How governments can partner with philanthropy, nonprofits, and businesses to magnify their social impact over the next four years.
This article originally appeared in Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Last year, when Governor Gavin Newsom appointed me California’s first senior advisor on social innovation to lead public-private partnerships, he already knew it was a moment for collaboration like never before. Although California had experienced decades of prosperity, not all Californians had benefited from the state’s success, and we needed to rethink our approach to build a California for all.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, business, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations have partnered with government in unprecedented ways to support Californians. The state’s recently released Social Innovation Impact Report shows that under Governor Newsom’s leadership, our office has led public-partnerships totaling $3.9 billion in corporate and philanthropic funding, in coordination with $1.3 billion in public funding. We have created far more social impact than we would have by working alone. And while public-private partnerships are not new, California is the first state in the country to lead cross-sector collaborations at such a large scale.
When the public, private, and philanthropic sectors partner, everyone benefits. In California, our partnerships are addressing problems including the state’s homelessness crisis, supporting California’s undocumented immigrants, and ensuring California families don’t go hungry. These partnerships are on the cutting edge of innovation, bringing new solutions to previously intractable problems, and providing models for other states and for the country.
As President-Elect Joe Biden shapes his approach to governing—including how to provide both immediate and sustained public health and economic relief—there’s much to learn from California’s approach to partnerships. We’ve been bringing all hands on deck to address social challenges like supporting populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19, ending the pandemic, fighting for racial justice, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
Here are four important takeaways from our work over the past two years that may help other government teams—federal, state, or municipal—looking to lead through partnerships:
1. Partnerships provide a more expansive way of governing. As the first US state to have a senior advisor on social innovation embedded in the governor’s office, whose primary role is to coordinate policy priorities with the private sector, California is taking a cross-sector approach to effectively meeting people’s needs. We are collaborating between public and private sectors to broaden the impact of our work and bring different capabilities to the table.
Our state’s COVID-19 Public Awareness Campaign provides a vivid example. In July, when public health experts were urging people to wear masks to slow the spread of the coronavirus, yet mask-wearing was still not widely adopted in many parts of the state, we began shaping a hard-hitting, surround-sound campaign to shift public behavior. Philanthropic partners like CDC Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, and Sierra Health Foundation provided funding in partnership with the California Department of Public Health, and together, we launched a statewide “Wear a Mask” campaign. Dozens of companies—including Facebook, Twitter, NBCUniversal, Comcast, and Ethnic Media Services—donated advertising space, and Google offered its behavioral health team to analyze data so that public health officials could better understand which messages were resonating. Sesame Workshop even pitched in by producing mask ads with Elmo, Oscar the Grouch, and Grover, aimed at kids going back to school.
The campaign ultimately developed hundreds of assets in 10 languages. These have seen 485 million digital impressions, 1.4 billion television impressions, and 750 million radio impressions. This campaign was stronger, because we were working together with the private sector to maximize and amplify the message, and today California has one of the highest rates of mask adoption in the United States.
2. Partnerships produce innovative solutions. Public-private partnerships also bring new ideas to government and test them out in ways that government could scale. Sometimes, it can be difficult for government bodies to innovate, because policy leaders don’t want to take risks with tax-payer dollars. At the same time, smaller investments by just one philanthropy can’t have wide-spread reach. Philanthropic and corporate capital is precisely the type of flexible money that can help de-risk government spending.
Take Project Homekey, an effort launched in June to convert hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings, and other properties in need of rehabilitation into permanent, long-term housing for people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We put out a request for proposals to local jurisdictions and dedicated more than $800 million to buying properties across the state. We also partnered with Blue Shield of California and Kaiser Permanente, who collectively contributed $45 million to support wraparound services like substance abuse counselors and job training programs where needed, and with Enterprise Community Partners, a national expert in affordable housing financing, to support the long-term financing of the properties.
So far, the effort has created 6,055 units of permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness. But perhaps most important, the average per-unit cost is $138,512, including funding for services—a figure well below the average cost to build new housing units. This innovative approach to acquiring housing provides a model that government and the private sector alike could scale across the country.
3. Partnerships allow you to accelerate social change: While COVID-19 has revealed deep disparities in our society, such as communities of color being disproportionately affected, the gravity of the pandemic has also provided the opportunity to accelerate social change by taking bold risks through partnerships. Whether it’s supporting vulnerable Californians who have been left behind or providing housing or services to formerly incarcerated individuals, we are leveraging this moment of crisis as a catalyst for social change.
