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Looking Back on a Year of Change: Our 2016 in Review

Today I’m excited to share Irvine’s 2016 Year in Review. Our Year in Review is an annual look at the Foundation’s grantmaking, investments, and learning over the course of the year. We release it in the spring so that we can include financial statements.

2016 was certainly a year of transition. The year ended with a major change for the country and a new political reality for our grantees and the people we seek to serve. Here at Irvine, this only underscored the importance of the transitions we made over the course of the year.

At the start of 2016 we announced our strategic shift to focus on expanding economic and political opportunity for Californian families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty. We spent the year advancing that work with initial grants, an emphasis on listening, and new internal structures. The promising results we see from our early grantees give us confidence that we have chosen the right focus.

We are hopeful about where we go from here. California can lead the way forward by ensuring a path to the middle class and a voice in the political process for all Californians. We see potential for progress, but we know there is a lot of work to do and look forward to building on what we started in 2016.

Learning while doing

When we announced our new strategy, we committed to developing new initiatives by learning from the field and from the people we aim to serve. We want to learn how to improve California’s paths to good, family-sustaining jobs for all, and how to give Californians a voice in the political decisions that affect their lives and communities.

This commitment meant changing how we work. It meant that over the course of 2016 we were “learning while doing,” with an increased emphasis on listening and partnership.

In 2016 we began investing in strong, innovative partners within three new areas we’re exploring: Worker Voice and Influence, Career Readiness and Living-Wage Work, and Postsecondary Success. We made more than 20 grants to leading organizations to help them expand their impact, while also learning from their work.

We also set out to listen directly to Californians who are working but struggling with poverty so that their voices, perspectives, and proposed solutions can inform our work. We held 14, two-hour Community Listening Sessions across the state. We heard about the barriers keeping the California dream out of reach — and gained a deeper appreciation for the power of working collectively to make our communities stronger.

Our hope is that listening to the community will ground our work, leading to better decisions about our future strategy — and, ultimately, more impact.

Transitions in our current work

In 2016 we developed multi-year plans to culminate several initiatives launched under our previous program structure. We appreciate the grantees who worked with us on those plans — and who continue to make tremendous progress in their fields.

Our elections and arts engagement grantees took bold steps forward toward their goals. Linked Learning field leaders assessed progress against 2016 milestones and helped us shape our 2017 funding priorities. You can read more about those and other accomplishments in this Year in Review.

In 2016 we also responded to several emerging and important issues in our state. Along with other likeminded funders, we supported an effort to dramatically expand dialogue — and improve understanding — between communities of color and local police. We also provided unrestricted funding to grantees working directly with California’s immigrant communities to protect their rights.

We will continue to respond where we believe there’s a unique need and opportunity. We designed our strategy and operating model to allow us this flexibility.

A new way of working

Transitioning our strategy meant making several transitions internally. In 2016 we started to retool our approach to grantmaking to better achieve our goals. We restructured our teams, shifting from a siloed, program structure to a portfolio of time-limited initiatives that individually and collectively advance our goals.

In 2016 several new staff and board members joined the Foundation, and our board appointed a new Chair: Lydia Villarreal, the presiding Superior Court Judge in Monterey County (who first joined Irvine’s board in 2006).

When our CIO, John Jenks, retired after 14 years of service to the Foundation, we welcomed our new CIO, Tim Recker. A new Chief of Staff and Planning, Charles Fields, and several other great additions also joined our staff. And we worked internally on supporting dialogue amongst staff to build a culture of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that can apply to both our internal interactions and external work.

Looking forward

As the world continues to change around us, we stand firmly for Irvine’s values of inclusion, equity, and opportunity. We remain committed to investing in common-sense solutions that expand political and economic opportunity for all Californians. We hope that the transitions of 2016 put us in a strong position to do so.

You can read more, including my full letter, in the Year in Review. I hope you’ll take a look, and we welcome your feedback.

Don Howard