Upstream is a national, independent, non-partisan organization incorporated as a non-profit. We were born and grown in Saskatchewan and have offices in Saskatoon, Toronto, and the Capital Region (Gatineau). We work to nurture a movement to create a healthy society through evidence-based, people-centred ideas. Upstream seeks to reframe public discourse around addressing the social determinants of health in order to build a healthier society.
From the emergency room, to homeless shelters, to the prison system, we see the consequences of downstream thinking all around us. Upstream thinking means investing wisely for future success rather than spending all of our time and resources responding to and perpetuating failure.
If health for all is our goal, then upstream thinking is about addressing the things that have the greatest influence on our health, including income, employment, education, early childhood development, housing, nutrition and the wider environment.
What we do
Upstream works with the growing body of evidence on these social determinants of health and uses that knowledge to guide recommendations for change.
By sharing stories through a variety of media, Upstream seeks to creatively engage citizens, sparking within them a personal stake in the social determinants of health and a demand for upstream alternatives to the status quo.
Upstream uses this evidence and storytelling to foster a vibrant network of organizations and individuals who share this vision.
By demonstrating that a better way is possible, we can help create the conditions for wiser decisions and a healthier Canada.
People care about health. It’s a value we all share, transcending class, colour, and political ideology. This shared value of health, understood as full social, physical and mental wellbeing, and expanded to encompass not just the health of individuals but also the health of our communities and institutions, gives us a focus for our shared aspirations.
Despite the emphasis we place on health care, which continues to rank at the top of Canadians' concerns, health care actually isn't the biggest factor in determining our health. The social determinants of health — our income, education, social supports, housing, nutrition, the environment, and more — are what make the greatest difference in our health outcomes and life quality.
Addressing these determinants enables people to live longer, fuller and healthier lives. If we can build the political will to push for evidence-based, root-focused and forward-looking policy innovations, we can foster a common purpose that deepens community, builds solidarity, and rejuvenates democracy.
Helping others, helping ourselves
Giving everyone the opportunity to improve their circumstances, to escape poverty and experience the fullness of health, is not just the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Why? Because the evidence shows that our future well-being depends not on our selfishness but our generosity, our sense of justice, and our willingness to invest in all children, not just our own.
As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrate in their groundbreaking book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, everyone’s safety, prosperity, and satisfaction with society all suffer when inequality increases. Even the wealthiest people in an unequal society are less healthy than they would be in a more equal society. Life in a more egalitarian country, on the other hand, benefits the health of everyone, from the least advantaged to the most successful.
The implications of these findings are, frankly, revolutionary. Addressing the social determinants of health doesn’t just help those most in need; it helps everyone, from the poorest to the richest. Everyone benefits.
The vision of a truly healthy society offers us a shared goal with the power to reach across the differences that separate us. It allows us to connect with our neighbours in recognition of our common vulnerability and our common desire to live full and healthy lives. By systematically addressing the determinants of health, and continually tracking the effectiveness of our measures, we can do what is right and what is smart. We can improve the health of people and the health of the political system at the same time.
Upstream acknowledges the generous support of the Dirk Seafoot Estate. Dirk served in the Royal Canadian Air Force for four years and upon his return to the Webb area of Saskatchewan was actively involved in farming for about 75 years. He was a keen observer of the world around him and enjoyed CBC radio, newspapers and periodicals as well as the Discovery and History Channels. Dirk was very self-sufficient and maintained a simple but active life, including hand painting the outside of his house and patching the shingles on his barn while in his 90's. His self-sufficiency was matched with a keen interest in social justice, and he was proud of Swift Current being the first location for socialized medicine in Canada.
Executors Mark Covell (nephew) and Steven Allen (married to niece Arlette Allen) share this vision of a healthy society for all.
We are also grateful for the generous support of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the Douglas Coldwell Foundation.
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