This summer, in response to rising COVID-19 cases among incarcerated individuals and prison staff, the State of California expedited the release of Californians who were already on track to go home from California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Through our Returning Home Well initiative, which aims to break the cycle of recidivism, poverty, and homelessness in California, we worked to provide individuals with access to services proven to help formerly incarcerated people successfully reenter society. Alongside CDCR and the Department of Social Services, we partnered with Amity Foundation and Career Employment Opportunities to offer housing, health care, treatment, transportation, direct assistance, and employment support.
With $15 million in public funding, and $15 million in philanthropic funding led by Meadow Fund, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Rosenberg Foundation, and more than a dozen other foundations, the initiative is now working with more than 100 community partners. So far, 6,171 individuals have received treatment services upon exit from CDCR institutions, and 2,011 individuals have received reentry housing, representing a 78 percent increase over last year. If successful, the program could influence the way we support systems-involved individuals going forward.
4. Partnerships have a multiplier effect. Partnerships can also provide a model for policy change that can be replicated in other jurisdictions.
One example of a public-private partnership that’s providing a model for other cities and states is California’s Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants fund. When the federal government issued stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to each American in early 2020, it left out undocumented Americans—including immigrant Californians—who have been disproportionately performing essential jobs throughout the pandemic. In April, Governor Newsom announced an unprecedented $125 million disaster relief fund to fill this gap.
Funded with $75 million from the state and an additional $50 million from 70-plus philanthropic partners and more than 800 individual donors (led by Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees), the fund has provided more than 230,000 undocumented Californians with one-time cash assistance of up to $1,000 per household to deal with specific needs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-two states and cities across the United States have already replicated the model so far.
A How-To Guide for Public-Private Partnerships
For any local, state or federal government seeking to adopt public-private partnerships as a new form of governance, or for philanthropic and private sector partners interested in thinking about how to best encourage such partnership, here are some lessons I’ve learned over the last year:
A lot of hard work lays ahead of us in California and across the country. As we have shown in California, we are stronger by working collectively. We hope these lessons from the last year of partnerships in our state can assist President-Elect Biden and leaders throughout the country in creating a world where all sectors work together to bring about change.
STATE ECONOMY MAY BE THRIVING, BUT NOT ALL CALIFORNIANS ARE SHARING IN THAT PROSPERITY
This article by Mayor Michael D. Tubbs and Kathleen Kelly Janus originally appeared in The Mercury News.
California’s economy is thriving, but not all Californians are sharing in that prosperity. Inland California, which stretches from Sacramento to Stockton through Fresno, Bakersfield, and the Inland Empire, contributes 17 percent of California’s economic output – but faces more than its fair share of poverty, unemployment and opportunity gaps.
Philanthropic giving mirrors those trends. California’s Bay Area has 20% of the state’s population and receives 53% of its philanthropic dollars, while the San Joaquin Valley is home to 11% of the state’s population and receives just 3% of its nonprofit dollars. Similarly, the Inland Empire accounts for 11% of California’s population but receives just 1% of the state’s nonprofit dollars.
If you’re a philanthropist investing in housing for the 59,000 people on our Los Angeles streets or services for the homeless in San Francisco, you might be wondering what these problems have to do with you. The answer is, everything. The fates of our communities are intertwined. As people migrate inland in pursuit of more affordable living, philanthropy must recognize the opportunity to truly build a California for all.
Bay Area organizations like Hamilton Families, are rehousing homeless families as far away as Sacramento and Fresno to address the skyrocketing need. We must ensure that jobs, supportive services, and affordable housing follow. If we don’t, we are just busing people out and passing big problems down the road, instead of building communities of choice where people can thrive.
In this spirit, Gov. Gavin Newsom is leading a “Regions Rise Together” initiative to support economic development, land use, and transportation in communities that have been left behind. Some influential investors are already redefining the philanthropic landscape. Philanthropy California has guided grant-making organizations across the state toward funding opportunities in San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire. The James Irvine Foundation and The California Endowment are increasing nonprofit capacity throughout the Central Valley and Salinas.
Philanthropy is critical to catalyze government dollars. The city of Stockton leveraged The Spiegel Family Foundation’s $20 million donation to launch Stockton Scholars, double the number of counselors in Stockton Unified School District and align its graduation requirements with the CSU/UC system. This catalytic investment triggered a $2 million commitment in the state’s 2019 budget to produce a feasibility study for a Cal State University in Stockton, which would create more than 2,000 local jobs and generate more than $250 million to Stockton’s local economy.
Philanthropic investments also help test new ideas. With support from the Economic Security Project, Stockton launched SEED, the nation’s first mayor-led guaranteed income pilot. In February, SEED began giving 125 low-income residents $500 a month for 18 months. This partnership helped transform universal basic income from a fringe idea to a viable policy solution that could help lift people out of poverty throughout our state.
