This past spring I’ve had the opportunity to explore — with my colleagues at Irvine and a consultant — how we might deepen our grantmaking in two important and growing regions of the state: 1) the San Joaquin Valley and 2) Riverside and San Bernardino counties. I’ve learned a lot in the process, but then, as often happens when we dig deeper, we also learn how much more there is to uncover.
For over a decade, the James Irvine Foundation has aimed to prioritize funding to these two regions, which are socially dynamic and increasingly more populated, and yet receive substantially fewer private philanthropic dollars per capita than the major metropolitan areas on the coast.
Our mission in these two regions is, as it is for the state, to expand opportunity for residents there in ways that build upon the region’s many assets. Over these past 10 years, we’ve sought to do so through our core program areas of Arts, California Democracy, and Youth. And, we’ve had the privilege to work with many grantee partners engaged in important, high-impact work.
At the same time, we see that we could do more to contribute to the regions’ well-being. So, we’ve set out to develop a customized approach for our work in these regions that targets clearly defined improvements over time. The approach that is emerging would have Irvine investing above-and-beyond our program areas to expand these regions’ assets in three ways: supporting and networking leaders, funding community-change efforts involving collaborations across sectors, and fueling innovation. We’re already finding some promising opportunities in each of these areas.
One project we are considering is extending a Fresno initiative we began last year. In 2013, responding to feedback from young leaders there, we launched the Irvine New Leadership Network, which brings together leaders across issues, sectors, and generations to learn together and foster a better future for the region. Reflecting on the positive feedback we have heard, we plan to examine whether a similar program may be useful in the Riverside and San Bernardino area, while appreciating that the context is distinct.
We also are exploring collaboratives in both regions that involve multiple sectors to make progress on critical issues for inland California’s future. Our thinking is that Irvine could add in our resources to initiatives around which there already is local energy, resources, and momentum. We are still in the research phase, but are beginning to identify promising efforts. Specifically, there are a number of efforts dedicated to boosting school readiness in the San Joaquin Valley, and a major initiative to create better opportunities for residents from “cradle to career” in the San Bernardino area.
We’re still at the early stage of our deeper look into inland California, and the list of what we know remains considerably shorter than the list of what remains to be figured out. A couple of the tensions in this work include:
While there are no right answers to the questions above, it seems the best we can do is to continue to invite input and guidance from those living in the regions as we seek to support a better future there and for California.
We will have a further update in the coming months and in the meantime, we welcome your thoughts and questions. Please share your opinions.