2019: Three Insights and One Conclusion
The Walter & Elise Haas Fund fosters a more healthy, just, and vibrant Bay Area by collaborating with partners whose work provides access and increases opportunity. That’s our aspiration and — as the Fund’s Executive Director — it’s my job and my pleasure to try and achieve it. But what do we mean by a healthy, just, and vibrant Bay Area? What strategies can the nonprofit and philanthropic communities deploy to progress towards it?
As part of my exploration of these questions, in 2019 I launched Betting on the Bay, a blog series chronicling my conversations with some of the remarkable Bay Area leaders shaping our community’s future. I sought to listen, learn, and share insights so that we can all more effectively work together as agents of change.
Three main insights spring from this first year of conversation and introspection:
1. The Bay Area Dream
Everyone I spoke with emphasized how extraordinary the Bay Area community is, and how lucky we all are to be part of it. We have a long history of innovation here — not just in terms of technology, but across all aspects of our personal and public lives. This is the testing ground for bold ideas that shape communities in new and positive ways.
And the impact of the Bay Area’s innovations is not limited to this local arena; often what begins here goes on to influence developments across California, the country, and the world. One example is the reduction and removal of the fines and fees that trap people in poverty. Another is the idea of portable benefits, that travel with workers from job to job.
More than one leader I interviewed referred to “the Bay Area dream” as something we need to keep alive. We recognize that we need to redouble our efforts in the current economic context if our values and creativity and care are to keep benefitting as many as possible.
2. Reaching Across the (Bus) Aisle
Surprisingly, access to high-quality public transit featured prominently in all my conversations. It was often the first answer when a leader was asked what makes a community vibrant.
By increasing access to jobs, providing opportunities to explore our environment, or simply by means of the diversity we encounter when riding BART and MUNI, our public transit systems and the mobility they provide are a core cause of and perfect expression of the Bay Area’s vibrancy.
This is something I will remember next time I tap open a ridesharing app.
3. The Wisdom of Youth
Investing in young people is the best way of increasing justice and vibrancy in the Bay Area in the long term.
When I spoke to two fourth graders at Malcolm X Academy in the Bayview their biggest concern — by some distance — was climate change its impact on their future. They instinctively understood that climate change is not just an environmental issue; it’s an issue of social justice that will impact our most vulnerable and marginalized populations for generations. If we fail to address climate change, we will have no justice in the Bay Area and vibrancy will be a consideration far below basic survival.
The Common Thread and the Conclusion
The theme of connectivity ran throughout my conversations: between seemingly different issues such as climate change, education, public transportation, and economic security; and between the different organizations working in different sectors — government, business, civil society, and philanthropy — all working to address these issues.
From this, I conclude that the pathway forward for the Fund is to increasingly emphasize the links and synergies between our program areas. How can what we do in the arts amplify our work in education? How do economic security efforts link to safety net support? How can the amazing organizations we fund learn from each other and, through collaboration, achieve more?
A signature example of this focus is our new support for Linked Learning and Career Pathways in Oakland and San Francisco unified public school districts (OUSD and SFUSD). These programs draw on synergies between all our program areas: arts, education, economic security, Jewish life, and safety net. Moreover, this work requires and combines the collective efforts of nonprofits, local government, the business community, and school districts to help ensure that a sustainable employment pipeline is being built to achieve economic inclusion for all young people in San Francisco and Oakland.
In 2019, I only interviewed six leaders; I could easily have doubled or tripled that number. There is no shortage of talent and no shortage of inspiring ideas in our community. As executive director of the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, I look forward to extending our partnership and collaboration to you so that we can continue to bet on the Bay Area. Together, we will deploy philanthropy to support innovation, collaboration, and partnership for the long term.
Thanks for sharing your key learnings and for remaining committed to a strong, just, and vibrant Bay area. Philanthropy and the social sector it represents need to work together to build capacity for good and be laser focused on finding lasting solutions. Happy Kwanza, Merry New Year.