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Partnerships: the foundation for healthy, equitable communities

Renee Frauendienst

Mark Twain is attributed with saying "For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat—and wrong!" While we can appreciate the wit of Mr. Twain, he is correct. The reality is that most of the problems we encounter in the community are not simple and require complex solutions for change to happen.

The good news is that even though these problems are hard to find solutions to, many people are interested in discovering answers together. In its report Rural Pulse 2019, the Blandin Foundation stated that about 84 percent of Minnesotans were confident about being personally able to make a positive impact on their communities. It also noted that 53 percent of rural and 48 percent of urban Minnesotans have served in a leadership role in their communities. More importantly, 51 percent of rural Minnesotans who have never served in a leadership role expressed a willingness to do so if asked.*

These findings are significant because every solution has a beginning. A solution typically starts with a person who has an idea that grows to a vision after an invitation to others. This first step in creating a partnership is impossible to skip. Over time, we see the success of the work being done and that is where the focus rests (it is the most tangible). But, somewhere, somehow, it all started. This beginning story many times gets lost, although it is some of the most important work. It's where partnership begins and where the new vision for the future is formulated.

From this foundation, the partnership grows and builds momentum. As that energy builds, amazing and wonderful things happen. For example, this morning, I attended our local Mental Health Steering Committee. This group has been doing its collaborative work for about two years and is a multi-sector partnership working on promoting better health for persons with mental illness. As I watched the meeting progress, I jotted down activities I saw happening at this partner meeting. I observed brainstorming, connecting at the table, updating about issues or concerns, discussing others not at the table that need to be there, and expressing willingness to "step out of their swim lanes" to engage in the common mission that has been created. I saw celebrating successes, acknowledging challenges and missed opportunities, verbalizing the need to consider the issue from a different perspective, and finally showing great respect for each other. This is a partnership at its best.

We must remember that partnerships are living, breathing entities with lives of their own. They can be both exciting and frustrating. Partnerships that function well bring energy to the table. Those that struggle create feelings of frustration and defeat. Yes, there can be setbacks and yes, partnerships flounder and sometimes end. But that does not make them less important. Many times good work is done or started through those partnerships—even failed ones. The relationships built can lay the groundwork for future collaborations.

Why do we do this? It is to make life better for all. In its Building a Culture of Health framework, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlights the importance of partnerships. The framework outlines action areas, all of which assume that partnerships are the foundation for creating healthy and equitable communities. With collaborative efforts at the pinnacle of the work, it raises the importance of partnerships and the individuals that make them up. Because- partnerships are made up of people, who bring the energy, the vision, and the purpose. It is through these individuals that change can happen and that means they are the true success of any partnership.

Renee Frauendienst, RN, PHN, BSN, CPI, is a member of the Stratis Health Board of Directors. She is the director of public health for Stearns County, Minnesota. She serves as a Robert Wood Johnson Public Health Nurse Leader, a program designed to contribute to a culture of health.

*Urban data not available.