Elena Chavez Quezada and Don Howard Transcript


Kirk: Welcome to Let’s Hear It.

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Eric: So let’s get onto the show.


Kirk: Welcome in, gather Around. Welcome back. It’s another episode of, let’s Hear It. We’re glad to have you. Glad to be here.

Eric: Are you gonna do s’mores? I did the welcome in. You gonna make all for you Mr. Brown? Make you’re gathering around. We’re gonna make s’mores.

Kirk: We’re gathering, we’re lighting the fire.

We’re saying come on in. We have a great conversation ahead. And, and this is consequential. This is so, Ooh. Consequential. And, and in fact it’s, it’s a, well, let’s just leave it a consequential. This is, this is a very. This is a very important discussion we’re about to hear. Let’s set it up, Eric, and then we will listen and we’ll come back. There’s a lot to talk about.

Eric: My mother would say there will be consequences. Very consequential, I sat down in the flesh in the same room, which is very exciting.

Kirk: You always, always do it this way with Don Howard, who was the president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation. Which is a California wide grant making institution of great note.

And Elena Chavez Quezada, who is Senior Advisor for Social Innovation in the office of governor Gavin Newsom of the great state of California.

So you’ve got some big, big time is the other way. We’re gonna say big. These are big time guests. This is big type stuff going on.

Eric: The found foundation and the right hand of the governor on social innovation. How about that? And so the conversation was about partnerships. Between foundations and government, and Elena and Don had recently Co-written a piece for the candid website about this very topic, and I saw that. I’m like, wow, I know both of these people. This is amazing. I’ve been thinking about this stuff since I was in knee pants, and I would love to talk to them and have a conversation about how can foundations and govern governments work together to make the world a better place.

Kirk: So the piece by Elena and Don is called How Philanthropy Can Partner with the Public Sector to Build Equitable Infrastructure. And that ran on candid on November 1st. And yeah, this is a conversation of incredible consequence. I’ll save my first comments for it when we come back. So this is Don Howard.

President, CEO of the James O. Red Foundation and Elena Chavez Quezada from Governor Newsom’s Office of Social Innovation. Um, let’s listen and we’ll be back.


Eric: Welcome to Let’s Hear It. My guests today are Elena Chavez Quezada, Senior Advisor for Social Innovation in the office of Governor Gavin Newsom. Don Howard, the president and CEO at the James Irvine Foundation.

Two people that I really, really like a lot and I’m so happy that you would join us for this great conversation. Thank you so much for coming on to Let’s Hear It. Alright, so let’s just dive right in here. You recently published an article on the candid website that was called How Philanthropy Can Partner With the Public Sector to Build Equitable Infrastructure.

Okay, first of all, this notion of. Philanthropy and government working together is very exciting. I used to, I was a press secretary for a year. As I said earlier, I’ve been trading on that year for a really long time. And when I came into philanthropy, I always thought to myself why government and philanthropy should work together.

’cause we, you know, philanthropy can take risks and government has money and all, and it doesn’t seem to happen that much. I, I’ve always felt like there was a huge missed opportunity. So when you wrote this article, I. I was like, oh, this is a great conversation and I know these people, so maybe we can have a great conversation about it.

And, uh, so maybe I’ll just start with you, Elena. Why was this an important topic for you to write about? I will also go back and say that you worked at the San Francisco Foundation. That’s where we know each other, and you’ve worked in the nonprofit world. And now you’ve gone over into the other side. So tell me about why this was a good story to tell and, and why you wanted to participate in this kind of conversation.

Elena: Yeah. Well, thanks so much for having me, and I think this is exactly the kind of conversation that gets me excited in the morning. I do. Wanna start out by saying, fundamentally in Governor Newsom’s office, we believe in partnership. So we have, there is a certain degree of humility that I find quite refreshing to say we can’t do it alone.

Even in a state with the fifth, that’s the fifth largest economy in the world, even when our budget kind of dwarfs philanthropic dollars. There’s a lot that we can learn from and partner with philanthropy on. So that’s part of why I was so excited to write this piece. There’s a few things that I think philanthropy does really well that the state can’t do, and vice versa.

Scale is one of them. So the state can put out big dollars at scale, and there’s a lot of infrastructure work happening across the state. Philanthropy can help us make sure it’s implemented well, risk is the other one that you alluded to. So there’s massive, massive dollars. But we might wanna innovate, we might wanna try out different models of like, how does this, how does this actually work on the ground?

