By Jim Canales
In 1937, California’s population was approaching six million residents, the most iconic bridge in the world made its grand debut and a wealthy agricultural pioneer decided to give back much of his fortune to Californians by founding The James Irvine Foundation. As the Irvine Foundation marks its 75th anniversary this year, we naturally look back on our decades of grantmaking with a sense of pride in the accomplishments of our grantees who have worked so hard to help improve the lives of Californians. But we also use the occasion to look ahead and explore what is possible for this great state and how we might continue to play a role in expanding opportunity for the people of California.
We commemorate our 75th anniversary with a new timeline of significant moments in the history of the Irvine Foundation and our grantees, including photos that capture the role of Irvine grantees in responding to some of California’s biggest challenges. Take a look and let us know what you think — we hope you are inspired by the impact our grantees have had on a diverse range of issues over time, representing the freedom that James Irvine provided to the Foundation’s trustees to adapt and evolve the organization’s focus based on the changing needs in California.
What strikes me about the timeline is how it documents our evolution from a somewhat insular institution that funded causes close to home, to a strategic partner to our grantees, working with them to tackle the biggest issues of the day. This transition mirrors the century-long evolution of private philanthropy as the sector has recognized the opportunity and the responsibility to be bolder in our aspirations and to take a strategic approach to solving societal problems. For Irvine, the days are long gone when our Board of Directors would decide which organizations to fund based largely on personal connections or institutional profile.
Today, the Foundation carries out James Irvine’s mandate to benefit the people of California based on carefully considered program strategies and independent evaluations aimed at assessing our impact. As I recently announced in my summer blog post, the Foundation is currently in the middle of a planning process that may result in the pursuit of new opportunities, complementing our current three program areas, where we believe Irvine can have a meaningful impact in the lives of Californians.
We are somewhat unique among foundations in that we were established with a broad mandate to help promote the “general well-being of the citizens and residents of the state of California.” Many private foundations have narrower mandates and are focused on particular issues like global health or the environment. But we are focused broadly on California, which gives us the opportunity and responsibility to stay attuned to the needs and challenges of the state, to spotlight critical issues and potential solutions, and to support effective leaders who are tackling them.
With that in mind, as part of a series to mark Irvine’s 75th anniversary, we asked a handful of California leaders to write guest blogs for us that discuss the state’s most important trends today and how we might collectively respond to them, or that highlight aspirations for the state and how Irvine specifically might play a role to achieve those aspirations. The blogs will be rolled out here on a periodic basis in the months ahead, and we invite you to check back regularly to read these important thought pieces.
The first blog post from Mark Baldassare, President of the Public Policy Institute of California, names education, the management of natural resources and the public’s distrust of government as three of the most pressing issues that threaten the state’s future prosperity, but he remains optimistic that these problems can be tackled because, “Californians are in a mood for change.” Future posts promise to offer additional insights, and we would value hearing your thoughts about these leaders’ observations as they appear on our site.
While much of today’s narrative about California tends to focus on our challenges and problems, we must balance that with a thoughtful assessment of our strengths and opportunities, of which there are many. California is a state of innovators and pioneers, one of whom was James Irvine, and if we can refocus our energy on how to tap this great potential of our state rather than being daunted by the size of our current challenges, we will no doubt create a better path forward for all Californians. The James Irvine Foundation looks forward to playing an active role in shaping this prosperous future for our state, as we consider ways to build upon a 75-year legacy and look to honor the hopes and aspirations of our founder.