On the fifth anniversary of the ULI Health Leaders Network, the Institute is celebrating the program’s first five years of collaboration and impact. As a key contributor to health and social equity outcomes, the real estate industry has both a responsibility and an opportunity to design, invest in, and create communities where everyone can achieve holistic health and well-being. ULI programs for learning and leadership development, like the Health Leaders Network, embody the organization’s mission to achieve transformative impact in communities worldwide.

Learn more about the program and apply to be part of the sixth cohort (applications are open December 5–January 9) by visiting uli.org/healthleaders, and check out the program’s five-year anniversary reflection piece by visiting knowledge.uli.org/5yearsofhealthleaders.

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A Brief History of the Program

With a vision of creating a community of practice among ULI members to improve health equity outcomes in real estate practice, the ULI Building Healthy Places Initiative launched the Health Leaders Network in 2017 with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, and longtime ULI member and Foundation governor Randall Lewis. Five years later, the network has grown to encompass the Institute’s three regions and has more than 190 alumni working in the built sector across 86 cities and eight countries.

Program Goals and Curriculum

Centered on three goals, Health Leader cohorts span nine months each and combine in-person and virtual engagement and learning opportunities focused on the ways real estate decision-making affects health and social equity in communities globally. The program’s core curriculum includes the following:

  • Webinars and podcasts and their accompanying Q&A sessions with experts from the field, cover a range of topics touching the built environment, such as housing, climate change impacts on health, noise exposure, zoning, enhancing access to fresh and healthy foods, and combatting displacement.
  • Small group presentations throughout the year, which allow Health Leaders to learn about and brainstorm ideas for one another’s projects—in professional or community-based settings—that prioritize health and social equity.
  • Individual assignments that encourage reflections on Health Leaders’ personal and professional development and journeys as they relate to the connections among the built environment, health, and social equity.
  • Forums rooted in the local contexts where they are held, provide connection-building among cohorts and learning opportunities about a particular city’s projects and initiatives. In 2020 and 2021, the program adapted to fully virtual forums in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing training sessions and skill-building exercises focused on the land use industry’s role and history in contributing to racial injustice.
  • Healthy Happy Hours, led by program alumni, provide a chance for alumni to connect with current cohorts by leading discussions on their current projects and work.

Bill Mahar, Cohort 1, leads a Health Happy Hour and shares best practices that the private sector can engage in to effect positive health outcomes (2022). (Norris Design)

Meet the Health Leaders and Learn about Their Network Experiences

Like ULI, the Health Leaders represent the entire spectrum of the real estate and land use industry and include a diverse array of voices and perspectives. The program encourages participants to learn from one another and pinpoint shared goals and responsibilities across disciplines and geographical lines, working toward improving health and social equity in both their professional practice and the communities where they live.

Despite cohort years being bound by nine-month time frames, Health Leaders continue to apply their experiences and learning as alumni and practitioners in the field. Over the years, they have formed partnerships, presented at conferences and workshops together, and more recently written the “Commitment to Health and Equity in the Built Environment” position statement, which articulates an actionable commitment to affirm health and equity as core values of real estate and land use.

Here, several Health Leaders share the stories of their experiences with the Health Leaders Network:

“This past year, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to work with and learn from a big, cross-sector group. But perhaps even more important has been the unparalleled opportunity to make personal connections that aren’t bound by a project time scale, procedures, and budgets. That has been truly special for me.”Ben Cave, founder and partner, BCA Insight Ltd, and Cohort 5 Health Leader

“I am very appreciative that [BHP] let ULI Chicago know of my involvement in the network. I was one of the panelists of a Chicago neighborhood community planning technical assistance panel, providing an urban design and public health perspective. I am thrilled that I have the chance to contribute to a public health topic in such a practical way.”Ruijie Ma, senior project designer, Myefski Architects, and Cohort 2 Health Leader

“The Health Leaders Network allowed me to soak up so much expert knowledge from different people and has sped up my understanding of and influence in the industry. It has been impactful for me to be in this group, not only from a professional standpoint, but from the friendships I have formed.”William Jennings, commercial real estate adviser, Garito & Company, and Cohort 5 Health Leader

“I was very fortunate to be part of the inaugural Health Leadership Network cohort. In the years since, my career path has evolved, and so have the application of my learnings. Following a career shift, . . . mental health became front and center in my work. With the knowledge I gained from working with fellow Health Leaders, I have applied many of the same evaluative frameworks to mental health in the workplace and advised clients on ways to implement healthier behaviors that promote mental well-being.Erin Patterson, director of real estate and strategy, Wafra, and Cohort 1 Health Leader

“Being part of a group that intentionally held space for cross-sector solutions to health issues in the built environment was a dream come true. I felt at ease discussing my creative solutions with others as the entire cohort just gets it! We know the power in collaboration and see the bridge between the built environment and health equity that we need to build.”Treasure Sheppard, analyst, Los Angeles County Development Authority, and Cohort 4 Health Leader

Meet the entire network and connect with the ULI Health Leaders by visiting here.

Top, from left: Cohort 1 gathers in Denver for its closing forum (2017) (Ayako Utsumi); Cohort 2 participates in a walking tour of National Landing in Arlington, Virginia, as part of its closing forum (2018) (Sara Hammerschmidt). Bottom, from left: Cohort 4 poses for a virtual group photo during the closing forum after reflecting on the leadership strategies members harnessed during the year (2021) (ULI/Beth Nilsson); Cohort 5 at the RiverWalk in Detroit as part of its introductory forum (2022) (ULI/Beth Nilsson).

Learn More and Get Involved

To learn more about the program and its fifth anniversary, check out the Health Leaders Network Fifth-Year Anniversary reflection piece.

Are you passionate about health and social equity? Are you in the real estate and land use sector and eager to be part of a robust cross-sector network of professionals? If so, don’t miss your chance to apply for Cohort 6 of the Health Leaders Network. Applications are open now through January 9. Learn more about eligibility requirements and how to apply here.

Get in touch with us about the Health Leaders Network and other ways to get involved with ULI Building Healthy Places at [email protected].

Emily Zhang is a senior associate and Beth Nilsson is a director with ULI Building Healthy Places.