At The Top of DiversityInc’s List for Diversity in Philanthropy, This Is What We Know


As the first Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm once said, “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.” While this statement was delivered half a century ago, the message still rings true and describes the approach The Humana Foundation has taken in its work to address the social determinants of health. We believe this is why this year, Humana jumped from number seven to number one on DiversityInc’s list for Top Employers for Diversity in Philanthropy.  DiversityInc conducts a data-driven analysis of diversity management practices in corporate America every year, with results derived from corporate survey submissions from companies with at least 750 employees. The companies are evaluated within the context of their own industries and in 2020, more than 1,800 companies participated.  Since the announcement was made, we have received a lot of questions about how we achieved this jump.  While we cannot answer this definitively, we can share what we are doing and what we have learned as we find new ways to advance health equity.

Diversity and equity are built into our work and purpose. The mission of The Humana Foundation is to co-create communities where leadership, culture and systems work to improve and sustain positive health outcomes. We do this by focusing on health equity and the root-cause, social determinants of health that affect it.  We determined that food security, financial asset security, social connectedness and post-secondary attainment were integral to achieving whole-person health. Numerous studies have shown that marginalized communities lag behind their white counterparts in these, and other areas. A recent health equity issue brief published by Humana included a survey of Humana Medicare Advantage members and their unmet social needs. Non-white members ranked higher in unmet needs across all needs measured (financial strain, food insecurity, housing insecurity, housing quality, loneliness or isolation, transportation and utilities issues).  Although these factors fall outside the realm of what has traditionally been considered healthcare, we have learned that they are very much a part of it.  A deficiency in any of these can have profound impacts on a person’s ability to achieve their best health.  

We have been agile in responding to the changing world we live in. We strive to be agile in our thinking and in our investments and we partner with organizations that are doing the same.  The challenges of 2020, both the COVID-19 pandemic and increased calls for racial justice, shed new light on the multitude of inequities faced by marginalized communities.  The pandemic exacerbated or caused new instability for many and made the services that our partners provide more critical than ever.  In response to the pandemic, we shifted our giving. We invested an additional $50 million dollars into COVID-19 relief efforts, with a strong focus on food security. We saw that the need was greater than ever, and at the same time, providing services that create food security, financial security and social connectedness could not be performed under existing models because of the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus.  This required our partners to rethink how they delivered their services, and it required us to be flexible as the use of funds we had given them for the year shifted to meet the new and changing needs presenting by the pandemic. We were heartened by their quick thinking and innovation.  We learned that you cannot stay stuck in old modes of thinking or stay attached to our original investment plans.  We knew we had to keep equity at the forefront and not further imperil those who were already fragile.  We showed up with agility in funding and could not be more proud of the way our partners found new solutions whose usefulness will extend past the pandemic.

We celebrate diversity within our organization. Even as we focus on advancing equity for diverse populations in the communities The Foundation serves, we also have worked hard to build a team internally that reflects a wide diversity of backgrounds, perspective and experience.  We have created a space where individuals can bring their whole selves to work and we work hard to build trust within our teams.  This allows all associates to experience the psychological safety necessary to share their unique knowledge and ideas and to speak up during difficult conversations.  We come up with better solutions when all perspectives are heard.

We do more than fund, we invest. We use the word invest because, much like our parent company, we are investing in results, rather than funding programs.  It’s a change of mindset about corporate philanthropy and it helps us align more intentionally with Humana Inc.  Both The Humana Foundation and Humana Inc are being intentional in working with partners with aligned values who share Humana’s goal of closing health equity gaps.  Deploying SMIRF capital, which refers to social, moral, intellectual, reputational and financial capital is also important to us creating true partnership with the non-profits we invest in.  We not only fund intentionally but are also intentional in how we use our other resources to support and deepen partnerships provide platforms for discussion, support and lift the work of our and, how it engages the full spectrum of its corporate assets to ensure the results are positive – for the business and for its communities.  A recent example of deployment of SMIRF capital is our investment in Simmons College. In 2020, The Humana Foundation invested in Simmons College, Louisville’s only HBCU to help close the online learning gap. This investment took on a new importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and will allow students to continue their education during this unprecedented time.  In addition to financially investing in this transition to online learning, Humana associates with technical knowledge volunteered to assist in building tools and training to help with the transition. Money is important, but showing up with people who can help is equally important to partnerships like this.  We believe that SMIRF capital is so important that we are now including a question on our grant application that asks what kind of non-monetary support they’d like to receive from us.  Listening to the needs of the community is an important part of respecting their diversity and offering support that is actually helpful and desired.

Whether companies work through their corporate giving program or a corporation’s affiliated foundation, corporate philanthropy must continue to transform and evolve to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Meeting those needs must consider the diversity of communities and individuals, rather than offering one-size-fits-all solutions that require communities to bend and hide their uniqueness. The story behind Humana and The Humana Foundation’s 2021 Top Company for Diversity in Philanthropy recognition is about how we are thinking differently. We are more committed than ever to diversity, equity and inclusion and will remain agile as we move forward.

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