Ryan McConnell is a program officer with The Health Foundation Greater Indianapolis (THFGI). Get to know Ryan in this member spotlight. He talks about what inspires him, an upcoming health conference he's organizing right now, and how THFGI is using public/private partnerships to improve Hoosier health.
What’s happening at your organization?
A lot of exciting things are happening, including an expansion that will create growth with our organization. Under the leadership of our President and CEO, Jason Grisell, we continue to grow in both size and grantmaking. Through funding, we are seeking further engagement with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) in rural communities, the expansion of services provided in all areas of the state (including those reducing barriers to care with the provision of transportation services and linkage to care services), the development of more efficient and effective systems to provide care, as well as providing education and reducing stigma throughout all communities.
What’s the most exciting thing happening in your sector?
With advances in medicine and treatment, we are in an era that will possibly witness the elimination of HIV. We can end the epidemic and there is a community of scientists, providers, advocates, politicians, and other professionals who are committed to seeing great strides in treatment and prevention of HIV. It is exciting to be a part of this movement. The implications of these efforts will not only save lives, but will also be a testament to what can be done through science and community efforts.
What’s the biggest impact your organization has made this year?
We, as an organization, have remained committed to innovation to address the needs of those that we serve. We have worked hard to collaborate with the Indiana State Department of Health to assist Hoosiers living in all parts of Indiana. Our collaboration has brought new opportunities to develop impactful programming statewide. It has proven to be an example of what successful public and private partnerships can do to make a great impact. These public/private partnerships are something that all organizations should consider if opportunities exist.
What’s next on your agenda (workwise)?
I have been planning a conference that is taking place in October called “Ending Health Inequities in Indiana.” We have been developing this one-day, free conference for several months and I am excited that the date is quickly approaching! Our goal in the conference is to address inequities in healthcare and services provided to minority populations in our state. We have an agenda of speakers that will focus not only on the issues and consequences of health inequality, but also that encourages innovation in service delivery amongst providers.
How’d you get started in this work?
Previously, I worked for one of our largest grantees. As my predecessor became the President and CEO, he sought someone that he could trust to fill his former role. I was given an opportunity to join the team in February 2017. Having worked on the other side of the administration of grants, I have an insight into how our grantees function. I even have experience working in collaboration with many of our grantees through my previous employment. This has enabled me to predict issues that our grantees may face, empathize with their struggles, and work to head off challenges by being proactive in addressing them before they become issues. My experience has also helped me to identify unique strengths that our grantees possess and encourage exploration of these assets to maximize the potential of programs.
What’s kept you at THFGI?
I absolutely love what I do and I love who I work for! My role consistently provides me with new challenges and opportunities for new experiences. As soon as I feel I have mastered one thing, a new layer of challenges opens up. This is why I love my career. I also enjoy how much room there is in my role to seek and develop innovation. This involves taking risks on new ideas, nurturing growth, and problem solving through collaboration. Although it can be stressful at times, there is never a dull day. We have a great team and our Board is very supportive of our mission. It is also an incredible thing to have a boss that supports you and encourages your professional development each and every day.
Tell us what you do in your work (pretend I’m a fifth-grader).
Well, if my daughter’s friends ask, I usually tell them that I give away money for a living. If they seem interested beyond that, I explain that I get to work with organizations all over the state to create programs that will help people who have HIV. I assess the ideas of organizations on how they can make positive changes in people’s lives and provide them with money to support those ideas through grants to develop/implement programs. I then oversee how those organizations are doing in following through with what their goals were. I also help in any way that I can to make their programs better by linking them with people who can help or introducing things that I have learned through my pursuit of knowledge on ways to help the people that they are trying to help. I then collect the information they send me to prove the work that they have done and look for other ways to help. I would also explain that our main focus on helping people have been helping people with HIV, as well as children through school-based health clinics and childhood obesity initiatives. I don’t usually go into Syringe Service Programs with 5th graders, but we also help people who struggle with substance abuse and addiction by providing them safer ways to inject through clean syringes, with the ultimate goal of helping those people to get into treatment to help them stop using drugs while still preventing the spread of HIV and HCV.
When and where are you happiest?
I am most happy simply with my friends and family. My wife and I have two young daughters (ages 2 and 7) and my family are the light of my world. They are my inspiration to do all that I can do to make the world a better place in any small way that I can. There are a lot of things that I am passionate about (my career, cars, mountain biking, history, music), but it all comes down to my family.
What’s keeping you up at night?
