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Irvine’s New Initiatives to Expand Opportunity for California Workers

Every Californian should have the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families. That is the promise of California.

But that promise is out of reach for millions in our state. Too often working Californians face barriers to advancing their skills and careers, or to having their voices heard on the critical decisions that affect their jobs, lives, and communities. These barriers can include poverty, discrimination, and policies and practices that systematically exclude them from accessing opportunity.

We believe philanthropy can play an important role in addressing these challenges. That’s why Irvine invests in leaders, organizations, and solutions that expand economic and political opportunity for young adults and families in California who are working but struggling with poverty. We adopted this focus last year, and today we’re announcing two new grantmaking initiatives that will advance Better Careers and Fair Work for low-income Californians.

These two initiatives were informed by more than a year of listening to and learning from community members, leaders, and organizations across California. During this exploratory phase, we also made pilot grants to organizations leading the way toward greater opportunity for low-income Californians. We are immensely grateful for the work of these organizations and the insights they provided.

Out of that process, we have developed two, six-year initiatives we are calling Better Careers and Fair Work. Our first grants for these initiatives will be in early 2018.

Better Careers

The Better Careers initiative will invest in efforts that help workers build skills to earn wages that sustain a family and provide the chance to advance in their careers. When workers gain skills for better careers this benefits them, their families, and our state. In addition, a stronger and more diverse workforce is good for workers and businesses alike.

In California, there are approximately 1.4 million “middle-skill” jobs available, which offer good jobs and better careers for high school graduates who have had additional training. These jobs are a step up for low-wage workers but are too often out of reach.

Through our Better Careers Initiative, Irvine will invest in organizations that connect low-income Californians to jobs with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities. Through our grantmaking and partnerships, this initiative will aim to help 25,000 low-income jobseekers secure employment that pays at least $18 per hour. We also will support new models of training, recruitment, and public/private revenue opportunities.

You can read more about the Better Careers initiative here, which we called Career Readiness and Living-Wage Work during its exploratory phase.

Fair Work

The Fair Work initiative will invest in efforts that engage low-wage workers to secure their wages, rights, and protections. Low-wage workers are critical to California’s economy, but too often they have no voice or influence on the economic conditions that affect their families and communities. In our community listening sessions, workers expressed feeling trapped, disconnected, and vulnerable.

That vulnerability extends to their pay. A fair day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. And, yet, each year roughly 600,000 Californians eligible for the minimum wage lose an average of $3,400 each to wage theft – at a cost of $2 billion annually.

Our Fair Work initiative will support partnerships among community-based organizations, employers, and public agencies to ensure workers get paid the wages they are due, while leveling the playing field for employers. We will also support grantees so that they can enlist, educate, and empower an additional 750,000 low-wage workers to advocate for their rights and legal protections, helping implement and advance public policies that recognize their vital role in California’s economic future.

Please read more about the Fair Work initiative here, which we called Worker Voice and Influence during an exploratory phase.

Priority Regions Pilot

This fall, the Irvine board also approved the pilot of a new approach to our Priority Regions grantmaking. We will continue to partner with leaders and organizations in regions of California that have fewer resources while we’ll pilot new approaches in Fresno and Salinas over an 18-month period.

This new approach will allow us to leverage the expertise of local funders to regrant Irvine dollars to smaller and earlier-stage organizations in these communities. We’ll work with regranting partners in three investment areas: improving civic engagement, developing leaders (individuals and organizations), and increasing access to quality information. The first pilots will be in Fresno and Salinas.

Irvine will share more about these pilots and our new initiatives in the year to come, and we’ll continue to assess and adapt our efforts as we learn what has the greatest impact. I want to share a special thanks to all our grantee partners and the hundreds of Californians who informed the development of our new work.

I am enormously excited about where we are headed. Improving opportunity for California’s low-income workers is among the most important issues of our generation, and we at Irvine feel a great sense of duty and gratitude to do this work with you.