In conversation with experts, leaders and change-makers.

Narrowing the Gap

Paul and Christine Tufano’s $1 million donation to Villanova is designed to help spark solutions for poverty and inequality initiatives.

Professional photo of AmeriHealth Caritas Chairman and CEO Paul Tufano.

© 2018 Guerrero, LLC/Cass Davis

Villanova University has launched an interdisciplinary initiative to examine the intersection of poverty and inequality. The initiative was spurred by a $1 million gift from Paul and Christine Tufano. The couple both hold double degrees from Villanova and felt the institution was ideal for advancing innovative ideas to solve the related social ills. Mr. Tufano, who is chairman and CEO of AmeriHealth Caritas, and also a former chair of Villanova’s Board of Trustees, talks about the inspiration for his family’s gift and what they hope it will achieve.

As someone who champions support for low-income families on a professional level every day, what drove your decision to tackle poverty personally?

I don’t think anyone whose job provides a window to the devastation of poverty can turn off their concern at the end of the workday. Doing something about it becomes a mission in one’s own life, especially for those of us who believe strongly in the power of community. We won’t end poverty without a commitment — and a demand — from everyday citizens that we address the root causes. Poverty is a direct result of inequities across the spectrum of life. Christine and I believe those of us more fortunate have a moral obligation to help those in need. Our support for the Villanova initiative has been in development for a while, but the events of 2020 underscored the need to act. From a public health crisis with economic ripple effects that have disproportionately impacted the working poor, to a long overdue national reckoning on racism and racial disparities, we need public policy solutions now. This is a pivotal time in our nation’s history. Christine and I want to raise the public consciousness and help create momentum for innovative solutions.

What do you hope your gift to Villanova can accomplish?

We hope this endowment will bring together the best minds in business, academia, community, faith-based organizations and government, and find real solutions to poverty and inequities. I always say a country that put a man on the moon can do anything, but we need a fervent commitment to achieve this challenging goal.

We also need strong leadership, which this initiative will have with Dr. Stephanie Sena, who was selected for the first fellowship. She brings an abundance of experience in advancing programs to help those living in poverty, such as a student-run housing initiative to help the homeless in Philadelphia, so we’re confident Dr. Sena will bring together the right people to innovate unprecedented poverty solutions.

You’re a Villanova alumnus, but beyond that, why did you feel the school would be well positioned for your gift?

As an institution, Villanova shares our values, and we know it will use these funds to full advantage. It grew from a mission to educate poor immigrants who struggled with discrimination in employment and education and has long worked to find solutions. This will not be an easy undertaking, but we felt Villanova would share our sense of urgency, which the pandemic has underscored.

The pandemic put a spotlight on long-standing social inequities that lead to health disparities as low-income and minority populations proved more vulnerable to COVID-19.

It put a spotlight on long-standing social inequities that lead to health disparities as low-income and minority populations proved more vulnerable to COVID-19. They’re suffering a disproportionate number of deaths as well as job loss. These scenarios can be prevented if we commit to finding permanent solutions, which Villanova has done.

Illustration of hands holding two water droplets, a house, and an apple.

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You currently lead a Medicaid Managed Care organization and previously served in the administration of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. How have these experiences shaped your understanding of poverty and inequities?

I’ve had the privilege of serving diverse populations in a professional capacity, which provides a window into the worlds in which they live. I recognized quickly that those worlds do not live up to our nation’s promise of equality for all. When you meet people whose life experience is different than yours, you have an opportunity to understand them at a far deeper level, to really see their struggles and the inequities they face every day.

We have to, and can, do more. We should be talking more about whether people have the resources to take care of themselves. No one chooses to be unhealthy, to suffer health disparities — they are the consequence of health, racial and social inequities that would complicate life for any of us.

If you could help others understand one thing about poverty and inequality, what would that be?

I would want them to understand that the millions of Americans living in poverty didn’t choose to be poor, nor did communities of color and people with disabilities and differences choose to face discrimination and systemic disparities. Our Constitution says, “We the People,” but we have work to do to ensure that “We the People” includes everyone, with no asterisk and no one left behind. Everyone deserves an opportunity to live their own version of the American Dream, and the Villanova poverty and inequality initiative is designed to tackle the root causes that have kept that dream out of reach for too many Americans, for far too long.