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Field Notes

Allison F. Bauer is the Director of Partner Relations at Root Cause. In this interview, she shares her professional interests, what brought her to Root Cause, and which TV shows are listed amongst her favorites. 

What interests you most and why, in terms of topical areas of expertise, service themes, or life stages?

This is a great question, as it is something that I’ve thought about a great deal over the last few years. The last 15 years of my career have been focused in health and mental health policy. I started my career in Washington, DC as a civil rights attorney specially focused on employment in the Federal government, but soon moved to a position in a government relations firm. I worked on a few health-related matters, then completed an MSW with a health concentration, and developed some expertise in HIV/AIDS. It was the 1990s and AIDS was still a very deadly disease. 

I relocated to the Boston area in 2003. In 2005, I joined the staff of State Representative Ruth Balser, who was the first Chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse (now called the Joint Committee on Mental Health, Substance Use and Recovery).  After two year as staff director/chief counsel, I moved to The Boston Foundation.  During my decade long tenure there I oversaw the health portfolio for the program department that shifted from one of Access to Healthcare to Primary Prevention.  As the strategy matured, there was an even greater focus on Social Determinants of Health.  The sum total of all of this experience has led me to have a deep interest in social determinants, and particularly the role that context plays on health outcomes. I think we need to start with children from birth, but perhaps even more importantly, look at multigenerational interventions, and definitely place people in context.

What brought you to Root Cause?

As I was looking for the next step in my professional career, I knew that I needed a role that was very outward facing, was intellectual rigorous, and allowed for creative thinking. I had known Root Cause from my time at The Boston Foundation and particularly from my participation with the Social Innovation Forum, a program incubated at Root Cause.  I was intrigued by the role, and the meetings/interviews I had with the staff confirmed my initial thoughts – that this would be an employment opportunity that would both engage me intellectually, challenge my thinking, and build my professional skill set. I also really enjoy working with smart people, and Root Cause has some very smart and capable staff.

What are you learning in your role?

It is unusual to have a chance to look into a world that you have already experienced but from a different lens.  As a grant maker at the foundation, I made investments in organizations and often identified that those same organizations had technical assistance needs that, if met, would likely mean that the philanthropic investments would be more successful.  Being at Root Cause, I’m getting a chance to look behind the curtain at the various types of technical assistance available for non-profits, and I am starting to have a deeper understanding of how that can help advance work – whether through a thoughtful strategic or business plan, assisting with implementation of the plan, assessment & evaluation, continuous quality improvement, or creating communities of practice.

What work inspires you most, and why?

In addition to my work at Root Cause, I am an adjunct professor of health and health policy.  I’ve taught for five years at Boston College in the School of Social Work, and just recently started an engagement with the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.  Teaching at these universities, and having an opportunity to offer my students, regardless of age, a new way to think about the world specifically as it relates to health is very inspiring to me.  Seeing them take in the information and begin to form their own ideas is truly the most inspiring. In addition, I know the impact that I can make in the world is amplified when teaching.  I can bring concepts into discussion with my students that they can then bring to their own work and communities, resulting in many more opportunities for change. 

What’s on your professional reading list? 

My professional reading list has two threads at the moment – one personal, the other professional.  On the personal side, I am in the midst of reading Limitless by Laura Gassner Otting. You might wonder why I say “personal” for a question about a professional reading list.  It is because the personal and professional mutually coexist.  And this book really pushes the reader to personally define what it means to be successful and how to live “your best work life.” I also have the great privilege of knowing Laura personally, and through our conversations I am learning more about myself, and how to be limitless.

On the professional side of the reading list, there are a series of books that have been making headlines in the philanthropic world.  Each of them is questioning the structures of philanthropy as they exist – Winners Take All, Decolonizing Wealth, and Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do Better.   In each case, the idea that resonates is the need to create deeper alignment of values with the resources, as well as confronting privilege while sitting in a place of privilege.

You worked as most recently as the Director of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services (BSAS) of the MA Department of Public Health and prior to that as Senior Director of Health and Wellness at The Boston Foundation. What stayed with you the most from these positions, in terms of our work to improve people’s lives? 

These two positions were very different, but what resonated most was the role that circumstance and context play in the health challenges and ultimate outcomes that people face.  It is why I am so interested in addressing the social determinants of health – and why Root Cause’s work around equity particularly resonates – seeking to understand the community-wide conditions that enable people to thrive, with a focus on reducing disparities based on race, class, gender, geography, and other factors. 


Which of your favorite tv shows says the most about you?

It’s impossible for me to choose a single favorite tv show! So, I have a multi-part answer.

  •  – I love British crime dramas as well as “The Great British Bake-Off” as they reflect my Anglophile side.
  •  – “The West Wing” is probably my favorite show of all time, which reveals my love of policy and politics, and walking and talking.
  •  – My new favorite show is “A Million Little Things” which portrays relationships – the good, the bad, the mistakes, but most of all the underlying strength of true friendship.