Skip to content

Priority Communities: Taking stock of 2020, looking forward

The James Irvine Foundation is committed to helping under-resourced regions of California so that all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. Last April, we were excited to launch the first phase of our Priority Communities initiative in Fresno, Salinas, Riverside, San Bernardino, with expansion expected in Stockton as part of phase two. We support community-driven efforts to create local economies that are inclusive and thrive for all residents, with an emphasis on more good jobs that offer family-sustaining wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities for workers currently in low-wage jobs.

But the world around us quickly changed. The pandemic began, and as the year progressed, the number of infections in the cities we work in increased, as did the economic fallout.

With our learning partners at Engage R&D, our team reflected on this past year to understand what it’ll take to implement our strategy in these uncertain times.

As communities deal with the ongoing crisis and look to rebuild their economies, our commitment to supporting their solutions remains strong. Our approaches, including centering racial equity in economic development, are especially relevant: The pandemic has disproportionately hurt communities of color, many of whom are essential workers and small business owners struggling with job losses, underemployment, or closures.

The experiences we gained working with the community this past year led to important considerations for grantmaking moving forward:

  • It is necessary to balance urgent community needs while holding the longer-term vision for an inclusive economy. For example, in Salinas, we provided cash-assistance grants to individuals disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 as well as small businesses, especially those owned by people of color and immigrants. But we are also building on this opportunity to reimagine an economy that centers the community’s needs as we look ahead to economic recovery.
  • A groundswell of support for racial justice underscores the need to address deeply rooted inequities in our economic systems. Our team is exploring how to develop more targeted, population-specific economic strategies for greater impact for communities of color (e.g., small business development that intersects with racial equity to support entrepreneurs who are systemically left out).
  • It will be critical to keep up with the rapid changes in the structure of the economy due to COVID-19, as well as the state and federal response to the economic crisis. We must support communities to grow and attract quality jobs that meet workers’ needs by partnering with organizations to build and support workers and other community members’ leadership.
  • We need to support and strengthen intermediary partners and community organizations working toward inclusive economies by building their networks, investing in research and analysis of economic data (at the community level), and continuing peer learning for community partners.
  • We need to continue supporting opportunities to build partnerships with stakeholders not currently “at the table” to envision a better economy – including grassroots organizations, employers, workforce training providers, and the public sector – to build more cross-sector relationships and solutions, and to develop a shared language within and across communities about what it means to create inclusive economies.

As of December 2020, the initiative has invested $28 million of its $135 million budget via 18 grantees, specifically:

  • $26 million to support local efforts to create good jobs such as local economic planning tables, organizational capacity building to ensure community participation in economic planning, and investments in entrepreneurship
  • $1.9 million in supportive efforts like local workforce training, research, and narrative change

We are grateful to our partners for their incredible work and collaboration during such trying times. We look forward to sharing updates and lessons along the way – and encourage you to learn more here.