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The James Irvine Foundation Explores New Grantmaking Directions, Asks for Input

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The James Irvine Foundation announced its new organizational goals in January, pledging to share information throughout the process. Irvine is now exploring two new grantmaking directions — and is asking for additional input. Below is a message from Irvine President and CEO Don Howard:

The input we have received to date — along with research we have conducted — adds up to important lessons that will guide our work:

  • Four out of 10 Californians are in or on the brink of poverty, including 1.5 million working families who are living in poverty.
  • People struggling with poverty are less likely to vote or be politically active, and there are many obstacles preventing Californians from breaking out of theses cycles of poverty and disengagement.
  • Families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty are focused on more than just wages. They seek more predictable work opportunities and the chance to build new skills that propel their careers.
  • Policymakers in California often have no personal experience with poverty, creating a divide that affects both policy and civic participation.
  • Solutions exist. Despite the challenges California faces, there are nonprofits, social enterprises, and coalitions that are expanding economic and political opportunity for the working poor.

To build on these lessons and deepen our understanding of these issues and populations, we will continue research this year, including efforts to hear directly from Californians struggling with poverty. We want our grantmaking to be informed by their voices and perspectives — and the solutions they point to.

So far, we are exploring the following two areas of grantmaking that will lead to initiatives focused on the need for greater economic and political opportunity for families and young adults who are working hard but struggling to get by.

Career Readiness and Living-Wage Work

If you have an advanced degree in California, times are pretty good. But if you lack sufficient education or the skills that today's employers need, times could not be more difficult. While the economic recovery has produced many minimum-wage jobs, rarely do those offer hope for advancement or pay enough to sustain a family.

Building on the Irvine Foundation's longtime investments in education designed to help students prepare for a career, we are exploring grantmaking that would invest in efforts to help low-income, working families and young adults secure and succeed in jobs that pay enough to sustain a family.

While we are in the exploration phase, we are interested in finding innovative solutions to:

  • Improve opportunities for job training and employer matching for lower-skilled adult workers;
  • Work with employers to create higher-quality jobs that help them grow their business;
  • Find more ways to provide credentials that will put workers on a path to a family-sustaining career; and/or
  • Figure out how to help build wealth and financial literacy for low-income workers, so that they can buy a house, pay for schooling, and have greater financial security.

Voice and Influence

Political and economic opportunity go hand in hand. Millions of everyday Californians feel that their voice doesn't matter — that they are shut out of the process or that politics are irrelevant to their lives. Needless to say, too often our state's public life and the policies that emerge from it reflect that reality.

We believe that if low-income Californians are able to effectively express their political will then transformative policies will follow. For example, we will explore investing in efforts that seek to:

  • Develop low-income Californians and low-wage workers as leaders who can elevate the voices and influence of typically marginalized communities;
  • Help low-income Californians fully participate in public decision making that impacts their ability to support themselves and their families;
  • Support innovative structures and policies related to workplace governance, since those rules and practices determine how much voice employees have in the workplace (and beyond); and/or
  • Shine a spotlight on effective employer partnerships and employer policies that support and are supported by workers, including practices that are ethical, pragmatic, and good for a company's bottom line.

Our Timing and Interest in Input

As we develop these new directions of grantmaking — and the initiatives they will become — it is important to note that we have not decided yet on the specifics of either. We are eager to hear your ideas as we determine how to shape our grantmaking decisions in these areas.

So, we have created a page on our website where you can share examples, ideas, and questions. Please also follow us on Twitter and Facebook to share your thoughts, as well as to learn about future updates and opportunities.

We also plan to convene and engage with leaders in the field who can provide insights about the political and economic challenges that Californians struggling with poverty face — and the promising approaches in existence or that are needed to overcome these challenges.

As we build a deeper understanding of these arenas in the coming months, we will make an initial set of grants to support promising efforts (with evidence of success) that are already underway. We believe that moving quickly now to support existing organizations and partnerships doing this work well will expand those high-impact efforts while also informing our future grantmaking.

While we are still at the beginning of this journey, we are excited about where it will take us — and look forward to ongoing dialogue with you about where we're headed.