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2015 Year in Review: A Look Back

The following is an excerpt from my full letter in the Irvine Foundation’s 2015 Year in Review, which we released today. We typically share our Year in Review at this time of year to include all of the necessary updates — and plan to share our 2016 updates even earlier in 2017.

Focus: That is the word that best summarizes our 2015 efforts here at the Irvine Foundation.

In 2015, we continued a focused commitment to our three existing grantmaking programs, while also setting a new foundation-wide focus for our grantmaking in 2016 and beyond.

In my first full year as CEO, I went on a statewide listening tour, meeting with leaders from across our state from the social, commercial, and public sectors. During these meetings, I heard great hopes, deep reflections, and serious concerns for California. These leaders also shared their advice for how Irvine could use our resources to more effectively expand opportunity for Californians.

Here are some of the themes from those meetings that struck me as most important:

  • California is a tale of two (or more) states, with vastly divergent opportunities and growing disparities between the haves and have nots.
  • All too often, California’s young people grow up insufficiently prepared for success in life, with many unready for college, career, or both.
  • Early childhood education can result in an enormous payoff, yet it is not readily available.
  • Jobs that pay a real living wage remain elusive for too many Californians.
  • Many of the same Californians who face economic challenges are also less likely to be civically engaged, often because they feel powerless or fail to see the relevance of government to their lives.

These listening sessions were eye-opening, and they served as a springboard for additional discussions and research. Informed by what we learned, and by our history and experience, we decided a change was in order.

Going forward, the Foundation will invest our resources to expand economic and political opportunity for young adults and families who are working but struggling with poverty. You can read more about this new direction — which we announced in January 2016 — here.

To prepare for our new direction, we developed long-term plans in 2015 for each of our current areas of grantmaking. We worked with our grantees to identify the outcomes, priorities, and resources needed to guide these current bodies of work through to completion.

We continue with that work today, committed to investing in our grantees to achieve impact and sustain their work. You can read about one of those plans here.

In addition to developing future plans in 2015, we also invested more grant dollars in 2015 than the year prior — and were proud to see our grantees achieve important gains in their respective fields. Details on these gains can be found in this Year in Review.