Health Forward will use a new $15 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon owner Jeff Bezo, to help the organization deliver on its new mission to build health in communities characterized by racial equity and economically just systems.

Health Forward Foundation has received a one-time gift in the amount of $15 million from philanthropist and author MacKenzie Scott.  

The foundation is an endowed nonprofit that has distributed health-related grants in the greater Kansas City area since the early 2000s. It will use Scott’s donation to advance its new strategic efforts to “support and build inclusive, powerful, and healthy communities characterized by racial equity and economically just systems.” 

“We are delighted to work in partnership with our communities so that this gift has a real and lasting impact,” said Qiana Thomason, Health Forward president/CEO.

The Health Forward board has decided to use the contribution to deepen the organization’s strategic investments, specifically related to health and wealth building and has picked two targeted areas for use of the funds: 

1.  Advancing safe and affordable housing and home ownership and

2.  Increasing representation of people of color in the region’s health sciences workforce.

While they have decided on the areas where they want to focus the funds, they haven’t decided exactly how to best use the funds to have the greatest impact.   

Instead of moving quickly to disburse the funds, Jennifer Sykes, director of communications and narrative change, said the organization will spend the next six to 12 months “on both a housing assessment and workforce assessment that will help inform how we will specifically invest these dollars in those areas.”

“We built our purpose plan by listening, and we will continue to do so as we put this plan into action,” continued Thomason.  

With a net worth of $65.3 billion, MacKenzie Scott is best known as the former wife of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. As of September 2022, she has a reported net worth of $65.3 billion and growing, despite giving away more than $9 billion since announcing her first gifts in July 2020. 

She has a history of giving to equity-oriented nonprofits working in areas that have been neglected and communities that have been historically underfunded and overlooked.

As is her custom, Scott reached out to Health Forward, not the other way around.  

“We didn’t know who it was at the time, just a national philanthropist,” said Sykes about their contact with the benefactor. “They asked us some questions around our history of funding and our new strategic purpose plan.”

“We appreciate the trust Ms. Scott has placed in us to deepen our impact across the Kansas City region,” said Thomason.  

Health Forward will conduct health sciences workforce and housing assessments to inform how to strategically deploy resources in those specific areas.

“Kansas City’s future will be strengthened by meaningfully engaging those who have been historically excluded in designing solutions that redistribute wealth and build health,” said Stephenie Smith, Health Forward board chair. 

This was an especially large gift for Health Forward, an endowed organization that doesn’t normally get contributions but instead grants funding.    

Health Forward’s endowment came from the sale of Health Midwest to HCA, a large for-profit operator of healthcare facilities. The organization started with a large investment and then also received a large settlement as part of a lawsuit with HCA. 

The foundation serves the city of Kansas City, Missouri; Allen, Johnson, and Wyandotte counties in Kansas; and Cass, Jackson, and Lafayette counties in Missouri. Its service area is a mix of urban, rural, and suburban populations.

“Our corpus is around $900 million. Our annual giving is $22 million a year,” said Sykes.  

“This gift is not given to us but through us,” said Thomason. “It is a recognition of the outstanding work taking place in Kansas City to address health equity and the promise of new partnerships and political will to secure a fair and just region.”

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...