An Introduction to Stewardship
Stewardship is defined as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” When applied to our collective work to advance healthy, equitable, sustainable communities, it describes leaders—both people and organizations—who take responsibility for forming working relationships to drive transformative change in regions and communities. Importantly, stewards must have a vested interest in promoting an equity orientation in regard to purpose, power, and wealth.
Everyone can be a steward! Certainly, individuals can serve as stewards to advance community well-being, and stewardship is best accomplished when people work together across differences and sectors to expand the Vital Conditions that all people and places need to thrive, starting with those struggling and suffering. We typically see stewardship having the greatest impact as a mechanism for shared responsibility and collective action; when the work has expanded, aligned breadth and depth, and in turn, expanded reach and impact.
Explore the resources below to learn more about stewardship.
Stewardship is a core component of any work to advance equitable well-being—without stewards, there would be no one to actually do the work. Most of us want equitable well-being for all, but making it happen is challenging. Stewardship, especially shared stewardship that engages people, organizations, local communities, etc., in collaborative work, is a promising mechanism by which we can shift investments and systems to support thriving communities.
Our partners at The Rippel Foundation are leaders in researching stewardship and related concepts and they have piloted this work in communities around the U.S. In late 2019, ReThink Health, an initiative of The Rippel Foundation, teamed up with the RAND Corporation to explore major trends that affect how selected stewards think and act. Their published report shares, “There is no single entry point or established career path into this work. No core curriculum exists, nor are certain advanced credentials needed to enter this field. Virtually anyone can be a steward of well-being, and anyone can help to grow the field of system stewardship by drawing others into the work.” They also share a few examples of how stewards act to help communities:
Increasing investments in the vital conditions for well-being, like humane housing, meaningful work, and a thriving natural world, and decreasing reliance on urgent services
Helping health care systems shift resources to focus on whole-person community health
Remaking power structures to be more inclusive
Improving communication between separate institutions, between departments within a single institution, and between institutions and community residents
Stewardship shows up in our work at Community Commons through existing and emerging national networks we participate in, with the goal of aligning thinking and approaches across organizations and communities. Networks help organize and scale shared stewardship to advance well-being. At Community Commons, we connect those driving change to the best tools, resources, data, and stories to support the work, and we are uniquely-positioned to share the ideas coming from these networks. We aim to learn from and contribute to experts in the field, to share local successes nationally, and to build bridges connecting communities doing similar work around the nation. We strongly believe our shared stewardship can catalyze stewardship at the local level—in your community.
Below, we’ve included a collection of stewards that affirm our shared definition of stewardship, and who bring powerful resources, tools, and framing to support collective work to advance wellbeing.
History of Stewardship
Stewardship is not a new concept. Throughout history, stewards have endeavored to extend what is healthy and humane, while working with equal vigor to resist and remove what is toxic and cruel. The past few decades have seen an increase in recognition of stewards’ importance and critical role in creating positive system change.
By definition, equity is at the core of stewardship. Stewards understand that power must be built and distributed with others, not consolidated, and that wealth must be invested, not withheld, to create long-term value and address short-term urgent community needs. Effective stewardship demands acknowledgement that the systems in which we live greatly impact our well-being, and these systems were not built to be fully inclusive. As stewards, we must acknowledge and do what we can to reverse systemic inequities, share power, and engage those with lived experience who have been most affected.
Stewardship in Action
There are countless examples of stewardship happening at many different levels. Any person or organization can be a steward of well-being -- as long as they are willing to share responsibility for working together with others to change the system we inhabit today and expand opportunities for all people to thrive tomorrow. Stewards believe in the power of working across differences and in solidarity with those who are struggling and suffering. Stewards exert influence from their positions at an organization or in the community; they share values and actions, but must also respond to the unique attributes of their community.
Explore stewardship in action: