Summit Showcases Critical Role of Cross-Sector Partnerships and Community Engagement in Future of Public Health

Fourth Future of Public Health Summit Underscores Power of Partnerships in Improving Community Health

Cross-sector partnerships have been used to improve public health over time and present unique opportunities for the U.S. public health system to engage actively with communities and take on future health challenges, achieve health equity and improve the health of communities. That is a central message from the fourth summit in the Lights, Camera, Action: Future of Public Health series, which brought together leaders from public health, business, philanthropy, academia, the faith community and community organizations.

As summit speakers and panelists highlighted, creating more vibrant and healthy communities could include local community sectors coming together to address clean water issues, or the global community collaborating to eradicate a disease.

“Most multisector public health partnerships will not have a grand global scale, but that does not make these partnerships any less important or impactful. A community working to address food deserts or access to healthcare could be incredibly transformative for the people living in it,” said Judy Monroe, MD, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation.

Strengthening the nation’s public health system is essential to creating strong communities. As summit attendees discussed, partnerships can be utilized to build a diverse and effective public health workforce, improve the quality of data used in the public health system and strengthen the laws, governance and financing of public health.

According to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, “With partnerships, one plus one can often equal five by amplifying resources, reaching more people, gathering like minds to work for the public good. Partnerships should be developed early, so the foundation is in place long before you might need to rely on each other in an emergency. And we must always remember that partnerships are not a one-way street.”

The summit panels explored topics including creating partnerships centered on community voices; harnessing innovation in partnerships to address health challenges; bringing the business and public health sectors together to improve health; and forming collaborations that build trust. The summit presenters highlighted a variety of successful partnerships, including engaging the arts community to address antimicrobial resistance and deploying existing technologies in new ways to solve sanitation and clean water issues in Alaska Native communities.

Building on the topic of establishing trust and sharing power in partnerships, one summit panel highlighted work in Buffalo, NY, that is bringing together the community with the local health system, public health department, university and others to address health inequities.

In describing his approach to partnerships from his community perspective, Pastor George Nicholas of the Buffalo Center for Health Equity noted, “We want to invite you to be in a relationship, in a conversation with us, before we ask you for anything. We want to get to know you, and we want you to get to know us so we can determine if we have a shared vision.”

Kelly Wofford, MS, director of health equity at the Erie County Department of Health, discussed the need to show benefit and impact in collaborations. “You have to be able to have conversations about the social determinants of health. … We need to push that upstream, and to do that you need to have conversations.”

Summit speakers also emphasized the essential role businesses must play in protecting both employee and community health. According to Stephen Massey, managing director of the Health Action Alliance, “It’s become abundantly clear that business is part of public health. … Now is the time for business and public health leaders to work together to strengthen public health. … It’s an important moment where we are aligned, and we can proceed from here.”

In this discussion, Zoraida Rodríguez Montenegro, senior public policy manager at Uber, described several health programs the company has developed, ranging from free rides for mothers to attend pre- and post-natal doctor’s appointments to providing rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites. She also spoke about the need for close dialogue in creating partnerships.

“We need to listen to each other. We have to understand each other and find common ground,” said Rodriguez Montenegro. “We have to design solutions that take into account how health care is delivered in communities, in a way that solves barriers to accessing the target population, things like language, access to tech.”

An important topic of discussion was the concept of systems change and embracing complexity and interconnectedness in partnerships. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer of the American Heart Association, conveyed that systems change involves an authentic commitment to change, intentionality, doing the things that need to be accomplished, change management and what he termed “anticipatory guidance” to ensure everyone knows what is likely to happen in the process.

In summing up the summit series, the CDC Foundation’s Monroe said “Our work is just beginning. Together, what we’ve been able to do through these four summits is look at learnings from the past to plan for the future. And a central event informing much of our conversation is the COVID-19 pandemic, which provided the latest reminder of the vital importance of public health and need for a future-forward, future-ready public health system.”

Full recordings of the fourth summit as well as all previous summits are available on the summit series website at A podcast that builds on the topic of this summit is available on Contagious Conversations.

The United Health Foundation, the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group; the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and The Pew Charitable Trusts are providing initial support for the Lights, Camera, Action Summit Series. This support is aimed at helping to catalyze actions to rebuild confidence, foster health equity and transform our nation’s public health system.

The CDC Foundation convened the summit series in collaboration with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) and other public health partners. The three previous summits in the series focused on achieving a diverse and robust public health workforce, the need to modernize public health data systems and importance of public health law, governance and finance complementing each other.

About the CDC Foundation: The CDC Foundation helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) save and improve lives by unleashing the power of collaboration between CDC, philanthropies, corporations, organizations and individuals to protect the health, safety and security of America and the world. The CDC Foundation is the go-to nonprofit authorized by Congress to mobilize philanthropic partners and private-sector resources to support CDC’s critical health protection mission. Since 1995, the CDC Foundation has raised over $1.6 billion and launched more than 1,200 programs impacting a variety of health threats from chronic disease conditions including cardiovascular disease and cancer, to infectious diseases like rotavirus and HIV, to emergency responses, including COVID-19 and Ebola. The CDC Foundation managed hundreds of programs in the United States and in more than 160 countries last year.

About ASTHO: ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States, and Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice. For more information, visit

About BCHC: The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC) is a forum for the leaders of America’s largest metropolitan health departments to exchange strategies and jointly address issues to promote and protect the health and safety of their residents. Collectively, BCHC member jurisdictions directly impact nearly 62 million people, or one in five Americans. For more information, visit

About NACCHO: The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities. For more information about NACCHO, please visit