Building Equitable Navigation Networks: A Transformational Project is Born

by | January 16, 2023 | News | 0 comments

View a recording of the call here

“The BEC work is near and dear to my heart. The purpose of this work and the BENN Project is to identify transformational opportunities and human-centered design approaches to build new networks that optimize the assets of people of color differently through a racial equity and culturally competent lens. Racism is a public health issue. This adaptive approach takes into account the differentiation by which medicine, medical procedures and referrals have a direct bearing on people’s quality of life, their thriving and overall mental health which differs significantly from dominant culture pedagogy as we benchmark resilient practices and regenerative platforms that mitigate risk.”

– Fred Brown | President & CEO | The Forbes Funds 

The BENN Project: Bridging The Gap Between CBOs which Serve Resilient Communities and Navigating Systems Transforming The Landscape

This week, we were joined on our Call for Community Solutions by Dr. Andrew Johnson, Interim Director for the Black Equity Coalition (BEC), and Rev. Erin Patton of New Birth Institute to discuss The Building Equitable Navigation Networks (BENN) Project, a transformative program emerging out of the BEC, and unique partnership between The Forbes Funds (TFF) and POISE Foundation. As most of you now know, this formidable coalition is comprised of a group of physicians, researchers, epidemiologists, public health and healthcare practitioners, social scientists, community funders, and government officials which originally coalesced around concerns about addressing COVID-19 disparities in vulnerable populations.  

Given the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on the health, well-being, and economic stability of people of color, the need to address institutional racism as a public health issue has been placed at the forefront of the mental health tsunami that is now making landfall and landing with devastating proportions in the Black community, impacting the entire family system with generational implications. 

Visualizing Health Equity: One Size Does Not Fit All and The HCD Approach

Through the BENN Project, TFF seeks to create a multi-sector, human-centered design approach through a racial equity lens targeting COVID and mental health (including substance use disorder) as the two disciplines it seeks to optimize through prevention, intervention, treatment, and trauma-informed care. During the call, our presenters used the “bike graphic” from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to illustrate the human-centered design approach to health equity, and the pronounced distinction between equality and equity while highlighting the public health disparities that currently exist when it comes to accessing resources, information and ultimately being equipped with the right solution to navigate the path to wellness and thriving. 

Indeed, when it comes to expanding opportunities for health, thinking the same approach will work universally is like expecting everyone to be able to ride the same bike, regardless of their size, the bike’s size, the individual’s physical disability, or limits to mobility. For purposes of the exercise, Equality is defined as “everyone gets the same – regardless if it’s needed or right for them. On the other hand, Equity is defined as “everyone gets what they need – understanding the barriers, circumstances, and conditions.”   

“Because of the undeniable, unshakable effects of racism on public health, and because racism poses a constant threat to individuals from oppressed communities, racism must be recognized as a form of trauma itself. We must remember that racism doesn’t only express itself through the most commonly recognized channels of police brutality or hate crimes, but also through the other generational traumas the Black community experiences, including substance use disorder and systemic barriers such as finding affordable housing, pathways to employment and financial freedom, which are exacerbated by the health inequities it faces. As a result, it is crucial for clinicians, community health workers, network managers and healthcare providers to be culturally competent and trauma-informed with the adequate training to address their internal biases about race and establish nuanced methods for treating racial trauma and healing.” 

– Rev. Erin Patton | New Birth Institute 

How It Works: Thrive HUB & Community First Response

BENN will be a co-created public health platform and place-based wellness hub that serves the entire family. BENN will operate through the Social Determinants of Health lens to create a continuity of care model that targets COVID as an entry point along with racial trauma. BENN is co-designing its approach for prevention, intervention, and treatment of COVID, other physical health concerns, and mental health through a collective of nonprofit organizations, cross-sectorial community partners, and stakeholders through a Hub and Spoke model referred to as Thrive.  

