Health Winner / 2013
Market Makeovers: NextGen Leaders
Public Matters is not after the quick fix. We’re in it for the long run. We believe a great idea will become an effective solution only if the community it seeks to help takes ownership of it. Market Makeovers: NextGen Leaders proposes to evolve young leaders from within their communities to drive long-term sustainable change in the places they live. Specifically, we are asking LA 2050 to fund a group of emerging adult community leaders (age 18-24) to transform the food landscape, food behaviors and health outcomes in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, building on an existing infrastructure within which they’ve worked for the past three years. These NextGen Leaders are deeply committed to the work of improving the health outcomes of their community, having already invested some serious sweat equity, received extensive training in health, leadership, public speaking and media production, and transformed local stores. For them, it’s personal; the work they do impacts the health of their families, friends and loved ones. LA 2050 funds would take their leadership development to the next level so that they have increased opportunities and greater capacity to bring about meaningful, sustainable community transformation. Public Matters has been greening food deserts through Market Makeovers since 2007 – one corner store at a time. We started in South L.A. with the Healthy Eating Active Communities Initiative and for the past three years, have been doing Market Makeovers in East L.A. and Boyle Heights through Proyecto MercadoFRESCO, a project of UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities. In recent years, there have been numerous “corner store conversions” (as they’re known in public health circles) to address the “grocery gap” in “food deserts,” areas that have limited access to quality, healthy food; an overabundance of fast food; and high rates of chronic conditions related to poor diet. Typical corner store conversions involve some physical transformation of existing stores, the addition of healthier inventory (usually fresh fruits and vegetables), and some marketing of the new items. Shortly thereafter, the stores are left to their own devices. As an intervention strategy, Market Makeovers are another order of magnitude, aiming for community transformation. They encompass education; community engagement and relationship building; business training for storeowners/operators; store transformation; and social marketing to change health behaviors and increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. Local youth and residents play a central role in the hands-on work of transforming markets, educating the community about the benefits of fruits and vegetables, and promoting the Market Makeover stores. They implement the solution, and in so doing take ownership of it. Market Makeovers are not just about supply; they’re also about creating demand. You have to make sure you have community buy-in, that if you stock those fruits and vegetables, locals will buy (and eat) them, so that healthy food retail becomes viable. That’s where the NextGen Leaders come in; LA 2050 funds would enable them to pick up where conventional corner store conversions leave off, after the fanfare of the grand re-opening dies down: to promote transformed MercadoFRESCO stores in East L.A. and Boyle Heights so that healthy food retail takes root, becomes the norm, and results in improved health outcomes. LA 2050 funds will provide NextGen Leaders with additional training and opportunities for leadership development so that they can work directly with Public Matters, Nathan Cheng Consulting, municipal and community partners to shape the project. NextGen Leaders will receive training in store operations, marketing, graphic design and visual literacy so they can assist the stores with retail presentation and merchandising, create in-store graphics and displays and social marketing campaigns to promote healthy food behaviors. They will plan, promote and conduct community events: public presentations in schools and local organizations, cooking demos at the markets, and video screenings. They will access local leaders and participate in community meetings and decision-making processes. They will become the public faces of the project and lead East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights to a healthier 2050.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Public Matters is a social enterprise that builds creative and social capital in communities. As a for-profit business, Public Matters designs and implements neighborhood-based new media, education and civic engagement projects for social change. It cultivates cross-sector partnerships between grass-roots organizations, academic institutions, neighborhood residents, youth and local municipalities. It builds relationships and develops future leaders. We have a track record of innovative, impactful projects. Our project timelines favor deep, long-term engagement, with work measured in years not months. Our most important achievements are those we accomplish through our programs:
Market Makeovers, Proyecto MercadoFRESCO, UCLA-USC Center for Population Health and Health Disparities (CPHHD) – Funded by a five-year grant through the National Institutes of Health, we worked with Torres High School, Roosevelt High School, The Office of L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina (D-1), Volunteers of East L.A., other local organizations, and Nathan Cheng to transform two stores in East L.A.; two more are forthcoming in Boyle Heights.
