Building Belonging and Civic Muscle Through Community Vaccine Mobilization


Young African American girl who just got vaccinated

PHI's Communities RISE Together and partners are expanding belonging and civic capacity by connecting health departments and nontraditional trusted community messengers; connecting trusted messengers with each other; and more.

2.4K organizations across the country, working together as part of Communities RISE Together


As co-founder of Well Being In the Nation (WIN) Network, Rippel’s ReThink Health initiative has worked closely for the past few years with the WIN Network’s executive lead, Somava Saha, MD, a visionary leader dedicated to creating the conditions needed for intergenerational well-being and equity in partnership with people, organizations and communities around the world.

In response to inequities in the rate of COVID-19 vaccinations in many communities of color compared to white areas, and with the surge in COVID-19 cases due to the more transmissible Delta variant, Saha co-led the Public Health Institute’s Communities RISE (Reach, Immunizations, System Change for Equity) Together  (RISE) initiative, an alliance of partners connected to 2400+ organizations across the nation who are deeply rooted in communities and have deep trust with Black, Native-American, Latinx, Asian-American/Pacific-Islander, immigrant/migrant, and low-income older adult populations.

ReThink Health applauds the way RISE partners have orchestrated an equitable COVID-19 response. Their approach has been to consciously expand the circle of belonging among those historically left out, while also strengthening civic muscle across a vast network of people and organizations to achieve success in vaccination and testing. This intentional investment in belonging and civic muscle through ten RISE partners with funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services has led to 44+ million people reached, 215,000 connected to their social and well-being needs, and 184,000+ vaccinated.

Starting with Civic Muscle

When partners first came together to form the RISE initiative to orchestrate a COVID-19 response, they predicted that the places hardest hit by the virus would be the same places hardest hit by historic inequities.

They were right.

At the same time, RISE knew that marginalized communities—whether they were migrant workers or Black faith-based communities—had their own natural infrastructures and a wealth of civic muscle. “They have to navigate incredibly complex systems with a lot of silos where people have to prove they are poor multiple times, to prove they deserve it,” said Saha. “The usual dynamic is set up in a way that communicates they don’t deserve to belong. Somehow, it’s their fault. If we can flip the narrative [to show] that communities experiencing inequities have developed incredible systems of resilience, and if you can trust that as part of the solution we need, what you see is that those communities can lead the way.”

RISE saw the opportunity to create an equity-first approach by tapping into each community’s civic muscle and combining basic needs with vaccination awareness and clinics. By ensuring a disproportionate amount of resources—funding, food, paycheck protection, back to school backpacks—went to the communities, and the trusted messengers of those communities were the ones mobilizing and bringing the resources, they could introduce vaccinations in a trusted environment.

Headshot of Soma Saha, WE in the World
If we could help make it easier by prioritizing resources using an equity-first approach, and if communities could be free to lead through non-traditional connections and relationships, we believed we would get far greater results. And in doing that, we are demonstrating that we can vaccinate thousands of people. Soma Saha, MD

Communities RISE Together Co-Lead & Executive Lead of WE in the World and the WIN Network

RISE partners come together weekly to share their experiences and learning. “One thing I learned is that trust creates new possibilities,” said Saha. “The joy of what we’ve been able to do in RISE through funding from HRSA, the CDC, and others, has been to show that trusted messengers and resourceful communities are creating bridges and making connections across boundaries. In the longer term, we’re seeing next level civic muscle emerge as we discover the possibilities when systemic belonging is led by those who experience inequities bringing their natural gifts of resilience and resourcefulness to change systems and chart their path forward.”

RISE partners are expanding belonging and civic capacity by:

  • Connecting health departments and nontraditional trusted community messengers
  • Connecting trusted messengers with each other and with civic leaders across boundaries
  • Working with traditional and nontraditional vaccine and well-being ambassadors
  • Building communication campaigns to address misinformation and disinformation
  • Using real-time data to drive an equitable and strategic response and resilience strategy

Communities RISE partners include CHROMATIC BLACK, The Center for Popular Democracy, The Hawai’i Public Health Institute, Latino Health Access (LHA), Migrant Clinicians Network, Meals on Wheels America, National Council on Aging, USAging, Public Health Institute/Center to Advance Community Health and Equity, WE in the World Well Being In the Nation Network.

Communities RISE Partners

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Communities RISE Together supports COVID vaccination efforts in African-American, Asian-American/Pacific-Islander, Latinx, Native-American, rural, immigrant/migrant and low-income, older adult populations. Communities RISE Together works on the ground in more than 220 counties in 27 states in communities with low vaccination rates by calling on the capacity of 2,400 community-based organizations who have reached over 100 million people across the nation. The initiative is a collaboration between WE in the World, the Well Being in the Nation (WIN) Network and Public Health Institute.

A version of this impact story first appeared in the ReThink Health blog.

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