The development of this model will include: 

  • Establishment of a community-based organization (CBO) to operate the Thrive Hub 
  • Collective of nonprofit community partners working collaboratively through one location to serve the health, social, workforce, and wrap-around service needs of families and individuals  
  • Fully integrated Hub connecting to other CBOs, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), etc. to support residents in accessing resources and healthcare needs 
  • Thrive will be a physical space and place-based Hub, overseen by the CBO, located within a respective community where Community Health Workers (CHWs), a Network Manager, and other resources (and wrap-around services) are housed and deployed in partnership with other community/regional stakeholders

 Additionally, the Hub will:

  • Offer training for CHWs, with 25/7/365 First Responders on-site 
  • Make and receive client referrals through 
  • Conduct ongoing research for equitable practices and community needs 
  • Align activities and resources with SDoH 

In consideration of Spokes partnering with Thrive, CBOs and other stakeholders will: 

  • Make and receive client referrals through 
  • Generate a pipeline for CHWs in partnership with PPS, education partners  
  • Align activities and resources with SDoH 

The Thrive Hub and CBO Spokes will be vetted in terms of organizational cultural competence and trauma-informed approaches to gauge the trustworthiness of their work and ability to support community residents and other needs of the network effectively. Through the Hub and Spoke approach, organizations will be positioned to spearhead ongoing development of the project and identification of needs for pivoting to ensure continuous quality improvement of Network Manager and CHW activities, client outcomes, network enhancement for referrals, and overall project needs, including actionable data. 

For example, as Dr. Johnson pointed out during the call, the systems within the BENN network could be enhanced by ensuring greater data interoperability across platforms. Working with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS), systems could potentially “catch” referrals from the BENN network – including referrals from healthcare providers.  

By ensuring that providers close the loop on these referrals, DHS would gain new insights into the accountability of its contracted service providers, a vehicle for improved customer service. Similarly, DHS agencies could send referrals for services or to providers outside of the DHS ecosystem through the BENN platform. In turn, they would have the assurance that tracking the outcomes of these referrals in the system would provide. Through the execution of a psycho/social scan, practitioners will curate culturally competent services as a broker focusing on informal, mediating, and formal service delivery units. BENN will support the implementation of the BEC’s Hub and Spoke model by co-creating and implementing the following: 

  1. Identify regional FQHCs as trusted community Hubs that provide resources, information, and data to increase resident’s ability to be protective and informed decision-makers regarding their health and wellbeing  
  2.  Find, coordinate, and align social service agencies and institutions that provide needed social services beyond targeted health care foci within the Hubs 
  3.  Link integrated services to an ecosystem that reduces duplicated services and streamlines effectiveness and efficiency through strategic and pragmatic alignment and systems implementation focusing on a regenerative platform  
  4. Co-design personal and professional platforms and career pathways that produce “Community First Responders” that are groomed to support Community Health Care Workers as frontline resources to address trauma (i.e. community violence) 
  5.  Build corporate and nonprofit professional development pipelines that link participants to emerging opportunities in the region: Healthcare, robotics, banking, construction, utilities, vocational school, and entrepreneurial platforms  
  6. Cultivate the bench to groom Home Healthcare Workers to embed within community-based organizations and deploy within identified ecosystems that reduce health risks through social service and healthcare coordination  
  7.  Launch pilot efforts in several BIPOC communities that implement the Thrive Hub and Spoke approach and create a personal and professional continuum working in partnership with school and education partners that results in participants completing Home Healthcare certification, earning credentials, and other supporting career tracks 
  8. Develop an open loop system that can link with DHS’s system as a comprehensive feedback loop 

Next Steps and Handles

If you are interested in learning more about how your community-based organization can partner or become an ambassador for The BENN Project pilot, including participating in an organizational assessment of cultural competence and trauma-informed approaches, please contact

As always, reach out, share feedback or schedule a one-on-one discussion to go deeper: 


This Week’s Call Framework & Goal Alignment

This week’s call and discussion demonstrated broad alignment within our core framework, specifically matching several UN Sustainable Development Goals, including #3 (Good Health & Well-Being); #10 Reduced Inequalities; #11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); #16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions); and #17 (Partnerships For The Goals). In addition, our concentrated discussion around building equitable navigation networks through capacity-building efforts and supporting infrastructure strongly aligns with the majority of the Social Determinants of Health, including Neighborhood and Built Environment, Social and Community Context, Health Care & Quality as well as Education Access and Quality given the co-creation of school and education-based partnerships to build a pipeline of CHW talent and other supporting careers to support public health and mental health needs of the community.  


Submit a Comment

Next Upcoming Event
18 April 2024
  • 00


  • 00


  • 00


  • 00


Organization name and meeting title

Stay in the know with The Forbes Funds!

Subscribe to receive the latest events, news, innovative program opportunities, and more.