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Our 2023 Portfolio Review

Our Board of Directors met last week to reflect on the state of our state, our strategy, and its impact toward our North Star goal: a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. 

Our annual Portfolio Review is one tool we used for that discussion — and for transparency and accountability for our constituents, community, and colleagues. Our Portfolio Review tracks data and developments related to our focus, grantmaking, people, and culture, allowing us to adjust as we learn from grantees and navigate external factors. 

Our board’s discussion comes at a moment full of challenges and opportunities for California and the low-income workers who are at the heart of our grantmaking.

Looking ahead, we believe that California must rebuild with resilience. Low-wage workers face economic uncertainty. The tight labor market means low-wage workers have opportunities to “trade up” to better jobs, yet inflation continues to cut into wage gains, and fears of a national recession loom large. At the same time, California is poised to invest billions of public sector dollars to rebuild and strengthen our economy and infrastructure. The risk is that these dollars will not be invested in ways that lead to equitable outcomes. This is the challenge we see ahead of us. 

The Irvine Foundation has changed significantly since we shifted our focus and structure in 2016. Growth in our endowment during strong markets has provided us the privilege of growing our grantmaking and staff. Adding this capacity and expertise has required thoughtfulness as we build and strengthen our culture, operations, and service to grantees and partners via new ways of working. 

This includes our steadfast commitment to advancing racial equity at Irvine and through our grantmaking. You can read more about that in our racial equity statement here and how it plays out in our grantmaking and operations in the Portfolio Review. 

This is a pivotal moment for our initiatives, our efforts to work across sectors, and what is next as we focus on rebuilding with resilience. Read about some examples below. 

I’m excited that our board approved $186.5 million over seven years for our Fair Work initiative. That’s on top of $108 million given since 2018 to “raise the floor” for workers in low-wage industries in California by improving enforcement of federal and state labor protections, increasing engagement of workers on their labor rights, and advancing policy solutions that secure fairness and dignity.  

Evaluations show that the strategy is working, and the additional funding for Fair Work will deepen our investments in organizing workers and strengthening enforcement efforts to ensure more workers benefit from wage cases. The initiative will also now support opportunities to improve job quality in low-wage industries.  

In December, the board similarly approved $160 million over seven years for more investment in our Better Careers initiative. Since 2018, Better Careers has provided more than $100 million to connect Californians to good jobs with family-sustaining wages and advancement opportunities. The next phase will strengthen apprenticeships, leverage public workforce systems, and invest in nonprofits serving workers who have been failed by multiple systems.  

Our other two initiatives, Just Prosperity and Priority Communities continue to invest in organizations and collaborations that will ensure more community and worker voice in economic planning and decision-making. Fresno is one of our priority communities (along with Riverside, San Bernardino, Salinas, and Stockton), and our investment in the local DRIVE planning initiative helped position its coalition members to secure a $65 million federal grant. 

That example is part of Irvine’s strategy to support efforts to leverage the massive public sector funds available to California to rebuild local economies, infrastructure, and create climate resilience. Specifically, our goal is to ensure that the state is much more inclusive and equitable in who receives and benefits from these significant government investments. You can read more about those partnerships and investments on page 17 of the Portfolio Review 

There are tremendous opportunities ahead to disrupt patterns — that have taken root over decades — of economic inequity for Californians. We continue to be inspired by the resilience of California’s communities in the face of countless challenges — and the organizations that serve them — and by public calls to use unprecedented investments to rebuild an economy with inclusion and justice.  

Please learn more in our 2023 Portfolio Review and more on Irvine updates and perspectives in general on our blog.