Leading by example: Using civic engagement to bolster community health
For many Minnesotans civic engagement is part of their make-up. The state consistently achieves the country’s highest rate of voter turnout and has the second highest rate of volunteerism. Following the adage that everyone benefits when we all participate, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s (BCBS Minnesota) grassroots program CitizenBlueTM educates, encourages civic participation and promotes good citizenship.
Understanding how government works is a critical business skill in the insurance industry, which is regulated at both the state and federal levels. By using nonpartisan, unbiased information to help employees better understand the system – as well as providing meaningful opportunities for increased civic participation – the year-round employee program, with more than 1,000 members, has done more than connect employees to the role their work has on the larger community. They are also committed to becoming more empowered and engaged.
When researchers from the Harvard Kennedy School studied CitizenBlue, along with initiatives from companies including Patagonia, Twitter and Target, they found the program helped increase voter turnout among employees in last year’s elections. Minnesota’s turnout rate was 64 percent, the highest in the country. With the help of CitizenBlue, a full 88 percent of BCBS Minnesota employees voted.
CitizenBlue provides educational information to give a better understanding of how government works, as well as the roles of various election officials. Members receive reminders on key dates in the election cycle such as the deadline to register to vote, dates of primaries and, of course, Election Day itself. More than 100 elected officials and candidates, including governors, state legislators and mayors along with numerous community and state leaders, have participated in CitizenBlue-hosted events such as candidates’ forums and speaker series.
“Civic engagement is embedded in our culture,” said Lisa Wagor, public affairs manager at BCBS Minnesota. “And by engaging and empowering our employees to be more involved we are adding resources to the community.”
While civic engagement, such as voting or volunteering, is most often considered a benefit to the community, another benefit is that it positively impacts people's health. Civic engagement gives a sense of purpose and builds social capital, which can reduce anxiety and depression. Voters report better health, and individuals involved with civic groups or volunteering are often more physically active.
“Civic engagement is embedded in our culture.” — Lisa Wagor, Public Affairs Manager at BCBS Minnesota
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation notes that, to improve health and well-being, people need to participate in the democratic process on a local and national level.
CitizenBlue ensures employees are empowered with the knowledge and know-how to be fully engaged in the democratic process. Though a key focus is increasing voter turnout, BCBS Minnesota employees are finding many ways to make an impact – from joining an employee committee or community board to attending caucuses or calling their elected officials. Several employees are even exploring how they can run for office themselves.
One member recently received statewide recognition for his work to strengthen civic engagement and advance health within refugee communities, helping residents who often face health inequities to change public policies and systems to address the social factors that are impacting their health. Another CitizenBlue member is working to address affordable housing issues in her community.
“When everyone is knowledgeable about how the government works, we believe the community and the company both win,” added Wagor.