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Update from the Field: Why Tackling the Tough Issues Matter

This week, we sat down with Voices for Healthy Kids Action Center leader Shauneequa Owusu, of ChangeLab Solutions, to learn about how she and the organization are making a difference in the lives of children. Read on to learn more about Shauneequa.


Shauneequa_Hi-Res.jpgName: Shauneequa Owusu

Title: Program Director

Organization: ChangeLab Solutions

What does your official role entail & how long have you been with your organization?

As a Program Director, I lead a team that support localities and organizations across the country to help them build, create, and sustain healthy communities. My portfolio has a dedicated focus on children and families as well as low-income communities and communities of color. I have been with ChangeLab for a little over six months.

What is your background experience?

My career has spanned various issues and places, but has always been rooted in community development, urban policy & planning. I’ve done worked in local government, national non-profits and the community level as well. My expertise is in community economic development, social impact program design and engaging vulnerable populations.

How did you end up at ChangeLab Solutions? What motivates you to work in the area of children achieving a healthy weight?

What attracted me to ChangeLab Solutions is its multidisciplinary approach to developing solutions to address complex issues that many communities face. What motivates me in working towards children achieving a healthy weight is the opportunity to keenly focus on the root causes which, in public health lingo, are the social determinants of health.

How are you working to change the environment to make it healthier and create a culture of health?

ChangeLab Solutions works to create healthier communities through better laws and policies. We help communities develop and implement legal and policy solutions to operationalize the Culture of Health, with an emphasis on fostering cross-sector collaboration and creating healthier, more equitable communities. Our solutions address all aspects of a just, vital and thriving community, like food, housing, zoning, child care, schools, transportation, public safety, jobs, and the environment.

We work to make the idea of law and policy, as a tool of change, accessible to everyone from parents, to teachers to policymakers, and we do this by showing people in communities how to use it.

What are your biggest accomplishments in helping children achieve a healthy weight?

I have had the good fortune of working on numerous policy initiatives at the local, state, national and international arenas that support healthy environments for children and communities at large.  Most recently, I supported the development of a neighborhood plan for the East Harlem community done in partnership with The Speaker of New York City Council, neighborhood stakeholders and residents—many of whom are under the age of 21. This plan will guide the rezoning of 96 blocks, and the participatory process that yielded the plan is being upheld as a model. Because of the high level of health disparities and its disproportionate impact on the youngest of residents in the community, this plan had a heavy focus on health and children, and it was an honor to lead the community visioning sessions and development of recommendations on health as well as lead the negotiations with city agencies on implementation of health recommendations. It was also cool to lead companion health impact assessment.

What excites you the most about showing up for work every day?

I get to work with some of the most talented people on the planet and have the most incredible team. So incredible that I fondly refer to the team as the “Unicorn Federation.” At ChangeLab Solutions we are tackling some of the toughest issues facing our society and I am thankful every day for the humility, grace, tenacity and desire to make the world a better place for all that my colleagues exude daily. It’s an honor to be a part of the Changelab Solutions family. 

If you were starting out in your career, what would you recommend to your younger self?

It’s okay to fail. It’s critical to one’s success so you should fail early and often, because it is in these moments that your character is honed and where the greatest of ideas come to light.

What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?

As a kid, I really liked cottage cheese and peaches and still do! It was a snack that was introduced to me by my Uncle Candido who was from Puerto Rico and had a holistic view of health. He used to pick me up from school nearly every day and I really cherished those moments because he used snack time to teach me so much about life and traditions. 

ChangeLab Solutions has released a catalog, “Tools of Change,” – what can people find in it that would be useful?

As a technical assistance provider, ChangeLab Solutions develops tools and resources on a variety of different topics for various audiences. The motivation to create this catalog is because ChangeLab has a large, robust library of resources, and we wanted to create something that was more user-friendly. The practical tools & resources highlighted in the catalog touch all the areas of our work:

  • Public Health Law & Policy; Health Care
  • Healthy, Affordable Housing
  • Active, Accessible Communities
  • Child Care & School Environments
  • Food Systems & Healthy Food Access
  • Tobacco Control

Anybody can utilize these resources to advance their efforts to create healthier, more equitable communities! To view the catalog, click here!