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Partnering with the public sector

There is tremendous opportunity – and urgency – right now to address the unsustainable divide in economic opportunity in California. We feel that at Irvine and are grateful to hear many public officials feel the same way.

California has a booming economy and a new governor with a bold agenda. The opportunity is ripe to address income inequality and expand opportunity for all of California’s workers.

But energy and commitment will not change conditions by themselves; we also need new approaches and new partners to create a California where all workers have the power to advance economically.

Recently my colleague, Amy Saxton, wrote about one such partner: employers. Irvine is also pursuing partnerships with other funders, organized labor, and, importantly the public sector.

Last October we held our board meeting in Sacramento, since that is where grassroots advocacy and policymaking combine in ways that can have profound impacts on workers and work. We heard from public officials (state legislators and members of the governor’s staff), researchers, advocates, and other leaders about policy and politics related to workforce, housing, and regional economic development. (Here’s an excellent summary of the state of the state by CALmatters, a nonprofit news organization.)

All speakers, regardless of topic, echoed similar themes: California’s economic disparities are serious, but we have the resources and talent to overcome them – if we’re innovative, collaborative, and willing to push past the politics and self-interests that often impede progress.

The Irvine Foundation has made a commitment in recent months to find new ways to support public sector priorities that benefit low-income workers (in addition to our initiative grantees who may work with the public sector). Some examples include supporting:

  • The Future of Work Commission, via a grant to the Institute for the Future, which includes leaders from multiple sectors hosting public discussions to develop a “new social compact for California workers”
  • The California Strategic Enforcement Partnership, a collaboration between the state Labor Commissioner’s Office and community organizations to tackle wage theft, empower workers, and level the playing field for employers in several large industries
  • Planning efforts to develop inclusive, equitable economies in inland California, including the DRIVE effort in Fresno. We joined California Forward’s California Economic Summit in early November, where the governor announced support for and progress of that initiative. (And this podcast episode from the Governor’s office shares more about philanthropy and the public sector partnering for inland California workers.)
  • Inland California cities that seek to leverage the new federal tax law’s Opportunity Zones incentive for development in under-resourced communities, with assistance from Accelerator for America
  • The expansion of apprenticeships in the Central Valley and Inland Empire, as part of Governor Newsom’s ambitious goal of 500,000 apprenticeships by 2029, with assistance from the New America Foundation

This is just a start. No one sector can, alone, solve California’s problems or leverage all its assets. We’re eager to continue to partner with public officials, and leaders in every sector, who share our commitment to advancing economic opportunity for California’s low-income workers.