My Great Policy Challenge — Hello From Ani

Ani Koch
Director of Programs, Rainbow Health Initiative
My Great Policy Challenge

I have been working at Rainbow Health Initiative (RHI) for about 3 years. Policy work is nothing new for us, in fact we have always worked on tobacco policy development with organizations, businesses, events and so on.  The types of policies we work towards have changed over the past couple years as we have expanded our priorities areas to include physical activity and healthy eating.

Another thing that has changed is our frame of mind: we now look at every part of our work – every program activity and every professional relationship – as an opportunity for policy change.  No matter the priority area, every policy I have helped to create has started on the very same foundation: a strong relationship between RHI and the organization or individual capable of making the policy change. That can be the hard part: making the time to cultivate relationships, enter strategic community partnerships, and work with others where they are at…. and then talk about tobacco related health disparities.

I recently had an exciting epiphany: I literally woke up one day and realized I had dozens of relationships that I had not thought to leverage toward a policy goal. And relationships are what it’s all about.  So, right there in bed, I made a list of every Executive Director, small business owner, and event promoter I knew that could have a tobacco policy. Now, I have set out to change as many policies as I possibly can in the next 4 months. Specifically I would like to pass 4 per month for a total of 16 by Pride at the end of June.  To keep things interesting I would a like at least 2 of these to be specific to healthy eating and physical activity.

If you think policy change is some really abstract, overwhelming thing, let me give you a real-life example of how achievable it really is.

In an effort to capitalize on existing relationships I called up my chiropractor to have dinner. Dr. Rhys Preston has a history of working with people through all kinds of addictions. He is also a leader in the LGBTQ community who has recently taken an interest in tobacco control work. I asked Preston if he would be willing to hear about a project I am working on at RHI. I proceeded to tell him about tobacco in our community, what a policy looks like, and why policies are important.

Rhys was on board from the beginning- so I was preaching to the choir. I set up a follow up meeting where we put together the policy for Preston Chiropractic and Fitness Clinic bit by bit until we were comfortable with it. Dr. Preston has also agreed to introduce me to several friends and colleagues of his that are small business owners, like Ali Sands.

Ali Sands, has a massage therapy practice and happens to be married to Rhys. This was a natural next step as the two have some overlap with their clientele. Ali also has a personal commitment to health and wellness and is well known in the LGBTQ community. Ali Sands CMT looks much different business wise, so I asked to have lunch with her and talk to her about a project I am working on. Ali agreed, and during the lunch we actually crafted a tobacco policy for her business. Like Rhys, Ali is also excited about tobacco control work in LGBTQ communities and is more than willing to introduce me to other business owners that she knows.

I hope these examples serve well for folks to get out there and work on voluntary health policy! I will be sure to keep my stories coming and document everything along the way. 2 Down, 14 to go.  🙂

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