Market Makeovers, Healthy Eating Active Communities Initiative – Funded by the California Endowment, we worked with The Accelerated School, The Office of L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry (CD-9), and Nathan Cheng to transform two stores in South Los Angeles and created a media-rich online resource, www.marketmakeovers.org.
PDUB Productions – We worked with Pilipino Workers Center, HyperCities, UCLA REMAP, The Office of L.A. Councilman Eric Garcetti (CD-13), and local stakeholders to create an innovative youth media + civic engagement program through which local youth created digital content about Historic Filipinotown for distribution on multiple platforms: interactive Mobile Hi Fi Tours via mobile devices and a Pilipino Jeepney; and HyperCities, an online, map-based time-travel application.
Working with mostly low-income students of color, we have a strong track record of creating emerging adult leaders. Defying the odds of low college admission rates for East L.A. students, our entire class at ELARA was accepted into a four-year college. Past students have gone on to colleges and universities including Brown, NYU, Sarah Lawrence, UCLA, and UC-Berkeley. We have helped place youth leaders in local nonprofit jobs. We currently have four Proyecto MercadoFRESCO young adult leaders who are implementing Market Makeovers, training high school students, conducting cooking demos and social marketing campaigns.
Our work has received national and local recognition. Twice, we’ve been awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Award, as part of HyperCities and Out The Window. Our projects have been covered by NBC, CNN, BBC Latino, Associated Press, L.A. Times, KCET, Next American City, and MIT CoLab, among others and will be featured in a forthcoming Harvard University Press book about Digital Mapping.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
• NATHAN CHENG CONSULTING: Our partner on all market makeover projects since 2007, Nathan is the guru of the “corner store conversion” movement and a nationally recognized figure in food systems. He will mentor the NextGen Leaders in all store-related activities.
• UCLA-USC CENTER FOR POPULATION HEALTH AND HEALTH DISPARITIES (CPHHD). Experts in community-focused public health, social marketing, and evaluation, CPPHD will assist in these areas.
• THE EAST LA RENAISSANCE ACADEMY AT ESTEBAN TORRES HIGH SCHOOL and ROOSEVELT HIGH SCHOOL: NextGen Leaders are project alumni from these schools. They will continue to engage students through work at the markets, workshops on healthy eating and nutrition and peer leadership.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Health indicators and behaviors will be evaluated by Public Matters, and independently by UCLA-USC CPHHD and Nathan Cheng Consulting. NextGen Leaders make daily visits to and reports about the Market Makeovers stores to Nathan Cheng. Among the items that they observe and report are: the condition of produce, temperature of produce cases, store appearance inside and outside, and promotions of monthly produce specials and other in-store campaigns promoting healthy behaviors. Beyond reporting, these visits are vital to cultivating a healthy relationship with all stores and establish NextGen Leaders are invested helpers to the stores. Nathan is also responsible for the overall relationships with the stores and for business training, including tracking inventory and sales of healthy and non-healthy items. We also use targeted promotional activities like frequent buyer cards for produce, coupons and store flyers that are easily tracked. CPHHD tracks the quantity, quality and level of nutrition education of the cooking demos.
CPHHD independently evaluates the overall success of the market makeovers strategy as part of its research about improving cardiovascular health in East LA and Boyle Heights. They conduct extensive longitudinal surveys and field research with residents, store patrons and participants in project activities.
Public Matters is responsible for evaluating the impact and development of social marketing activities and of the NextGen Leaders. Social marketing is measured in different ways that include the reach, placement and impact of campaigns. Activities vary from one-time events like a presentation to a school or community group to the placement of NextGen-led social marketing campaigns in bus shelter posters. Surveys conducted by NextGen leaders gauge the impact of these activities. Other indicators include the number of local partners and municipal agencies that take part in a given campaign, the number of agencies and businesses that will post collateral materials and tie-in store promotions to social marketing campaigns. These indicators of community investment are linked to the success of the project stores.