I. In a way that’s responsive to the community. So philanthropy can help us take some of those risks. There’s also time. So if we are time limited in the government and so philanthropy will still be there. So I think when it comes to infrastructure, these are the massive dollars, massive opportunity, and we need to make sure that communities who have always been left out of those tables and haven’t had the capacity really have the opportunity to benefit.

From these infrastructure dollars and make sure it’s implemented well in their communities. So that’s, that’s what prompted me to be so excited to write this piece with Don and just talk more about what that looks like.

Eric: Following up on that, Don, what do you think that your foundation colleagues could get out of this piece?

What do they need to learn about partnering with government?

Don: Well, first I’d say partnership is possible, but it is dependent on the conditions being correct. We’ve been trying to partner for a long time and it was with Elena and her predecessor where partnerships are actually possible to do. We have a ton of values alignment, and the administration is very open to having partnerships.

So we’ve been able to really engage in a way we haven’t been able to engage before.

Eric: So you’re saying conditions being incorrect. Can you give us a little more on,

Don: well, like I said, values alignment in the first place, um, but also a willingness to open the door, be um, authentic, find ways to trust one another and to pilot things and build from there.

In past administrations, we haven’t had the door open. And I think the point person that Elena’s providing the role she’s providing in the governor’s team is a unique one and one that really allows us to tap in in a relationship-based way that’s trust-based and that we didn’t have before.

Eric: Don was talking about the, the door not being open in past administrations.

Now, the previous administration was also a Democrat who in theory was in a high alignment with someone what these, uh, many foundations are trying to do, and yet things didn’t happen. Here you go. You gotta get a chance to say something nice about your boss, but can you talk about how the governor’s office wanted to open that door or kind of give us a sense of, of what that means to have a door open to philanthropy.

Elena: Well, I think at the kind of highest level, it’s about building that trusting relationship that Don mentioned. So it is, it does take a certain amount of vulnerability, I would say, for the state to say, here’s what we’re really excited about and here’s what we’re struggling with. And so I think that level of authentic conversation with philanthropy to say like, we need help.

Kind of figuring this out. And also it’s a push and pull, right? Like I know philanthropy can, can have strong opinions about what the state is or is not doing. But if we don’t have a forum to have that conversation, you don’t have a person, which I’m that person for philanthropy to help connect to different state leaders.

I can hear it myself. I can bring in the right people. We will never have that push and pull. So I think and, and I think there’s a lot of lack of understanding of like what the state can and cannot do. And same in the nonprofit sector and the groups that philanthropy works with. The other thing is that when I talked earlier about scale, the state puts out big dollars at scale, but like it can be clunky in implementation.

We’re a big, big state with like super diverse regions and we have funders. Who have built their entire expertise on like getting to know those regions and doing right by them. And so I think that’s another big opportunity for the state and philanthropy to partner together. And that’s what like a relationship means is.

We’ve got the big picture and we’re values aligned on that big picture, but the proof is in the pudding. Like it’s all about how it’s implemented. And I think we all sometimes get distracted by like the big policy win and not necessarily the implementation of it. That’s where we, we need that open line to philanthropy.

So I’m constantly trying to say where does the governor’s priorities and philanthropies priorities intersect, and where are those kind of magical? Moments where we can align our resources to impact, to have an outsized impact.

Eric: Well, you mentioned these magical moments. Now, a magical, a couple of magical moments happened in the last year or so, a couple of really large infrastructure spending bills, and you focus on this in, in your piece.

There was the. There was the in, was it called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which everybody keeps saying IIJA and I have no idea what they’re talking about. And then there was the inflation redu, the I interestingly named Inflation Reduction Act. So both of these are pumping a ton of money into states and into communities, and there’s, uh, in.

In both of them, there are identified opportunities for communities that have been left out of the opportunity that federal funding has been able to offer in the past. So this, this feels like in the pre-interview, we, we were talking Don about the moment, these brief moments when things can come along, call it a window of opportunity, feels like that window is cracked just a bit.

That you are talking about, how do we use this combined power and influence to be able to access those funds and make them work well? So Don, can you kind of give us a little bit more on like what is, what is this money and how do you see it providing opportunity?

