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      HomeOur CompanyOur societal impact Global Health Equity Transforming the future of health: Meet the innovators improving health disparities in their communities
      Men laughing in a barber shop

      Transforming the future of health: Meet the innovators improving health disparities in their communities

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      You might not think of barbers or hairstylists as working on the front lines preventing heart disease. But thanks to one groundbreaking California startup, a visit to the salon for a haircut can now also help people live longer, healthier lives.

      Oben Health, an AI-enabled care model embeds preventive care services in Los Angeles barbershops and salons to screen clients—the majority of whom are Black and Brown—for conditions like heart disease. Barbers are recruited, trained and compensated by Oben Health and its partners to encourage customers to take actionable steps critical to their health, like managing their blood pressure. This model provides a localized solution that meets patients where they are. It’s one of many innovative organizations that Johnson & Johnson is backing to advance health equity in communities of color across the United States.

      Empowering innovators through the Health Equity Innovation Challenge
      Johnson & Johnson came to support Oben Health after CEO and Founder Peter Njongwe responded to the Health Equity Innovation Challenge.

      The Health Equity Innovation Challenge was designed to cultivate creative approaches to scale new ways to help people of color access quality, culturally conscious care, offering a grant opportunity, mentorship and resources, including those at Johnson & Johnson and its global life science network for innovation, JLABS.

      Oben Health was named one of five winners, selected from a pool of 140 applicants by Spelman College and an independent judging committee. Each winner is helping communities screen for, prevent and treat illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancers that impact people of color at higher rates. Other awardees include: SisterLove Incorporated, which enhances HIV/STI prevention in Atlanta; Dion’s Chicago Dream, which addresses food security in Chicago; the Greater NYC Black Nurses Association, which is creating pathways to nursing for students of color in New York City; and Students Run Philly Style, which provides mentorship through running for high school students in Philadelphia.

      “By betting on grassroots initiatives, we are investing in the very fabric of change: local leaders who intimately understand the needs and challenges of their communities,” said Dr. Helene Gayle M.D., M.P.H., President, Spelman College. “Their proximity, empathy and innovative approaches are the driving forces behind improving health outcomes.”

      Njongwe said the funding and mentorship offered by the program will “catalyze efforts to innovate more effectively, ensuring that vital healthcare services are within reach of those who need them most.”

      “Through collaboration with experts from Johnson & Johnson, we can implement our innovative program to provide nursing students with mentorship and healthcare education to improve the health of underserved communities,” said Kellie Bryant, Second Vice President of the Greater NYC Black Nurses Association, which will use the funding to inspire the next generation of nurses and increase the diversity of the nursing workforce.

      Impact investing in diverse health startups
      Local health solutions are effective because they are designed by people with a unique understanding of the experiences and challenges of the people they know best—their neighbors. The Health Equity Innovation Challenge is one of several ways in which Johnson & Johnson seeks to empower community innovators with a deep understanding of racial health inequities.

      The Challenge complements the efforts of funds like Impact Ventures by J&J Foundation to support entrepreneurs developing businesses that are advancing health equity. Impact Ventures invests directly in startups and works with other organizations to give entrepreneurs the resources they need early to grow their businesses. One key collaboration includes work with Village Capital. Earlier this month Village Capital announced a new program, LIFT: Accelerating Equitable Health Innovation 2024, for startups that are addressing disparities in the social drivers of health. The winning cohort of ten startups will be announced this summer. To learn more about Impact Ventures, please sign up for our newsletter here.

      Growing health equity from the grassroots
      Despite advancements in healthcare, alarming health inequities persist. Studies show that people of color in the U.S. face disparities in access to health care, quality of care and mortality. Closing this dangerous gap requires supporting health visionaries who ask hard questions to transform health in their communities.

      The Health Equity Innovation Challenge and Impact Ventures’ collaboration with Village Capital each play a part in Johnson & Johnson’s expanded commitments to health equity, . These collaborations uplift more than 100 exceptional local organizations reshaping community care.

      By empowering grassroots changemakers, together we can help Black and Brown people in marginalized communities across the country access the care they deserve.

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