Our History

ChangeLab Solutions’ story is about how profound change takes hold, not just in the health of individuals but in the health of communities. We work across the nation to advance equitable laws and policies that help create healthy places to live for everyone. Our staff prioritizes communities whose residents are at highest risk for poor health. As an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, planners, policy analysts, and other professionals, we work with community-based organizations and city, local, and state governments to help ensure that communities are healthy for all residents — especially in places where healthy options are not the norm.

We help implement solutions that bolster all aspects of community health, working in many interconnected issue areas, including access to healthy food; housing and transportation; schools and child care; the built environment; and commercial tobacco control. ChangeLab Solutions works in every US state and in many territories and tribal nations. By analyzing existing policies, we help identify which innovative approaches will yield the most improvement in health and equity. Our unique method, backed by research and evidence, seeks to undo the harms of structural racism and other forms of institutionalized discrimination that encumber underserved communities.

View our history timeline to learn more, and keep reading for a brief history of our journey to becoming the equity-focused organization that we are today.

A Beginning in Tobacco Control

The image of an office worker smoking at her desk evokes an earlier era; it’s a sight you would never see today. Just a few decades ago, smoking was extremely common in workplaces, restaurants, and homes around the nation. And the number of premature deaths due to smoking reflected that murky reality.

Norms related to smoking began to change in 1986, when Contra Costa County, located east of San Francisco, passed a groundbreaking piece of legislation. This ordinance was the first multi-city policy in the nation to restrict workplace smoking. Suddenly, office air was no longer toxic and workplaces were becoming healthier environments for employees. A key leader of this work was Marice Ashe, who would later found ChangeLab Solutions. After many years of working in local government, Ashe started thinking about the supports that all communities would need to promote health through legally sound law and policy changes. In 1996, she started an organization to create the groundwork for other communities that wanted to curb tobacco use, particularly among youth.

Since then, ChangeLab Solutions has provided legal assistance, trainings, and model tobacco control policies to every California county and to dozens of localities and states across the country. These policy changes have helped Californians save $134 billion in health care costs and contributed to a 25% decrease in tobacco-related deaths. ChangeLab Solutions is proud to have been a major player in shifting social norms on smoking, and we are excited to continue this important work.

Going Nationwide: Obesity Prevention & More

While ChangeLab Solutions was working on tobacco control in California during the early 2000s, the United States was facing another public health crisis: epidemic levels of childhood obesity. Building on the effective policy strategies we had honed for tobacco control, our staff began crafting model zoning and licensing laws to help rein in obesity and confront its underlying causes. We helped limit the proliferation of fast-food restaurants and created resources to help localities open new facilities for physical activity, including playgrounds and walking trails.

“So many law and policy decisions affect community health,” says ChangeLab Solutions founder Marice Ashe. “It’s only natural that we branched out from tobacco control as the organization grew. Our range of expertise increased rapidly as we added new staff from diverse backgrounds who had unique skills and expertise.”

ChangeLab Solutions’ work has expanded into many other areas that affect community health and well-being, including access to healthy food; housing and transportation; schools and child care; and the built environment. When communities have a specific health or equity challenge, we partner with them to imagine possible solutions and then draft the forward-thinking policies that are required to make those changes. And we ensure that communities know how to effectively use the policy tools we provide.

Where We’re Headed

ChangeLab Solutions will continue to break new ground, innovating to promote health equity and address the social determinants of health.

We will build on the principles we’ve developed in our previous work. The most effective policies incorporate community insights and feedback, influence which behaviors are supported and encouraged, and reduce the health risks that residents are exposed to. Our “health in all policies” approach brings government and community leaders together to develop health-oriented partnerships that are the foundation for lasting policy change. And our equity-first approach ensures that these leaders are supported with resources designed to help them make profound changes that confront historical injustices and set a path toward a more equitable future.

Guided by these core tenets, we will expand our collaborations with communities across the country to protect residents from unsafe housing conditions and secondhand smoke, improve access to healthy foods and opportunities for exercise, and transform the way policymakers think about land use, parental leave, and safe learning environments. Many more developments will unfold as we link health directly to civil rights law, address economic injustices, and promote equitable enforcement of the law. As new public health challenges emerge, ChangeLab Solutions will continue to meet them through our steadfast commitment to using policy change to create healthy, equitable communities.