Don: It certainly is a window of opportunity and I don’t think it’ll shut quickly.

I think we’re at a position in time where we have to remake our economies for climate resilience and for equity. And we can see vicissitudes in sort of the political process, but this isn’t gonna be the first or it can’t be the first if we really wanna see our climate restored and see our communities have real economic inclusion.

So that’s the thing. I also don’t want you to forget. The state is putting a ton of money into infrastructure and climate. So best estimates we’ve seen are somewhere between 90 and $120 billion are coming into California. Those dollars can be used to either catalyze real opportunity in communities or they can kind of instantiate the powers as they are today and benefit the few rather than the many.

So we as philanthropy see this particularly Irvine, our North Star, ensuring that every low income worker has the power to advance economically, and this is a chance to recreate pathways to the middle class this time, hopefully for everyone. And we’ve been able to support communities to help them. Real players.

Players and have their voices heard and how these dollars are used. They could either be used to recreate what we currently have, or if the community’s priorities are taken into account, better jobs, good areas of economic development and real inclusion at the table of decision makers can result from that.

So that’s what we’ve been providing support for. And then comes along the public funding and we say, wow. This capacity we’ve been supporting in communities can now have a chance to really direct these resources. And there’s risks, say one of them is the money is coming faster than communities can get prepared for, and that’s by dva a lot of different circumstances, not the least of which is the political cycles.

And the money’s also coming in so many different programmatic areas, each of which has some community engagement that effectively it’s kind of no community engagement. If you ask someone to go to. 30 town halls and how are they gonna do that? One thing we’ve done with other philanthropies, which I think is notable, is create a sort of pooled fund called the.

Economic mobilization initiative. And that’s been re-granting dollars to grassroots and community organizations so they can add a person where they can think about which of those town halls to go to, or they can be better, have better capacity to sit at the table and say, no, these are the economics of our community.

And can stand up, frankly, to folks who might be the traditional winners in those economic decisions.

Eric: So it sounds a, since this is nominally a show about communications, it sounds like communications is fairly important. In this, in this regard, because needless to say, Elena has kind of try and figure out how to sift and sort through all the information and kind of also understand what the narrative is, frankly, about why this matters and, and, and how it gets done.

Can, Elena, can you talk and a little bit about how you are kind of getting all that information and what you do with it and what various factors come into play as you, as you try to decide. Which products to, uh, projects to advance, how to build these kinds of partnerships and so on.

Elena: Well, I think having an equity lens is super important and wanna really highlight the governor’s commitment to equity through an executive order that we did last year.

And there’s all kinds of ways that this can look like. The executive order on equity is really looking at how the state can do a better job through our internal systems, through our communications and processes. So if you take that lens and we have all of these federal dollars and state dollars flowing, who’s.

Best positioned to get those dollars, the per people who already have dollars. And so an equity lens requires us to say who? Really has all of the planning and the all has done a lot of ordinary, knows what their community needs and wants, but doesn’t have the capacity to go after those dollars. That’s how I really think about prioritizing because we’re not, these regions of the state are not all starting from the same place.

So when I’m trying to sift through, you know, all of the opportunities and ways that the governor’s office and philanthropy could work together, it’s ensuring that. Some regions have an equal starting


Don: That’s an example of values alignment. That’s very much how we see our role in supporting communities with an equity lens, ensuring that folks that often been overlooked, particularly folks who aren’t white workers, quite frankly, aren’t getting their fair share of the spoils.

So that’s a very clear value for us, and I know it’s a clear value for the administration and it’s a place we can partner. We’re in relationship with a lot of these groups that are often overlooked. We can bring those groups to the table and we can help them be in better relationship with their local.

Civic leaders, but also with the state.

Eric: Well, I think that’s part of the, the beauty of having you inside, oh, I’m looking at Elena, at having you inside government. ’cause you understand foundations and you understand community foundations and you understand the grantees and so you have this real sense.

I’m, I’m just, I assume. Thank you, but I, but I know it’s, no, I know it’s true. But you have the sense what organizations, how they could use the money, how they operate, and you just have this view into all, all, you’ve been in the belly of all the beasts. Now. Now, is this a new position? I mean, has it, how has, how has this state built these relationships over time?

And what kind of infrastructure are you building in the governor’s office to be able to do this over time? Because I think that, that those kinds of relationships are so important, but they’re based on people and their own experience.

