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Renewed hope and steadfast focus in 2022 for California workers

We are living in difficult and dark times. COVID-19, the climate crisis, systemic racism, disinformation, and division are all threatening our economy, democratic institutions, and society’s cohesion.

Meanwhile, half of California workers struggle to make ends meet76% of whom are people of color. This is not just, nor is it sustainable. It is certainly not the California that dreams are made of.

But I find hope in remembering that our nation has been through dark periods before. The start of the 20th century included the 1918 flu pandemic, the terrors of Jim Crow racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, the rise of Soviet communism, the economic calamities of the 1930s, fascism, and two world wars.

Those were difficult and frightening times for so many families. They were also formative times for our democracy that set the stage for post-war growth, the emergence and widening of America’s middle class, and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Many families survived those dark times and found economic opportunity on the other side. Sadly, and unjustly, those opportunities were not afforded to all Americans. Addressing that injustice is our charge today, as we seek to rebuild amidst the pandemic, persistent systemic racism, and the existential threat of climate change.

In the face of our enormous challenges, the Irvine Foundation remains focused on our North Star: a California where all low-income workers have the power to advance economically. We believe that good jobs can propel families out of poverty, that true economic opportunity can move someone from disaffection and fearfulness to hope and compassion, and that a just and inclusive economy will reduce racial barriers that limit human potential. And we will need lots of new, good jobs to rebuild our infrastructure for climate resilience.

Last year, our three flagship initiatives — Better Careers, Fair Work, and Priority Communities — invested $86.3 million in more than 75 core grantees leading efforts that can help our state out of the compounding crisis: more equitable access to quality jobs, worker protections and power, and more inclusive economic development in all of our communities. In 2022 we’ll learn from Better Careers and Fair Work grantees to inform future investments in those initiatives.

The advice of many of California’s most talented leaders has informed the development of an integrated strategy for statewide impact. We made good progress in developing that strategy in 2021 and hope to see it move forward as our fourth initiative this year.

In 2021 we also fulfilled our commitment to invest $20 million to address anti-Black racism and racial equity more broadly, which was part of an 18-month period of learning by our board and staff together. This year, we will take that learning and embed new approaches in all our work — grantmaking and operations — to address systemic racial barriers to economic opportunity.

We also committed up to $40 million over four years to support the innovations and policy changes needed to expand affordable housing — critical for working families to get ahead. And we continue to explore how supporting small businesses can further our North Star, particularly in minority-owned enterprises.

In the new year we are also laser-focused on supporting communities to prepare for the imminent rebuilding of their economies and infrastructure, catalyzed by state and federal budgets approved last year. These are once-in-a-generation investments, that if deployed to advance economic equity, can expand California’s middle class, along the lines of what happened in the 1950s and ‘60s — but this time for all working families.

At Irvine, we are enormously fortunate to have more resources to invest in our grantees and their fields. Our expected grantmaking for 2022 will be (at least) $186 million — 45% more than our grantmaking in 2021. I want to thank our investment team for their impressive results and our grantmaking staff, who have been working hard to deploy these funds for maximum impact.

I‘m proud to be part of an excellent and growing team that is ready for the opportunities that lay ahead. We expect to reach 85 employees in 2022, to better serve our grantees and partners, and we’re excited to welcome two new board members: Brenna Butler Garcia of Stockton and Teresa Matsui of Salinas bring two leading voices from our Priority Communities.

And I’m especially proud of and grateful for the work of Irvine grantees. They have been incredibly resilient in the face of 2021’s challenges, dedicated to their missions of increasing opportunity for the people of California. We thank them for their hard, important work and for giving us hope.

We can emerge from these dark times and experience another period of growth. But we all need to show up and do the work, with a commitment to include and support all Californians in that endeavor.