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Building a Win on Equity: Philanthropy’s Investment in Equitable Recovery Can Help California Govern for All

Thursday, February 24, 2022
by Michael McAfee, President and CEO, PolicyLink, and Dwayne S. Marsh, President and CEO, Northern California Grantmakers
 

This is a governance moment. We can master governing for all people by bringing a racial equity consciousness to every aspect of how government does business. We have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen our democracy by fully activating our multiracial population and building a nation where everyone participates, prospers, and reaches their full potential.

In a national poll PolicyLink recently completed, two-thirds of Americans said that eliminating structural racism is a goal we should try to achieve and nearly 90% said that it would benefit all Americans to eliminate racism in this country. If we choose to lean into this challenge, the questions that result are twofold: how is the pandemic inexorably linked to the state of our nation, and why does an equitable recovery become pivotal to the fate of our democracy?

For too many people today, the most basic elements of a healthy, economically secure life have been elusive, withheld by broken systems and structures. Long before this current crisis, nearly one-third of Americans, including 14 million Californians, were just one paycheck away from being unable to make ends meet. The majority of Californians spend more than a third of their income to keep a roof over their head (and nearly a third of renters spend half their income), leaving little money for other needs. And on any given night, 150,000 Californians experience homelessness. In each of these statistics, people of color are disproportionately represented. Generations of policies have locked them out of economic opportunity and limited their access to education, health care, and other basic needs. While everyone’s lives have been affected by the pandemic, we were not all starting from the same place.

To climb out of this mess, government leaders at all levels must embrace this reality and confront racism in our institutions to advance racial equity. The choices made about long-term recovery of our country and the massive infrastructure investments in California represent a value statement. 

Will we continue to make decisions driven by the needs of a few, or will we reimagine our processes to ensure that those hit hardest by the crises play a leadership role in defining community challenges, developing and implementing appropriate, effective solutions? Will we rely entirely on technical experts, or will we invest in the capacity of resident leaders, community organizations working closest to those with the greatest need, and grassroots organizations working to rebalance power? By closing the gap between policymakers and the people, we not only have the opportunity to transform our communities and our economy so that everyone thrives, but we also have the means to reestablish government as a trusted foundation for our democracy. 

Collectively, we have the tools we need to get this done. By fusing the wisdom, experience, and fully activated capacity of movement leaders, the courage of our most progressive elected leadership, and the innovative investment and boundary blending of philanthropy, we can leverage this moment of unprecedented federal and state resources to reset the state’s trajectory toward equity and build the world’s first truly functional multiracial democracy. 

While government holds the ultimate responsibility for establishing systems and institutions that uphold and deliver equity, all of us have critical contributions to make to this work. At NCG, we support philanthropy to make a difference right now – through decisive action, by building long-term capacity of groups on the ground trying to shape resources, by leveraging relationships with the corporate sector to provide leadership, by investing in new kinds of authentic partnerships between governments and the people they purport to represent.

  • The California Black Freedom Fund has reached nearly 70 percent of its ambitious goal to capitalize $100 million in service of Black power-building and organizing in California, with a goal no less audacious than providing these groups with the resources they need to eradicate systemic and institutional racism.
  • NCG has partnered with PolicyLink, JUST Capital, and FSG as they have spearheaded a CEO Blueprint for Racial Equity. The Blueprint pushes the frontier of corporate responsibility by challenging companies to understand and address the intended and unintended consequences on people of color occurring in all products, policies, and practices. It also shares a set of guidelines that can support businesses on their equity journey. 
  • Dozens of California foundations have been working with the Governor’s Senior Advisor for Social Innovation to infuse meaningful equity practices in the administration’s California for All platform. 

At PolicyLink, we are committed to supporting a common-sense, street smart recovery in California that ensures that all people are able to benefit from an equitable economy, live in a healthy community of opportunity, and participate in a just society. To accomplish this we are working to:

  • Build movement infrastructure that ensures equity advocates and directly impacted communities have leadership roles in planning for our future and driving implementation of state and local recovery and infrastructure programs.
  • Focus public investments on the people and places that have been marginalized by structural racism and other systems of oppression.
  • Accelerate new models of governance that center the 14 million economically insecure Californians in decision making and program implementation.

Working across interests and sectors, we can help define a roadmap, driven by a different way of saying, being, and doing. And this will serve us long after this historic moment has passed. Our communities face quiet battles every year, in annual budget making, in implementation of programs, and in all the other struggles to align public resources with the needs of those too often left out.

In the coming months, we’ll explore the dimensions of this opportunity together with some of the state’s foremost champions for an equitable future. The conversation will culminate at NCG’s Annual Conference this May 4th and 5th, where we will discuss how philanthropy can coordinate with government, community leaders, nonprofits, and the business community to invest in good governance. We hope you’ll join us. 

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