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Bernard Tyson, the celebrated former CEO of Kaiser Permanente who passed this past November, was one of the most influential health care leaders of his generation. His sudden death, at the age of 60, left many with the sense that his important crusade—championing the central value of social determinants in human health—would stop as well. Happily, it won’t. Thanks to a new, substantially funded initiative led by his widow, Denise Bradley-Tyson, and the American Heart Association, Bernard Tyson’s work and message have been given an afterlife.
This morning, Bradley-Tyson and the AHA are announcing 10 new investments by the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund that build on the kind of community-strengthening ideas and programs that Tyson promoted as Kaiser Permanente’s CEO. And these investments have some real financial muscle, thanks to a few well-heeled and influential donors who supported Tyson’s efforts when he was alive. Lynne and Marc Benioff have given $1 million to help anchor the fund, as has the foundation of New York philanthropists Elizabeth Elting and Michael Burlant. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has also made a significant donation, though the amount has not been disclosed.
“Bernard was a man on a mission during his time on earth,” says his widow, Bradley-Tyson, who serves as chairman of the executive committee for the fund. “To continue to serve that mission, we have to focus, as he said, on measurable sustainable outcomes.”
Fundamental to the Tyson health care model is simply making sure that people have access to care—and the challenge and urgency of that tenet has been made clear, unfortunately, by COVID, which has disproportionately sickened and killed people of color in the U.S.
There are a number of explanations (or theories) for this—but one widely acknowledged reason is a medical concept called “acute on chronic”: when a person already has a long-standing health condition such as hypertension or diabetes—which are far more prevalent in minority populations in America—they are much more likely to suffer serious consequences from an acute infection.
The Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund hopes to tackle this problem head-on with its inaugural class of “investees” in the Oakland/San Francisco region. Among the Bay Area businesses being supported with financing are ConsejoSano, a for-profit social enterprise that works to improve health outcomes for culturally diverse populations by embracing that diversity, not ignoring it. For starters, that means giving care to patients in their spoken language—including through text messages that encourage people to come in for routine care and health screenings.
On the same front, the fund is also investing in North East Medical Services, a large community health center in San Francisco that focuses on low-income Asian immigrant communities and likewise delivers care in the language of its patients.
Additional investees focus on giving people in underserved and under-resourced communities access to affordable housing. Those include the New York–based nonprofit New Destiny Housing Corporation, and in the Bay Area, Spanish Speaking Unity Council of Alameda County, Inc. (Unity Council). Still other financing recipients, all of which are minority-owned and/or led, focus on providing local communities, either in New York or in Northern California, with better access to nutritious food, with tools to build their financial resiliency, or access to mental-health-care services.
All of these themes were woven into Bernard Tyson’s holistic vision of human health. It was nearly impossible for a person to be physically, mentally, and emotionally well, he believed, if they were living in surroundings of violence, had little access to healthy foods, or had no roof over their head. Frighteningly, those descriptions apply to the environment in which some 15% of the U.S. population lives. An estimated 50 million people in the U.S. are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease because they lack necessities such as healthy food, a clean and safe environment, quality education, and housing, according to the American Heart Association, where Tyson long served on the national board of directors.
Beyond its mission to spread this understanding of human health, the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund is also exploring innovative ways to invest for social impact. “The way we’re supporting ConsejoSano is actually interesting in the sense that this is the first time we’re doing a convertible note,” says Raymond Guthrie, the fund’s managing director. “So it starts as a grant, but then it’s mixed with a convertible note that converts based on how much impact they’re creating, measured on metrics that we advise. And then, at the end, if they do hit certain impact metrics, that equity actually converts for the founders.”
A core tenet of the fund, Guthrie says, is that it should be regenerative capital, meaning that its aim is to generate more returns for the community, not extract those returns. “A lot of impact funds are actually buying companies,” says Guthrie, “and we want to create more equity for these great entrepreneurs while also driving more impact.”
To learn more or make an investment to the Bernard J. Tyson Impact Fund, visit the website.