The ecohealth system and the community engagement movement in foundations: A case study of mutual benefits from grants funded by the United Nations Foundation
Ecohealth is a process for identifying key environmental determinants causing mortality or morbidity and combating them by mobilizing multiple social sectors. Evolving out of the concept of environmental health, ecohealth provides a framework for long-term sustainability. The health outcomes anticipated by environmental interventions are part of a long-term agenda and require fundamental groundwork for the growth of community-driven development. Building long-term sustainability requires that two key approaches be developed through ecohealth. The first is the strengthening of local community institutions, whether formal or informal. The second is building financial mechanisms that are more diversified and less reliant on a single donor. As a result, the ecohealth system provides an opportunity for foundations to empower communities, build cross-cutting cooperation, and gain knowledge through projects. If people's environmental behaviour is to change and be sustained in the long term to produce desired health outcomes, this will require all members of society to be capable of functioning within the existing institutional infrastructure. This means that not only do formal institutions need to become more accessible but also that concepts relating to local informal institutions must be incorporated into ecohealth projects. It is imperative that we identify and understand relevant local institutions and how they can be transformed so that new environmental forms of behaviour can be sustained and result in positive health outcomes. The intersection of environmental and health concerns provides an ideal area in which the gap between government and civil society can be bridged — not only providing solutions to ecohealth concerns, but building government capacity in general and making these positive changes sustainable in the long term. This article is a case study, based on several United Nations Foundation grants. It outlines the significance of traditional community organizations, the breadth of their long-term relations with communities, their resources, and the adoption of sustained forms of behaviour. In addition, the article highlights the role that international foundations can play in creating innovative financing mechanisms through community-based foundations.