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Root Cause Analysis: The Bedrock of Our Mission for Community Health and Empowerment

On our journey to create meaningful change, we at the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation (JBRF) have long recognized the power of understanding the core issues that plague the most vulnerable communities, to have maximum impact. This understanding is undergirded by a method known as root cause analysis (RCA), a systematic process used to identify the underlying reasons for a problem. By asking “why” at each layer of an issue, we can delve deeper into the true origins of a complex challenge that moves us beyond superficial symptoms and uncovers the core factors.

RCA is not just a tool. It’s a practice that helps individuals listen carefully and investigate deeply, peeling back the layers of a problem to discover what is happening and why it’s happening. This approach is crucial in our work at JBRF, particularly in our collaboration with Black Women Thriving East of the River (BWTEotR). Together, we’re tackling complex issues like disparities in cancer care for Black women in Wards 7 and 8 of Washington D.C., where systemic barriers and social inequities intertwine.

Why RCA Matters in Our Work

For us, RCA is a way of ensuring that our interventions are effective, inclusive, and grounded in lived experience. By understanding the root causes of problems, we can design impactful, sustainable, and respectful solutions for the communities we serve.

The findings from our RCA with BWTEotR are stark and revealing. They highlight how the multifaceted barriers that Black women face in accessing cancer care are centered in systemic racism that manifests in myriad ways as both financial and structural barriers. These findings underscore the importance of addressing not just the symptoms of the problem but also the systemic structures that perpetuate these inequities. The 2017 “Our Region, Our Giving ” report published by the Philanthropy DMV stated how funders can apply a racial equity lens to their grantmaking portfolio even if they are not explicitly funding racial equity work. There is a way to address the root causes of racial disparities. 

Implementing RCA in Our Community Work

Our approach to implementing RCA focuses on listening and learning from the community. This approach has led to a deeper understanding of the barriers to access to cancer care and has informed our strategies for intervention. We posit that the expression of misogynoir in implicit, conscious, and unconscious bias is a contributing factor in the disparities faced by Black women living East of the River. A few solutions to address this systemic issue are to provide training to healthcare providers, resources to Black women, and ways to increase the number of Black women in the healthcare workforce. For instance, one of the most significant insights from our RCA is the need for increased representation of Black female healthcare providers. This finding came directly from the community’s expressed need for culturally rooted care, highlighting the importance of providers who not only understand but also empathize with the unique challenges that Black women face. 

Crafting Solutions With Community at the Center

In our journey with RCA, we have affirmed the importance of trust-based philanthropy and the value of the insights provided by the lived experience. It is not enough to fund projects; we must engage with and listen to the communities we serve. Our approach to RCA is deeply human-centric. Behind every data point is a real person with a story of struggle and resilience. For example, one BWTEotR member shared, “We are battling more than cancer. We are fighting a system that often seems indifferent to our suffering.” This sentiment encapsulates why RCA is crucial — it brings to light the human impact of systemic failures. It allows us to tailor our interventions to meet the community’s real needs. Black women’s lived experiences provide invaluable insights beyond what any dataset can reveal. Their stories, struggles, and resilience are at the heart of our analysis.

The insights we have gained from our RCA have led us to focus on enhancing patient navigation services and advocating for policy changes to increase the number of Black health professionals trained, recruited, and hired in D.C. These solutions don’t just check the right boxes, but are actionable steps we can take toward dismantling the barriers that have long hindered Black women’s access to quality health care in Wards 7 and 8  communities.

As we continue to use RCA in our work, we invite other organizations to join us in this critical mission. The challenges we face are not isolated issues; they are symptoms of broader systemic problems that require collective action. We can only create a more equitable and just society by addressing these systemic challenges’ root causes.

We believe that philanthropy needs to evolve beyond mere financial support. It must be a collaborative, community-centered endeavor that values the voices and experiences of those it seeks to help. Our work with BWTEotR is a testament to this belief — a belief in the power of understanding, empathy, and action to bring about lasting change.

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