How The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Has Influenced Health Policy – And My Own Life – For Five Decades (Forbes)

FORBES | Private foundations in America play a unique and vital role in advancing social progress. That is well known.  What is less recognized is the impact such Foundations have on individuals who work within them. This story is a personal one.

In January, I completed a decade of service on the Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America’s largest philanthropy devoted to health. While many Americans may not be familiar with this organization, it has made a major impact on U.S. health policy and on the health of all Americans. More personally, it has transformed my own life and thinking as well.

Understanding the Impact of the Foundation

My experience with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) began in 1975. Almost 50 years ago, it was my first time in the RWJF board room. I was accompanying Anne Somers, professor, healthcare expert, and co-author with her husband Herman Somers of the classic Doctors, Patients and Health Insurance: The Organization and Financing of Medical Care. I had spent a year with her while a student at Princeton, assisting with research in updating her book.

Entering the striking new Foundation building, I was in awe of the place. I met Gustav O. Lienhard, the storied Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who had served for years at Johnson & Johnson with CEO Robert Wood Johnson, and was personally selected by Mr. Johnson to head the Foundation. The Foundation had been “propelled to full growth” as explained in its 1972 annual report, transitioning from a local philanthropy to one of national importance nearly overnight as Mr. Johnson left a bequest of over 10 million Johnson & Johnson shares (valued at about $1 billion) to launch the Foundation to new heights. The report explained, “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s resources represent the largest single source of private capital to support new efforts in the health field.”

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