Elena: Yeah, so this position is, um, new to the Newsom administration. So when gov the governor got elected, it was very clear that prioritizing relationships with philanthropy and moving public-private partnerships was important.

So my predecessor, Kathleen Kelly, Janice was the first one to have this position, and it is. A lot of external work. Foundations are not an ATM. It’s about building these relationships. There are dollars at play here, and I think the state has very restrictive dollars. It has inflexible dollars. It has dollars that take a really long time to get out, and so these are all things that we can partner for.

With philanthropy on, it’s not just about the transaction, it’s really about like a trusting relationship, being able to share feedback, being able to share concerns and kind of connect the dots. One way that we kind of build this infrastructure into the government is I sit on the Cabinet Affairs team and work very closely with my colleagues, so there’s no project that I do that is.

Something that I Elena think is a good idea. It is really something that my colleagues have said, this is a governor’s priority. We’re working on this and they are front and center with philanthropy in helping to kind of understand the context and share all the details. So I am. Very much a generalist.

The other way that I think is really smart that we started to embed into government is I have liaisons at almost every agency. So we have public private partnership liaisons who have. Really busy jobs. As you know, deputy secretaries or senior advisors or whatever their role is within their respective agencies, but public-private partnerships is part of their portfolio.

We convene them monthly and we have a bit of a learning community, and so we’re constantly exchanging ideas. Part of it is. I am here to support agencies in building that muscle. The other part of it is, it’s really important for me and the governor’s office to have an understanding of all the ways that the state is engaging with philanthropy, so that we’re strategic and we’re coordinated.

Don: And Elena’s role has been really consequential, that position that was created because from a philanthropy perspective, we can’t engage with every agency. It’s just, you know, un. Uh, unreasonable and we don’t have the sort of capacity or resources and it wouldn’t get done. Our focus on low income workers is also allows us to think more kind of intersectionally with the agencies that affect people’s lives, and Elena can coordinate that.

The fact that we can then caulk Elena and say, Hey, how can we get involved in this program? Let’s just take California jobs first. We can tie in. We’ve been supporting communities to organize around inclusive economic growth kind of. Just transition planning from the region up and the state basically took the model and brought it to scale with California Jobs first.

So we can then reach out to Elena and say, okay, how do we coordinate our investments in a place like the Inland Empire with what the state’s trying to do? And then the dollars that might not be so flexible coming from the state. We can kind of provide glue around it. We can help folks plan. We can help folks evaluate, we can provide funding frankly for things that are as.

Consequential is having childcare at a community meeting. Those are not the kinds of things that government funding could typically be used for, but it’s huge leverage for us if the decision is being made around, you know, a $50 million grant for a particular project. If we can support the community engagement piece of that, that’s a huge amount of leverage for philanthropic dollars.

Eric: We’re gonna take a very quick break and we’ll be back with Elena Chavez Ada, the Senior Advisor for Social Innovation at the office of Governor Gavin Newsom and Don Howard, president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation.


Eric: You are listening to Let’s Hear It, a podcast about foundation and nonprofit communications hosted by Eric Brown and Kirk Brown. If you’re enjoying this episode, you may just be a rule breaker. Tune in to Break Fake Rules, a new limited series podcast with Glen Galaich, CEO of the Stupski Foundation. Hear from leaders in philanthropy, nonprofits, government, media, and more to learn about challenges they’ve overcome by breaking fake rules and which rules we should commit to breaking together. We are also sponsored by the Conrad Prebys Foundation. Check out their amazingly good podcast, and we’re not just saying that, Stop and Talk, hosted by Prebys Foundation CEO, Grant Oliphant. You can find them at stopandtalkpodcast.com. And now back to the show.


Eric: And we are back with Elena Chavez Quezada and Don Howard, and I’m really enjoying this conversation.

So now here’s, this is my favorite question as that I’ve been thinking about Don because, um, when I was head of comms at, at Hewlett, I sometimes had to practice law without a license because much of what we were doing was advocacy. We’re trying to move systems. And so in, in your piece, you have a quote here that I, I got very excited about.

You say you call on funders to. Support advocating for state funds that enable community led economic planning, unquote. So like foundations go screaming for the exits, the, the. Whatever the general counsel can banging on your door and wrestle you to the ground and hog tie you and take you out. So can you talk just a little bit about advocacy and how foundations can do it?

