Leadership Transition and Continuity at Human Impact Partners
By Jonathan Heller & Lili Farhang
I am excited to share that after almost 14 amazing years leading Human Impact Partners, I will be stepping down as Co-Director in December. Lili Farhang, who joined me as Co-Director seven years ago, will be staying on, much as I had hoped. With our terrific board and staff, she’ll be leading HIP into the future. I am incredibly proud of what we have all created together and excited to watch HIP continue to make a huge impact going forward. (Read Lili’s own message below 💬).
Rajiv Bhatia and I founded Human Impact Partners in 2006 to advance the use of Health Impact Assessment to support communities advocating for health-beneficial changes in Bay Area housing, transportation and land use. Quickly, we expanded to working across California and then across the US, on a range of issues, including economic security, immigration reform, and criminal justice. We helped grow the HIA field, ensure its focus on equity and democracy, and contributed to the widespread adoption of the principles at the heart of HIA in public health and beyond.
Importantly, our efforts — alongside the incredibly hard work of our community organizing and advocacy partners — led to real changes and tangible improvements in people’s lives. Changes such as: investments in affordable housing, parks, and public transit; passage of paid sick days policies, increases in the minimum wage, and policies that prevent wage theft; sentencing reform, alternatives to incarceration for caretakers, and expansion of diversion programs. We helped get a skatepark built, raise the age of incarceration, and disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. And much, much more.
And, it turns out, that was only the start.
Our focus on building power as the key to advancing equity — and confronting racism and other forms of oppression that are used to maintain power imbalances — and our strong belief that public health agencies and government more generally must be part of the solution, led us to new territory.
We are now building the capacity of health departments to translate their interest in health equity into concrete strategies and actions. We started an equity-focused leadership development program for folks in public health agencies. We’ve supported health departments to partner with local community organizing groups for the first time.
We’re pioneering narrative change work in public health, recognizing the need to shift mindset and worldview to advance equity. We’re organizing and mobilizing the wider public health community to advocate at the local, state, and federal level. All the while, we continued our commitment to research — expanding our tools beyond HIA — to support grassroots organizers and their campaigns.
In short, we contributed to a shift in the field of public health to activate its power — its data and research, resources, framing and narrative, voice, and people — to work for equity and social justice.
There is a lot to be proud of, and even more that I am appreciative of. I have learned an incredible amount from all of you. When I started this work, I had little familiarity with public health, community organizing, and many issues we work on.
You have been my teachers, patient as I learned. You shared your wisdom, partnership, friendship, trust, and solidarity. You pushed me and us to do more, to go deeper. You are the reason HIP has accomplished all that it has. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I’ll reach out to many of you with specific thanks and appreciations, but I want to shine a light on a few of you here:
- Rajiv, who took a leap of faith to co-found HIP with me and has been a guide and mentor all along the way
- Lili, who has simply been a terrific, terrific partner in leading this organization
- HIP’s Board Chairs — Pronita Gupta, ST Mayer, and Shireen Malekafzali — who have supported me and us in so many ways over the years
- Connie Cagampang Heller, whose constant behind the scenes support and ideas have greatly contributed to HIP’s and my success
- And our current and former board and staff, whose dedication, ideas, hard work, risk-taking, and leadership have made HIP into the thriving and impactful organization that you all know today.
I look forward to taking a few months off before starting to figure out the next phase of my life. With one kid in college, and another starting in not too long, I’ll have many life changes to ruminate on. I’ll continue to stay engaged in HIP’s work as needed as an advisor, so this isn’t the end of our relationship.
I am, of course, sad and emotional about leaving HIP and my work with you. But I’m also truly excited about what will come next for me, and to see HIP make meaningful, equity-promoting change in partnership with all of you in the years to come.
Friends, family, and colleagues,
It was almost 10 years ago when Jonathan asked me to join him at Human Impact Partners. I came from 10+ years of governmental public health work, and until he convinced me to come to HIP, I hadn’t had any experience running a non-profit organization.
I was a different person then. I didn’t have children. I had only recently gotten married. I didn’t have a single grey hair! In some ways, it feels like eons ago. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday.
My heart is full of appreciation for the chance he took on me and for his vision of shared leadership. In 2012, when I became HIP’s Co-Director, it was quite unusual for an existing founder and executive director to say to the staff and Board, “Hey, you know what, I think that I can be a better leader if Lili and I do this together.” He saw the value of shared leadership for organizational sustainability and stability, and he was explicit that we should align our values of equity with our internal practices. It’s been an unabashed success and we remain committed to the model.
Thank you Jonathan, for that vision, and for the opportunity you and the Board gave me to join HIP, an organization that has accomplished so much since its founding.
My heart is also full of optimism and anticipation. How can my leadership feel and be different? How can our staff step into new opportunities? How can we grow and stretch our vision and our strategies? I love where Human Impact Partners is today AND I am so very excited to pave a new path together with all of you.
I’m now deep into motherhood and my hair is more grey than black. But one thing hasn’t changed since I first came to HIP. This is a special organization with a big vision of health, equity, and justice for all people — and we’re not afraid to do our part in the struggle to achieve that vision. I so look forward to continuing this work, and to making meaningful changes in people’s lives, with all of you.
Please join me in thanking Jonathan for standing strong in this vision, for his commitment to HIP, and for his partnership with all of us.
With deep appreciation,