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Our Story

The big moments in our foundation’s life.

When we began grantmaking in 1992, we were California’s largest health conversion foundation. Why? In part, because activists fought for a fairly valued endowment when Health Net converted from a nonprofit to a for-profit insurance plan. Over the years, we have taken on some of the most contentious issues of our time, all focused on advancing health and wellness for underserved people. Our earliest efforts connected public health and gun violence prevention, and supported teen pregnancy prevention, healthy working conditions and place-based grantmaking that took a broader view of health.

With $1 billion in assets, we are one of California’s largest public health philanthropic institutions. We award approximately $43 million annually in grants and program-related investments that promote health equity, justice and advocacy for communities and individuals whose lives and wellness are too often determined by their race, income, immigration status or where they live. Throughout our 30-year history, we have played a leadership role in promoting violence prevention as a public health issue and are one of the nation’s leading philanthropic voices in funding gun violence prevention efforts. We launched initiatives to advance the health of Black women, particularly those with HIV-AIDS and formerly incarcerated women experiencing challenges to reentry.

In addition, we continue to expand our mission-related investment strategy and invest our endowment with diverse asset managers, particularly people of color and women, who now account for over 45% of our managers.

Here are some of our key moments.

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2020-2021: Looking Ahead

We sought to be a leader in 2020, and inspire peer foundations to stretch as well, because addressing racism and structural inequities requires each and every one of us. Learn more in this blog.

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2020: Rapid Response Grantmaking

COVID-19 pandemic and widescale uprising for racial justice leads to more than $14 million in rapid response grantmaking.

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2019: New Payout Policy

Our board approves a new payout policy allowing for increase from 5 - 6% disbursement, plus mechanism for special distribution.

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2018: Surpassed $1 Billion in Grants

Since 1992, we have awarded over 9,000 grants totaling $1 billion+. We’re honored to have partnered with incredible organizations, leaders, and coalitions to advance the health and wellness of Californians.

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2018: Established Initiatives to Improve Health of Women of Color

We launched two initiatives: one to specifically address the health challenges facing African American and Latina women, and the other to improve the chances that formerly incarcerated women can rebuild their lives.

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2017: Launched the Advance & Defend Campaign

When extreme political and social divisions threatened our collective wellness, we jumped into action. We committed to deploy all of our resources, from our grantmaking dollars, to convening power, to raising our voices, to advance and defend wellness.

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2016: Generated Solutions to Gun Violence

Building upon our legacy of work in gun violence prevention, after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, CA, we hosted the Enough! Summit to generate solutions to gun violence. The Hope and Heal Fund was born out of this summit.

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2014: Appointed Judy Belk President & CEO of the Foundation

Judy Belk joined Cal Wellness, bringing more than 25 years of senior management experience in the philanthropic, government, nonprofit and corporate sectors.

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2010: Invested in the Affordable Care Act in California

We began to invest significant funds to support successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act in California.

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1998: Spotlighted Teen Pregnancy

We launched “Get Real About Teen Pregnancy,” a multimedia public education campaign aimed at building support for policies to reduce teen pregnancy.

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1994: Public Education Grant Helped Defeat Tobacco Measure

Through a $4 million public education grant, we helped defeat a measure that would have severely weakened controls on tobacco.

Young people hold up signs at rally against gun violence.
1994: Launched 10-Year Campaign on Handgun Violence Education

We started the California Peace Prize to honor individuals working to prevent violence and promote peace in their communities.

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1993: First Major Grant Program Focused on Preventing Violence

We committed $30 million over six years, applying a public health approach to disease as our model to address the epidemic of gun violence.

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1992: We Opened Our Doors When Health Net Converted

Our foundation was established when Health Net, one of the state’s largest health care and insurance providers, converted from nonprofit to for-profit status.

Photo credit: Photos 9, 10: Greg Bartlett @shinyfilms

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