In the Breast Cancer Fight, New Donor Attention to Race and Inequity

Today, the Centers for Disease Control published a study that shows that U.S. women are less likely to die of breast cancer than a decade ago, but that progress is coming much slower for African-American women. That's a disturbing finding—you shouldn't be more likely to die because you're black—but it's hardly surprising, as Otis Brawley, chief medical and scientific officer for the American Cancer Society, explained to NPR: "Forty to 50 percent of black women get less than optimal care for breast cancer, whether it's mammography or treatment," he said.

One question raised by these facts is what philanthropy might be doing to ensure more equitable care and outcomes? 

Well, as it turns out, there's some new action on this front. Not long ago, the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced a major strategy to reduce the country's breast cancer deaths by 50 percent over the next 10 years. In part, it plans on doing this by “improving access to quality and timely care for the underserved.”

To advance this work, Komen recently landed a $27 million grant from the Fund II Foundation, which is run by one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the U.S.

That would be Robert F. Smith, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, a private equity firm that manages over $14 billion in equity capital commitments. Smith, who has a net worth of some $2.5 billion, is the founding director and chairman of the Fund II Foundation.  

Fund II’s mission is “To preserve the African-American experience; safeguard human rights; provide music education; preserve the environment while promoting the benefits of the outdoors; and sustain critical American values such as entrepreneurialism.”

Fund II’s $27 million will establish the Komen African-American Health Equity Initiative. According to Komen, black women are nearly 40 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, adding that in certain cities, that disparity can be as high as 74 percent.

RelatedRobert F. Smith

The initiative plans to target 10 cities in the United States—with Memphis, Dallas, Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit among the chosen cities—in which the breast cancer diagnoses are mortality rates among black women are the highest, with a goal of reducing the mortality gap by at least 25 percent within the next five years. Eventually, the Komen and the Fund II Foundation would like to expand the initiative nationwide.

Reducing disparities in high-quality breast cancer care is at the heart of the initiative’s efforts, but it will also be working toward advancing for “aggressive and metastatic disease” while leveraging new technologies to detect early stage breast cancer to prevent it from recurring and metastasizing. 

RelatedKomen’s Push to Ensure Talented Young Researchers Don’t Ignore Breast Cancer

The Fund II Foundation, while a bit of a mystery, is becoming a powerful funding force these days. Earlier this year, the foundation and the United Negro College Fund launched a $48 million scholarship program to benefit black students who are interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, or STEM.  

The Susan G. Komen Foundation hasn’t been without its controversies over the past few years. Many were confounded by its 2012 decision to pull its grant funding from Planned Parenthood. Komen later backtracked on its decision, but the damage was done. In 2013, contributions had dropped by 22 percent. The Planned Parenthood controversy was followed by a CEO salary flap, while a $100,000 donation it accepted from a fracking company didn't do Komen’s reputation any favors.

But the Susan G. Komen Foundation has been rebuilding its image and working overtime to foster public goodwill for the past few years. Giving greater attention to equity issues should certainly help in this regard. 

Related: What Was Komen Thinking?