And, you know, you can’t give legal advice, but, but talk about how you think about advocacy in this context and why it matters.

Don: Let me validate your experience that folks go running for the hills. When you start talking about advocacy and it’s changing, I. There’s a movement within philanthropy to recognize that we can do things that actually seek to change systems, and we don’t have to be quite so frightened about it first, so all your listeners know if they don’t already.

We’re a private foundation. We are not legally allowed to engage in legislative advocacy in making or the electrical process. So there are things we can do though with supporting community-based organizations and the advocacy they’re doing. We can then, once a bill is passed or once a program is being designed, we can support the kind of technical assistance implementation to make that program work.

And then we can support organizations in the community that are keeping government sort of honest to make sure that the programs as designed are actually being implemented. So it’s not pure. Legislative advocacy, but it is supporting advocacy and then supporting the implementation of policies that result from the advocacy that’s being done.

Eric: So advocacy is healthy. Consult your doctor, your mileage may vary

Don: and call us. I’m honestly, I should be careful because I might get a bunch of calls. I know you’ve got a big listenership. Let’s hope. But I do and I think it’s a role. Philanthropy or philanthropic leaders can play. Is explaining how a particular partnership, maybe a vehicle within a partnership is a fair game.

Why we can do that as philanthropy, we are making an investment that can signal to other philanthropy that it is okay to do this. And I think the relationships that get built among philanthropic leaders also really help because we can kind of behind closed doors talk about. What are you doing here? And that may be something my general counsel’s not so keen on.

Why should I be sort of more leaning into this than they might want me to do?

Elena: Can I jump in and just say, you know, especially in a time of a $38 billion deficit, we can look back to the several years of surplus that we had and all of the incredible policy wins that came out of that. We still have a lot of work to do on implementation.

There are a lot of dollars out there that still need to be leveraged and have the impact that they were intended to have. And I think philanthropy can be a really incredible partner for the state in doing that without crossing any lines.

Don: An example of that is philanthropy can fund consultants to provide technical assistance in the development and implement of implementation of programs, and those are relatively small dollar investments.

They can be either outside of the government apparatus, but useful to government. And then the programs that there’s so much from our vantage point in all of these funding streams. There needs to be a workforce component. Sometimes I say climate change is also a jobs program, and workforce monies are now ending up in agencies that don’t have a lot of expertise around workforce.

I see this both at the state, but I’m seeing it, um, also in sort of a bigger, on a bigger way at the federal level. I think that’s a place where, in particular we can bring workforce expertise because these programs are all getting developed and frankly rushed. The advantage you’ll all have in the administration here is you have a little more time than the feds have and the money is coming so fast and furiously from, from the federal agencies that my fears that the programs don’t have sort of, they, they’re not gonna be designed well in the first place.

One thing we can fund and we’re trying to do nationally is creating some feedback loops. So that community groups, as they try to draw down those funds when it’s not working for them, and in many cases there will be challenges that that feedback can go to the, uh, public officials who hopefully can make workarounds or adaptations to the programs.

Problem is you need to have some longevity. That’s not gonna happen in 12 months time. I remember getting a call from someone in the federal government who said, we need to figure out how to engage community. And you guys in California figure that out. I was like, okay, well here’s some of the things you do.

What’s your timeframe? He said, I got three months. It’s like, well, okay, let’s, that’s not gonna really be community engagement. Let’s just acknowledge that. So if you can’t do it at upfront, how do you create a cycle where there’s feedback? Then you’re gonna get the money out. Let’s make sure that someone can feedback and say, that’s not working because of these various sort of aspects or constraints of the program.

Eric: Well, it sounds like another reason why these partnerships are so important because foundations and their grantees already have these built-in feedback loops. They have relationships and one would hope that you can have candid conversations about what doesn’t work, because knowing what doesn’t work is just as important as knowing what does work.

And so how can you get candid information in these contexts so that you know what doesn’t work without. Frankly, holding certain organizations responsible for having done something that didn’t work,

Don: Or getting sued!

Eric: Or getting sued.

Elena: There’s that. Well, I mean, I think there are a lot of uncomfortable conversations that we have to be willing to have.