Environmentalists also need to look Inland. Forty percent of emissions in our state are from vehicles. With lack of affordable housing “super-commuters,” those traveling 90 minutes or more to work every day, are on the rise. We must marshal every available resource – from state climate resilience programs to directing social capital into new businesses, green infrastructure, and housing through Opportunity Zones — if we want to create local jobs and healthier outcomes.
Californians must start thinking beyond their own backyard. Philanthropy’s nimble capital, local government’s knowledge, and the nonprofit sector’s trust must be deployed together to empower those who have been left behind. If we continue to operate in silos, the gaps between us will continue to grow. If we work together, all Californians can rise.
This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post.
The recent government shutdown has underscored that we can't count on politicians to solve the world's many pressing social problems; they're too preoccupied with combatting one another. And the billions of dollars we spend in foreign aid isn't necessarily the solution either. As Angus Deaton, an expert on global poverty, argues in his new book The Great Escape, aid money may even do more harm than good. Now more than ever we need the fast-growing community of social entrepreneurs to fill this leadership void to develop innovative solutions to the world's problems.
Around the world, thousands of social entrepreneurs are identifying inherently unjust equilibriums in society and using innovation to unlock potential and alleviate the suffering. Scott Harrison at charity: water has brought clean and safe drinking water to millions. Sakena Yacoobi at the Afghan Institute of Learning has developed a model of community support to provide schooling to nearly 300,000 Afghan children with no prior access to education. And Simeon Koroma at Timap for Justice has created a network of paralegal offices around Sierra Leone to pioneer basic justice services to thousands of poor Sierra Leoneans. It is vital that philanthropic organizations and public donors continue to fund this work.
The problem is that social entrepreneurs are now coming under increasingly unrealistic pressure to fund more and more of their operations themselves by selling products and services. When they apply for foundation grants, the first question foundations often ask is "How will you become sustainable once this funding is over?" Similarly, many individual donors, often people who have become wealthy in the corporate world, push social entrepreneurs to use market mechanisms to support their work, or even expecting investment returns in the case of impact investing, where firms invest in companies, organizations and funds with the intention of generating measurable social, as well as financial, return. The push to bring the best practices of the business world to the nonprofit sector has produced many positive results, and it has helped social entrepreneurs become less dependent on chasing grants and philanthropic contributions. But it's being pushed too far.
There is a serious danger in expecting social entrepreneurs to develop fully self-sustaining business models. Because social entrepreneurs are, by definition, solving problems that result from market and government deficiencies, markets cannot be the solution. If bringing water to the 800 million people who don't have adequate access to clean water or selling mosquito nets to the 200 million suffering annually from the scourge of malaria were profitable ventures, private companies would be doing these things. Expecting social entrepreneurs to figure out how to create solutions to such problems profitable when even the behemoths of modern-day capitalism can't do so is misguided wishful thinking.
Consider two cases of social entrepreneurs who have stepped up to the plate to incorporate profit-making programs into their work. Gemma Bulos founded the Global Women's Water Initiative (GWWI), which not only trains rural women in East Africa in to build rainwater catchment systems with water storage tanks, toilets and water filters but teaches them to make and sell water-related products, such as soap and shampoo, in their communities. Many of these micro-businesses have become self-sustaining, but they do not make enough money, not by a long shot, to provide funding to GWWI as well, let alone to fund the extension of the work to other regions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Martin Fisher and Nick Moon founded KickStart to design, promote and mass-market simple farming tools, such as irrigation water pumps, that small-holder farmers can buy cheaply and use to make their struggling farms profitable. To date, KickStart has pulled over 750,000 poorest-of-the-poor African women, men and children out of poverty. To achieve that kind of success, the organization has to engage in extensive training of the farmers, to teach them about the benefits of irrigation and convince them to spend their very limited savings on the tools. Without funding from foundations and individual donors to cover a significant portion of its annual budget KickStart would not be viable.
The irony of the success of these and many other such innovative organizations using business tools to develop income-generating initiatives is that it has led so many foundations and individuals to take the demand for profit to extremes, failing to appreciate the on-the-ground constraints of revenue potential.
The incorporation of business practices into solutions crafted by social entrepreneurs holds enormous promise. But if we force social entrepreneurships to actually become self-sustaining businesses, we will end up undermining their ability to provide those solutions, taking their focus away from their core missions and forcing them to spin their wheels trying to use market principles to solve market failures. Rather than focusing on helping those in need to apply the best practices of business to improve their lives, organizations will end up focusing on applying those practices to serve their own needs. The philanthropic community must continue to support social entrepreneurs without holding them accountable to fundamentally unrealistic expectations. We must practice smart philanthropy and hold organizations accountable for results, but we must not expect those results to show up in the form of profits.