Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #7

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Health professionals and health-affected organizations continue to bring powerful voices to a range of environmental campaigns, building on work that was seeded by Beldon more than a decade ago.

Beldon invested in environmental health both to change policy and to help the larger environmental community more effectively reach people beyond its traditional base. As it surveyed the landscape, Beldon chose to invest deeply in health professionals and in organizations that could speak directly to the health effects of chemicals in the environment. By directly funding organizations led by nurses, breast cancer survivors, and others, Beldon sought to add credibility and political muscle to policy campaigns. Many of the advocates whom Beldon supported continue to be active today, and leaders of state and national coalitions consistently highlight the voices of health constituencies in their policy campaigns.

Evidence of Beldon’s ongoing impact can be seen in efforts like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which educates the public and mobilizes consumers to take action. Spearheaded by the Breast Cancer Fund, the campaign has reached mainstream audiences, building awareness about a host of chemicals few people can even pronounce. Among its victories, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics takes credit for helping to convince Johnson & Johnson to commit to using safer ingredients in the cosmetics it produces and distributes worldwide.

Many observers of Beldon’s work point to its signature investment in nurses as both a legacy and a lesson for others. Early on, Beldon recognized the power of nurses as advocates on a local level and power players on federal policy. It invested heavily in the national organization representing nurses, only to discover that internal issues within that organization prevented it from making a meaningful contribution to the effort. This realization disappointed many, and left open the question of whether nurses would disappear from the effort when Beldon’s funding ended. Five years later, high-profile organizations of nurses do not figure prominently at the national level, but nurses are still involved as advocates and spokespeople for environmental health campaigns around the country (see snapshot).

As a close colleague and Beldon partner, the John Merck Fund has continued its work to expand the voices of health professionals and health-affected constituencies. Its focus has been on a slightly different set of players, but its work has been directly informed by the Beldon experience. By helping its grantees frame their campaigns around protecting the population from chemical exposure during their first days and months of life, they are working with health professionals who specialize in prenatal and infant care. Advocates report that the leadership of mainstream medical organizations representing obstetricians and reproductive health doctors has actively taken up the cause, becoming advocates for chemicals policy reform on Capitol Hill. For these professionals, reducing human exposure to chemicals is a high priority.

The ultimate evidence of the effectiveness of Beldon’s strategy to engage constituencies beyond the environmental base is evident in campaigns outside of the chemicals policy arena. Health professionals are actively recruited to join climate and energy debates and are involved in the growing citizen movement to stop the pollution created by the hydraulic fracturing process. Interviewees emphasized the value of the relationships that were built between environmental advocates and these constituencies during the Beldon years, pointing out that the alliances that were formed are now expanding their focus to other pressing environmental health issues.

Snapshot: The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Beldon’s strategy to cultivate and support nontraditional voices in its environmental health program included making grants to organizations with name recognition like the American Nurses Association and the Breast Cancer Fund. In the midst of this cluster of groups was a less obvious grantee: the University of Maryland School of Nursing.

The grant supported the work of Dr. Barbara Sattler, an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing and the Director of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health and Justice. Dr. Sattler was working to integrate environmental health into the curriculum of nursing schools. Given Beldon’s focus on advocacy and policy change, the University of Maryland might seem an unlikely grantee, but Sattler’s passion aligned well with Beldon’s vision. She believed that the next generation of nurses needed to understand the connection between the environment and human health, so that they could be better nurses and more effective advocates for patients, and in their workplaces and communities.

An experienced professional and seasoned activist, Dr. Sattler had worked for years to protect communities from the health effects of pollution. She understood the powerful role that nurses can play in educating others, including policy-makers, and was committed to supporting more nurses as informed advocates and community leaders.

Five years of funding from Beldon enabled Sattler to sustain her work at UMD and incubate an idea for creating an organization to spread the work further. Just as Beldon was making its final grants, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) was born. Sattler draws a direct line between Beldon’s early grants and the work she is doing now. “It was the enabling funding that we got from Beldon that helped us launch.” And she credits Beldon with invaluable support, advice, and introductions to other donors, including a key funder that stepped in to support the work after Beldon left.

Today, ANHE is a network of more than 3,000 nurses working to integrate environmental health into nursing education, greening their work places, and speaking out in public policy debates. Its members are an integral part of the state and national coalitions working on chemicals policy reform. It is also working to help coordinate state nurses associations to be more engaged in these efforts. Environmental health campaign leaders describe ANHE members as “worker bees” and consider them a core part of the field operation, underscoring the value they provide to the collective effort.

ANHE may not have a high public profile, but Dr. Sattler’s commitment to building a national coalition of nurses advocating for a healthy environment is bearing fruit. Although the organization continues to struggle for funding, its members have expanded their scope and are now raising their voices on energy policies, climate change, hydraulic fracturing, and other front-page issues.