I, I think we get stuck in a dynamic of defensiveness, which I un totally understand. I. And, you know, we are as public servants accountable to our constituents of the state of California and not everyone’s happy. And, um, we need to be able to take that in, in a, in a real way. So I, I do think the question for me is, okay, it’s about being comfortable with uncomfortable conversations, but it’s also about being solutions oriented.

If we can sit down at a table. And say, this history of extraction is wrong. It happened. We need to acknowledge that now what we can keep on talking about the history or we can kind of translate that into what we’re actually going to do about it. So that’s that. Those are the conversations I am eager to have, um, particularly with philanthropy.

But let’s face it, philanthropy and the state are just two different ivory towers.

Eric: It’s true. So Don, a little earlier you were talking about all this money coming in as a jobs bill, an equity opportunity that is kind of you’re, you’re actually painting the narrative about what this work can look like and what the future can look like.

Elena, can you talk a little bit about how that narrative affects your work and the communications that goes into that?

Elena: Yeah, I think the, the narrative is, is complicated because there are so many dynamics that feed into it. But if you can extract some of the common themes and stay focused on those, one of them for me, which may not be the sexiest thing to talk about, but capacity building and technical assistance for grassroots organizations, and I would argue.

Small cities and local jurisdictions to connect the dots there is really important and it’s, and we all mean different things when we talk about capacity building or technical assistance. Even when we say things like equity, what? What are you actually saying there? So I think the communications is really important on the narrative side specifically.

I also think it’s really important for communities to be heard and. To have that translate into something concrete. So one example that I’m working on right now with the Tribal Affairs Secretary is a documentary project that’s tracking the work of the Truth and Healing Council that was established by the governor in 2019 after a formal apology to California native people.

So we, we need to tell that story and we actually do have to invest. Time and energy in telling that story in a respectful, non extractive way. So I think it has kind of reached my role in a way that I wanna advocate and partner with philanthropy on, on that storytelling and doing it in a way that amplifies the work of the community.

Don: We can also provide funding for these sort of projects, which isn’t necessarily coming out of a particular funding stream that is flexible enough at the state level to do it. Perhaps there’s a similar effort. Amongst, uh, philanthropy supported documentary process around the reparations task force and some of the, particularly the history, the accurate new telling of the real history of, of Californians, and how African Americans were experienced, what they experienced in the history of California.

And now they’re trying to turn that it was like a 500 page report. Yeah. And decide kind of bite-sized chunks that are really accessible to folks more broadly than someone who’s gonna try to read a 500 page report. So amazing. That kind of communications is quite important. Let me to also say, from a foundation perspective, we have a bit of a megaphone, a bit of a sort of opportunity to amplify ideas.

Eric: Well, can you, in the last couple minutes that we have. How about a couple of examples. You’ve listed a, a number of them in your, in your piece of, of where these partnerships work. What good thing happens as a result?

Elena: Well, one of the examples that Don briefly mentioned, I just wanna dig into a little bit, is, uh, is see e the Community Economic Mobilization Initiative with which the Irvine Foundation, the California Endowment, several other foundations have, have seeded and.

In that case, we are getting applications from advocates. The Sierra Health Foundation runs this program, so they technically are getting applications from all across the state of community-based organizations to say like, I need, I need staff support to attend all of these local meetings. I need help with a grant writer.

And we’ve already seen the impact of that, even just, and it doesn’t have to be. Big dollars. Sometimes that can be a relatively small financial investment that he has. Huge payoff. We’ve also partnered on a high road training fund to support the work of the high road training projects. Basically, we have this amazing program, but in order for participants to be successful, they need help with childcare, they need help with transportation.

These are things state dollars doesn’t do well. So we have a lot of great examples and a lot brewing in the mix as we speak.

Don: High road training partnerships was gonna be, it was the first example that came to my mind. It’s a really innovative approach to, to think about training at a sectoral level and to bring, uh, labor leaders together with employers, together, with training groups and education providers to think about how to do training right, to meet the needs, future workforce needs of that region with those employers in a collaborative way with labor.

I hope I’m getting that. Absolutely. You know, so there was a pooled fund to help with the planning of hrps and I think that’s acronym for high Road Training Partnerships. And that’s the kind of role philanthropy can play. Um, there’s also ways we can support the training providers in those conversations so they can be ready to be at the table.