Well, with so much opportunity to influence and develop change through what we do, it can be somewhat overwhelming. I find myself wanting to do everything all the time, but you have to learn to pace yourself. I try not to get ahead of myself to ensure that I don’t miss a great connection that could be staring me right in the face. It would be great to see significant shifts happen overnight in the provision of equitable health care, decreases in poverty, easily accessible mental health and substance abuse care, and an end to the opioid epidemic in our community, but that just isn’t reality. There are things like the great need for education, issues with bipartisan cooperation, the polarization of ideals in America, and a host of other issues that need better resolutions that keep me up at night. I try to focus on what I can do to create positive change and the fact that it will take time to get there.
Who/What inspires you?
There are two images that I often have as a background on my computer. One is Muhammed Ali standing over Sonny Liston after knocking him down in the first minute of the first round of their second match in 1965. I have always been a fan of Ali, not only professionally as I used to be an amateur boxer, but for his principles. To me, this image says a lot about defying the odds and believing in yourself, even when you’re practically alone in doing so. Some called Ali arrogant at times, I saw him as confident.
The second image is another famous picture. The picture is called Tank Man, taken as a man stands in front of a column of tanks after the Chinese army was sent to quell protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. This image is a powerful display of standing up for what you believe in at all costs. It is just one man taking a stand for what he believes. This man, carrying a grocery bag, likely didn’t set out to take a stand that day. He didn’t know that he was being photographed either. He just seized this moment to make a statement and he certainly did.
Things like this are meaningful to me because they represent the importance of believing in something. Believing in something better, no matter what. They are important reminders to me that I owe it to myself and to my community to believe in good, fight hard, seize the moments I have, and to not be afraid to put it all out there.
What can you imagine in 5 years if your organization is successful?
I can imagine a community where there are no new HIV infections and all people are empowered to live happy, healthy lives. We are just a part of the machine, but we will do our part to strive for an elimination of HIV in Indiana for future generations. Over the course of this time, our organization will grow and continue to fight for better health for all Hoosiers.
What talent or superpower would you most like to have?
I would say the ability to shape-shift. I mean, into anything. It’s kind of cheating but the possibilities of having this trait would be virtually endless. It’d be like having the power of invisibility, strength, flight, growth, and invincibility all rolled into one. Can you tell I’ve thought about this before?
If Oprah were featuring you as this year’s change maker, what would she say?
Well, I would be totally uneasy with this. I don’t think anyone who truly dedicates themselves to create change on a large scale does it to be recognized. But, if I had to, I hope she would say that I worked to leave no stone unturned to find solutions that all people were happy with to create long-lasting change. I hope she would also say that she was giving me a (Oprah voice) “Brand-new car!” Although I am sure that I would give that to a charity.
Where are you on the introvert/extrovert scale?
Every time I take a personality test, whether it be the Myers Briggs, DiSC assessment, or any other personality test, I always find myself at the most extreme end of extroversion. I can’t deny that I am very extroverted! I just love to meet new people. I am excited to talk to people and have an opportunity to learn their story or what makes them tick. I enjoy creating new meaningful relationships. It can be hard to keep up with everyone sometimes, but I never grow tired of it. Also, my being so extroverted has brought (and sometimes forced) me to take on leadership roles on several occasions throughout my life, which has always provided me opportunities to learn and grow personally.
Where are you inviting collaboration these days?
I am very focused on collaboration of our grantees to find ways to better service delivery in all systems of care. There have been a lot of changes in leadership at many of the organizations that we fund, and it is prime time for a more unified approach in terms of addressing underserved populations. I also believe that there is more room for innovation and progress when you eliminate competition and independent agendas. We are working to encourage cultures of collaboration and transparency with all that we interact with. We lead by example as well as we have invested great energy into collaboration with the public sector to enhance our grantmaking efforts.
Do you have questions for Ryan or ideas for collaboration? You can contact him at:
About The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis
The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis, Inc. is a private foundation that supports health-related projects and organizations that serve the community’s most vulnerable citizens. The Health Foundation was formed in 1985 from the sale of Indiana’s first non-profit health maintenance organization, Metro Health HMO.
From the beginning, we decided to support health-related causes, particularly those that helped our community’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Our funding priorities have evolved since we were founded as health concerns also have evolved. We continue to be progressive funding partners, working within the means of our endowment to make high-impact, long-term changes in the health of our community.
Our vision is to champion the health and well-being of vulnerable populations in Indiana with special focus on the HIV/AIDS community. We are community-centered. We are dedicated to helping the most vulnerable. We are partners and collaborators. We are independent and flexible.
About IPA's Member Spotlight Series
Our members regularly tell us how much they value networking with other IPA members at our events, but that their busy schedules and broad geographies don't allow them to travel as much as they'd like. To connect more people in our network, we've launched our new Member Spotlight blog series. These blogs are written by IPA members who share their personality, purpose, and passion for philanthropy. By following this series, you can connect with peers doing work similar to yours and find opportunities for collaboration. If you're interested in being featured in our Member Spotlight series, please contact Lissa Silotto.