction, importance, and clarity of each Principle to ensure, as much as possible, that they reflect the challenges and opportunities facing forward-thinking organizations working with communities across the United States.

In the spring and summer of 2018, we sought broader input. We created a survey asking organizations working in communities and to improve health to comment, to direct, to criticize, and to think how the six proposed Principles fit with their work. The response was overwhelming; 207 people from 200+ organizations spent an average of 19 minutes with a 70% completion rate reviewing and guiding these Principles.

Equipped with over 1800 comments, we began the process of editing and integrating the responses. We combed through all the comments and identified common themes. Through the guidance of our respondents, we combined two of the Principles – “Seek to transform communities” and “Commit over the long term” – to clarify and strengthen the value of the principles.

After finalizing the Principles based on the consultation draft, we sought confirmation from over 40 partners that these Principles reflected the values of the field. We are confident that these Principles are a foundation for your work. By collaborating with the community, embedding equity, mobilizing across sectors, increasing prosperity and committing to the long term, we will build communities where all people can live rewarding and healthy lives.


Heaps of praise to our own Jacob Kraybill for leading the research, development, refinement, and publication of these Principles. Additional gratitude to Elaine Arkin for her editing and strategic thoughts. Finally, much indebtedness to our distinguished National Advisory Council members who were instrumental in guiding our path and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that has made this project possible.

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