In search of global solutions for better health


Karabi Acharya


Bagels, pita, naan, lavash, focaccia, muffins – each time I visit my local grocery store, the bread aisle reminds me that good ideas have no borders.

I’m fortunate to work at a philanthropy that also embraces this mindset; that recognizes that programs, policies and approaches that work in Sweden, Indonesia, Zambia, and other nations, could also work for the U.S.

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation we have a vision of an America where everyone has the opportunity to live the healthiest life possible – regardless of who they are, how much they earn, or where they live. And to get to this vision, which we call a Culture of Health, we know we’ll need the best ideas that the world has to offer.

We’re actively learning from a large number of countries around the world – from countries at all income levels – about how they have created large-scale change to improve health and well-being. We’re inspired by their successes and we’re exploring how to adapt their good ideas to work in the United States.

But there’s no shortage of good ideas out there and we want to learn about more of them, and hear from more countries and regions around the world.

That’s why we just announced that we’re investing a total of $2.5 million dollars in learning from the world about how best to address social isolation and build meaningful social connections in the United States.

Social connections can help us thrive. Our family and friends give our lives purpose and meaning. When we feel part of our communities, we live longer, healthier lives. In fact, research has shown that greater social connection is associated with a 50 per cent reduced risk of dying early.

But not everyone has a robust social network to call on when they fall on hard times. Many people feel disconnected from society and from life, and that contributes to a host of physical, mental and emotional health problems.

School children, teens, new mothers, LGBT people, recent immigrants, rural dwellers, even millennials with thousands of Facebook friends, often feel excluded or like they don’t belong.

Social isolation is a growing epidemic worldwide, and many nations are working hard to find solutions.

The United Kingdom recently launched its Campaign to End Loneliness to encourage individuals and government to take action and help people in their communities feel more connected.

Japan is trying to figure out how best to respond to the hikikomori phenomenon, as the number of young Japanese people who haven’t left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months rises. We want to learn from these journeys, and test out solutions that have worked in other countries.

Equally, there are countries and regions, such as the Caribbean, and Central and South America, that rank high when it comes to the social well-being and happiness of their people, and have much to teach us about strengthening social connection in the United States.

I spent a great deal of my career exporting American ideas abroad. Now I’m excited to be in the position to learn from the rest of the world.

If you have a good idea for how to address social isolation and promote meaningful social connections across all ages and life stages – one that just might work for the United States – talk with us. Visit to learn more.

Karabi Acharya is Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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