Rachel Davis

Executive Director, Prevention Institute

Rachel A. Davis has played a key role in shaping the Prevention Institute’s approach and guiding innovative initiatives aimed at promoting community health and safety, health equity, and mental health and wellbeing. Her work as managing director at Prevention Institute influenced state and federal policies and programs on violence prevention, community safety, health equity, and public health generally. Her more recent work with the World Health Organization gives her a platform to effect change globally.

Rachel began her professional career as a crisis and outreach counselor for runaway and homeless youth in Philadelphia. In the early 1990s, she worked as part of a multi-disciplinary team at Burt Children’s Center in San Francisco, developing and implementing a program providing clinical treatment and individual educational plans for emotionally disturbed children. She spent a year as a family advocate in San Rafael, California, providing case management and counseling services for culturally and linguistically diverse children and families. In the late 1990s, she was a social worker for the San Francisco Unified School District. After witnessing the systematic failure to keep children and young people safe and working to repair the deleterious impact of these failures, she helped start Prevention Institute in 1997.

“Throughout my direct service work, I saw the extent of harm that occurred before intervention. I realized we were failing young people. It was heart wrenching, and I recognized the need for earlier and more systemic actions to support families and communities.”

Rachel was an advisor in the development phase of the White House’s National Campaign Against Youth Violence; served as chair of the advisory committee for the California Cities Gang Prevention Network, facilitated by the National League of Cities and National Council for Crime and Delinquency; served on the Sustainability Steering Committee for the California Mental Health Services Act; and served on the National Academy of Sciences’ Planning Committee on Community Violence as a Population Health Issue. She continues to serve on a number of global and national advisory bodies and steering committees, including the Global Violence Prevention Alliance of the World Health Organization; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Violence Prevention Action Council and the Division of Violence Prevention’s Policy Network; the National Advisory Committee of the HOPE Measures Project to develop a National Health Equity Index; and the steering committee for the Essentials for Childhood Initiative of the California Department of Public Health.                                                  

“Prevention Institute’s approach, methodology and frameworks recognize the structural drivers of violence and the unequal distribution of power, money, and resources that play out at a community level and impact people’s access to opportunities that improve health outcomes.”

At Prevention Institute, Rachel leads UNITY (Urban Networks to Increase Thriving Youth through Violence Prevention), a CDC-seeded national initiative advancing a public health approach to violence. Through training and technical assistance, developing case studies about effective approaches, highlighting costs and benefits, and shaping language for use in press releases and press conferences, UNITY has helped city and community leaders advance effective prevention approaches to violence. Rachel is the author of The UNITY Policy Platform: What Cities Need to Prevent Violence Before It Occurs and The UNITY RoadMap: A Tool for Effective and Sustainable Efforts to Prevent Violence Before It Occurs. She developed guidance for The California Endowment’s grantees on local violence prevention and co-authored the foundation’s community safety framework published in 2015, Community Safety: A Building Block for Healthy Communities.  She served as senior advisor and deputy project director for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Youth Violence Coordinated Training and Technical Assistance program and was a lead content developer for Partnerships for Preventing Violence, an initiative funded by the US Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services, guiding the training of more than 10,000 practitioners across the country.

Originally for the US Office of Minority Health, Rachel developed the Tool for Health and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments (THRIVE), a community-oriented framework and tool to advance prevention and health equity. THRIVE is now an overarching framework for Prevention Institute, guiding community transformation to improve health, safety, and wellbeing. She also played a key role in developing health equity measures to inform The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Metrics and developed their foundational health equity materials. She presented this work to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Community-Based Solutions to Promote Health Equity in the US in 2016.

Rachel has led several multisector strategic planning processes and supported multisector collaboratives, including a 25-member coalition of state agencies and departments in California, spanning health and human services, justice, and education. She co-developed Prevention Institute’s Collaboration Multiplier tool, to support more effective multisector collaboration, and applied it to violence prevention in an extensive guidebook, Multisector Partnerships for Preventing Violence: A Guide for Using Collaboration Multiplier to Improve Safety Outcomes.

Rachel conducted a groundbreaking landscape analysis on men’s mental health and wellbeing in the US. The report, Making Connections for Mental Health and Wellbeing Among Men and Boys in the US, demonstrated that resilience is a critical protective factor for mental wellbeing and underlined the need for community-level prevention strategies to maximize impact. This led to the establishment of a national initiative, Making Connections, to develop and implement practical community-level prevention plans to improve mental wellbeing, prioritizing the needs of military/veteran communities and families, and boys and men of color and their families.              

She has an extensive publication record, including in peer-reviewed journals, and is the author and co-author of pioneering frameworks and policy approaches developed and disseminated by Prevention Institute over the past two decades. Recent publications include “From Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adverse Community Experiences: Addressing and Preventing Community Trauma” (in Violence and Trauma in the Lives of Children, edited by Joy Osofsky & Betsy McAlister Groves, Praeger Press); and Countering the Production of Health Inequities: An Emerging Systems Framework to Achieve an Equitable Culture of Health.

Rachel holds a master’s degree in social welfare from the University of California, Berkeley and a BA in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She is a regular presenter on the work of Prevention Institute at local, national, and global events, including meetings of the American Public Health Association, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the National Black Caucus Foundation, and the National Council of State Legislators.