Have you met Channing?

Behind every great organization is a fabulous Board Chair and FCAA is no different. Channing Wickham, Executive Director of the Washington AIDS Partnership, has been a long-time member of our Board of Directors, quietly helping to steer this ship as its Chair for almost five years. While Channing is a proud advocate of our work, he doesn’t seek the spotlight. So it was an honor that he finally agreed to be interviewed.

Tell us about your organization and its mission.
The Washington AIDS Partnership (The Partnership) is a collaboration of grantmaking organizations and corporate giving programs that leads the private sector response to HIV in the Washington, D.C. region.

Our timeline is not dissimilar to that of FCAA. In fact, just a year after FCAA was “born,” the Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer Foundation and 20 local funders founded the Partnership. It began by funding a wide range of HIV prevention and care services. After five years of nurturing at the Meyer Foundation, the Partnership became an initiative of the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers in 1993.

Today, we focus not only on grant-making, but also on policy and programs to address systemic issues in the local community. We also work to convene local government, providers, funders, and other stakeholders to create innovate strategies and to be inclusive. We want everyone at the table when we make decisions.

What Partnership Initiatives are you most excited about these days?
We are extremely excited about our PrEP work with women of color (The D.C. PrEP for Women Initiative). We believe that it’s the largest such initiative of its kind in the country, working with the public and private sector, including the District of Columbia government, Gilead Sciences and M.A.C AIDS Fund (now known as Viva Glam Fund).

The program is multifaceted, involving direct grants to Federally Qualified Health Centers, and to other medical settings, as well as a really vibrant social media effort. It also focuses on convening PrEP providers to work on the challenge of why women represent only five percent of prescriptions. There’s so much to learn and we’re really thrilled to be in that space, sharing this initiative with colleagues, providers, and the government.

We’re also working to change how quickly people get on antiretroviral therapy (ART). We have a pilot program called Rapid ART that is changing how quickly organizations in the District of Columbia make it possible for people, once they are diagnosed, to get on medication. Our goal is to do it within 24 hours, and we’re making a lot of progress.

[Editors Note: learn more about rapid ART and it’s role in the “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the District of Columbia by 2020” plan, a public-private partnership supported by the Washington AIDS Partnership.] 

Tell us a bit about the Health Corps program – why this program is so near and dear to your heart?
Each year, our Health Corps program brings together a team of 12 recent college graduates who spend a year doing direct service work at one of our non-profit community partners in D.C. After 23 years of running the program, many alumni are now decision makers and leaders in the fields of medicine, policy, and law. It’s really one of our most important legacies. Even after we’ve declared victory against HIV and the work of the Partnership is no longer needed, we will have helped to create a new generation of health leaders who will center the principles of social justice and racial equity in their work.

[Editor’s note: Every year, the Washington AIDS Partnership “loans” FCAA the incredible time and talent of the Health Corps team members to help us at FCAA’s AIDS Philanthropy Summit. So the program is pretty near and dear to our hearts, too!]

You have a long history with the Partnership. To what do you attribute that longevity?
What I expected to be a two-or three-year stint at the Partnership just hit the 25-year mark. I feel really lucky to do this work. What has kept it fresh and exciting for me is that the Partnership continues to evolve as the epidemic does. We’re not the same organization we were 25 years ago, or even 15 or 10 years ago.

Part of our success is also being a part of FCAA and the bigger world of HIV philanthropy. It gives me great pride to be able to bring the best practices and things I’ve learned from FCAA here to D.C., and vice versa, sharing what we’re doing in our local community with world.

Something special happened in D.C. a few months ago. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I was presented with a Mayoral proclamation marking March 4th as “J. Channing Wickham Day” in Washington, D.C. So many of my Board members, colleagues, grantees, and current and former Health Corps members were there at the ceremony. I was really honored and surprised.

 [Editor’s note: What Channing doesn’t mention above, is that his special honor was in recognition of his long service during which he has helped to raise over $35 million and has awarded 777 grants, totaling more than $26 million dollars to over 100 local organizations serving those affected by HIV.]

Last year, FCAA rolled out our report, Last Mile Funding: Improving Philanthropic Funding of Community Action on AIDS, which focuses on the importance of funding community-based approaches. As an HIV/AIDS funder focused on a particular community, why do you think this is so critical?
As the largest private funder of HIV and LGBTQ communities in the region, it’s our responsibility to be in touch with the community and to encourage involvement in our work. When you fund a community, it’s important to think about the power balance, and to ensure they’re at the table when it comes to making decisions. One of our approaches has been to bring community members into our grant making and decision-making processes so that we are authentically partnering with, and listening to, them.

The Partnership is clearly successful in terms of community-based approaches to funding. How does it continually improve on that skill?
We’ve learned so much through partnering with our community – whether it’s involving them in the grantmaking process, through site visits, and, most importantly, sharing power with them in decision making. The funders who help guide our work really have enjoyed the chance to learn. It’s changed their thinking about involving community. We’re also excited to have recently expanded our Board to include more community members on the Steering Community. Our work with community has also reinforced our belief that racial equity is central to the work we do. So, moving forward, we’re working to make that a pillar of our grantmaking strategy.

This year, FCAA launched its first analysis on HIV-related philanthropy for people who inject drugs, and hopes to offer more strategies for funders who are engaged in harm reduction-related efforts. We know this is a critical issue for the Washington AIDS Partnership. Can you tell us a little bit about your work in this area?
Harm reduction has so many different components. It’s such a complicated but essential part of our work – whether it’s around sex work or people who use drugs. It’s a core component of where we’ve put our resources, both in terms of grantmaking and policy work.

The Partnership has embraced harm reduction from the very beginning, and even created one of the first free-standing syringe exchange organizations here in D.C. We also founded the Syringe Access Working Group (SAWG) in 2004, focused on the critical goal of reducing the District of Columbia’s HIV infection rate by ensuring that every injection drug user has access to sterile syringes and ancillary services. Harm reduction is also an important element in the plan to end the HIV epidemic in D.C. by 2020 that we helped to create.

Why do you believe it is so important to contribute data to FCAA’s resource tracking report? Why do you think the data itself is so valuable?
It’s an essential tool for our field to understand where the money is going. If we don’t know what our colleagues are doing, then we can’t analyze whether or not the money is going to the right places.

It’s been really gratifying to see how FCAA’s efforts to highlight the need for more money, policy, and advocacy have led to progress. For example, because FCAA made such a highly effective case, funding for advocacy has increased. And it’s not just the data, but FCAA’s creative use of that data – through infographics and the report – that really helps bring the numbers to life. It gives those of us in the field context to help us see where we fit.

At this particular moment in time, what do you believe is the most important message for other HIV/AIDS funders?
It’s important for all of us to get out of a siloed way of thinking. In fact, this is going to be a big theme at this year’s AIDS Philanthropy Summit – what, exactly, does it mean to be an HIV funder today? Things are more entrenched and intersectional now than they were at the beginning. It’s clear that effective HIV funding is about far more than the epidemic itself. It’s about funding for queer people. It’s funding to fight racism. It’s funding for reproductive choice. It’s about immigration. It’s about so much more than a single issue.

It’s important to understand how broad our field is, and how many natural partners exist for our work. We have to keep on working to explain that, and to get that word out. We have to show funders the value that FCAA can bring to their work.