Leadership development and education of the NextGen Leaders is monitored in several ways. Prior to hiring the NextGen Leaders, Public Matters takes track of their skills in communication, computing, design, and leadership. Skill development in these areas is not only part of their continued training, but is evaluated at the mid and end point of their involvement in the program. We believe leadership development is about both skills development and about access. So, we also monitor how NextGen Leaders spend their time, how their social networks grow, what community members, leaders and organizations they meet and work with, how their self-confidence and self-esteem grow, and their ability to effectively implement programmatic activities. We hold weekly and monthly check-ins with all NextGen Leaders.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
East L.A. and Boyle Heights, like many under-resourced neighborhoods, have had their fair share of solutions presented to them by experts, usually from outside their communities. Some of them get implemented. Of those, few are implemented long enough and with adequate resources to take root, to become part of the fabric of the community it serves such that members of that community claim it as their own. The issues around the East LA + Boyle Heights food landscape and poor health outcomes among its predominantly Latino residents are serious and unhealthy food behaviors deeply entrenched. According to the L.A. County Department of Public Health, its population suffers high rates of obesity-related chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and stroke. It has some of the highest rates of childhood obesity (32.2%) in the county. The situation will not change overnight. Because NextGen Leaders are from the community, their fellow community members are more likely to listen to what they have to say. Their actions on behalf of their neighborhoods carry greater weight. They can lead from within, in a way outsiders can’t. Support for Market Makeovers: NextGen Leaders is a long-term investment in the future health of East L.A. and Boyle Heights, a model of home-grown leadership development that could be applied all over Los Angeles.
Market Makeovers increase access to healthy foods and broaden awareness and education about healthy eating and behaviors; its engaged community participation results in greater buy-in and a better chance at sustainability. Extending these efforts through the NextGen Leaders will result in a cadre of trained, engaged and experienced young leaders who are deeply rooted in community change and who have worked extensively on projects prior to their 24th birthday. NextGen Leaders have skills in: media production; public speaking and presentations; visual communication; teaching and peer leadership; healthy eating and nutrition; media literacy; and social marketing that are invaluable in many fields. And they are placed in an infrastructure that nurtures their development and allows them to directly effect change, whether in their immediate community or throughout L.A.
The NextGen Leaders’ age group falls in-between many philanthropic efforts and services, whether or not they are enrolled in higher education. Their needs are acute. Having worked with teens for over twenty years, we often see youth hit an economic and opportunity ceiling once they graduate high school or reach age 18. Even in college, they are isolated from their communities rather than placed into learning and service opportunities in their neighborhoods, where they can deepen their roots and connections. Scholarship programs often don’t come close to covering the true cost of higher education. Vocational programs tend to train professions, not creative leaders. Through Market Makeovers, we can change this and the food landscape together.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
By 2050, the NextGen Leaders will have started a healthy chain reaction that ripples far beyond the health indicator. Within the health indicator though, the term “food desert” will be thing of the past. The words, deeds and creative social marketing and community engagement tactics of the NextGen Leaders will have inspired many a healthy eater. Quality fruits and vegetables will be commonplace in corner stores and in larger markets. Competition amongst stores, widespread social marketing campaigns about healthy behaviors, and pressure from both residents and local government, in addition to additional Market Makeover projects, will contribute to this change. Communities will be judged by plethora of healthy items and healthy community activities that exist in an area, rather than by the paucity of them. As a result, there will be significantly lower rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. Communities served by the NextGen Leaders will have spread throughout Los Angeles, leading to a broader awareness of proper dietary habits and, just as importantly, access to healthy products.
The original crew of NextGen Leaders will have moved into many disciplines and positions, from academia where there currently is a dearth of Latinos in fields like public health, nutrition and media, to local government, to leading their own community-based projects and organizations. Others will be running Public Matters. Many will still maintain strong ties to their communities and will be regarded by the 2050 crew of NextGen Leaders as the “O.G.” community leaders. Strong role models and a highly visible and creative force in their communities, the influence of the NextGen Leaders will have sparked many others to follow in their path. Local government and agencies will have a demonstrated track record of the benefits of civic engagement projects led by emerging adults, leading them to develop their own means to engage young adults in substantive community work. High schools will feed youth leaders into these programs and work closely with these agencies.
The NextGen Leaders will be at the forefront of a movement of emerging adult creative, engaged citizens and problem solvers that spring from diverse communities and backgrounds. All will share a deep commitment to their communities. Their impact will be felt in policy, education, health, social connectedness, income and employment, arts and cultural vitality and the overall social fabric of Los Angeles.