Why is the California Endowment Funding an Asthma Project led by New England Companies?

Or, the more accurate question might be, why on earth are two New England companies seeking funding from the California Endowment? We’ll leave all further speculation on that one up to you. The most interesting angle to this story, for us, is how two companies based on opposite coasts attracted the attention of the geographically specific California Endowment, and acquired $660,000 in funding for their project.

Social Finance, Inc., a Boston-based social change investment company, and Collective Health, a Connecticut-based social enterprise have teamed up to create the country’s first-ever health-focused Social Impact Bond, and apparently the California Endowment wants to be part of the magic. The initiative, which will operate in Fresno, CA, seeks to reduce asthma among low-income children by homing in on preventable in-home asthma triggers and reducing emergency room visits. The project will provide two hundred low-income families with asthmatic children with home-based education and support—and, it’s hoped, the tools they need to better manage the ailment in-home. Meanwhile, Collective Health will collect data and measure insurance claims reductions among participants, while Social Finance will strategize and begin planning for a much larger-scale roll-out of the project, complete with big-time investors.

The project is about more than just improving health, it’s about reducing healthcare costs, too, which makes the California Endowment’s involvement particularly noteworthy. While a foundation like the Washington, D.C.-based Commonwealth Fund, which has a program dedicated to initiatives that contain healthcare costs, might be an intuitive choice to fund a project like this, the California Endowment’s support is quite unexpected. The foundation has a long history of supporting health access initiatives that target low-income or disadvantaged neighborhoods—and this asthma project is certainly no exception to that rule—but the emphasis on data collection and analysis and the overall goal of lowering costs isn’t what you’d expect from such an altruistic foundation.

It will be interesting to see whether this new project signals the start of a shift, or a new funding priority, at the California Endowment, or whether they’re just dabbling. Maybe the larger lesson for funding hopefuls is to be daring and not deterred by geographical factors when approaching the California Endowment—you might just get lucky.