It’s not resources, per se to be able to fund their time, to fund their capacity. And childcare is a great example. Of how we can help the training providers who are the grantees that we often support to be in those conversations. We also support the labor leaders and to help them come to the table as well.

This is a really early stage effort, but we think there’s a ton of promise in trying to create new places for real workforce development planning to happen.

Eric: Well, in the last couple of minutes that we have left, I would just ask each of you. If you had a magic wand and could wave it, what would the next couple of years look like? We’ll start with you, Don.

Don: Well, first I would hope there’s no budget deficit, but that actually is not in the cards. So California’s gone from a position of great surplus to now a deficit. Good news is there was a lot of resources to be committed and they were committed to one time investments ’cause of the nature of the kinda laws that govern California’s budget.

So I wish there were no deficit. That is what it is. Uh, I would also hope that the funding that’s coming from the federal government, I would say more so than the experience we’re having with the state, comes at a slower pace that allows communities to get ready to really direct. And what you wanna see is investments in a community that are geared toward higher value jobs that create opportunities on ramps to the middle class that are accessible to folks who’ve historically been overlooked.

If the funds come faster, then the community can identify those priorities. We’re worried that the same old folks are gonna end up benefiting from the investments that get made.

Eric: Elena, what does the beautiful future look like to you?

Elena: There’s a couple things. One, I think is aligning different types of capital towards priorities that we share between the philanthropy and the state.

So whether that’s grant making dollars, also investment dollars, impact investing, that’s one of kind of the future states that I’m really excited about and feel like right now. It’s a, it’s a bit siloed. Second is that the state and philanthropy does a better job kind of balancing each other out when it comes to appetite for risk and time spent strategizing.

I would argue big generalization, philanthropy strategizes a lot. The state often doesn’t strategize enough, and so I think if we reach some kind of equilibrium through our partnerships. But the big biggest thing is to not wait for crisis, for action. I know it’s human nature. When you’re in a crisis, you wanna do something.

And I love that and appreciate that. And we certainly spread the word when there’s a crisis. The earthquake and humble last year, for example, spurs us to action. But when we think about public safety, um, natural disasters, immigration, you name the issue, it’s generally a crisis that spurs us into action. I would love for us to feel that same sense of urgency towards building infrastructure and capacity and stability so that we can meet the crisis better prepared.

Don: And I wanna say kudos to you because as we’ve come out of covid, and there were other crises that were compounding the problem with Covid philanthropy engaged in emergency funding and rightfully did along with the state. Now we’re coming out of that phase and we have this unique window of opportunity.

You’ve brought more focus. And been able to engage, lessen the kind of crisis response and more in the longer term. Thinking about how we can create the California we all wanna see and frankly restore the California dream this time for everyone.

Eric: Well, folks, it’s a love fest. It’s delightful to see this, this, this kind of relationship happening.

Elena: We are very lucky.

Eric: Well, if there’s governors out there who listen, I’m sure there are plenty. Do what? Do what California does. Don’t hire Elena ’cause she has a job. But the idea is begin to build these relationships, make friends in high, medium, and low places because that’s how we get things done. I really just can’t thank you enough for coming on the show.

Elena Chavez Quezada, senior Advisor for Social Innovation, the officer of Gavin Newsom. Don Howard President, CEO of the Irvine Foundation. We are coming to you from the Irvine Foundation offices in downtown San Francisco. Please come visit San Francisco. Don’t believe the haters. It’s just great to have you and thank you again.


Eric: And we’re back. Were there consequences?

Kirk: So here, here is my take Oh conversation. Here goes, Kirk. This conversation.

Eric: Kirk Brown, cleared for takeoff.

Kirk: is the reason why our national conversation around politics is so insane. Please, and here’s sell more. Say more. Here’s the case. Here’s the case. I’m gonna make, listen to this conversation. Listen to how thoroughly. Elena has sought this through how thoroughly Elena knows how to navigate these partnerships, bring these people together, and the consequence of this is, think about the work that Don and Irvine and the other foundations coming behind can do.

They can say, okay, got it. State of California, you can leverage billions to accomplish outcomes, but we can deliver millions and even less. We can deliver thousands and hundreds of thousands. So that. This implementation work that so often gets left up by the wayside can be done and done more effectively, and we can create outcomes where there’s real equity that happens, real communities that are left at the margins and they’re gonna be brought to the fore.

This is a threatening conversation. This conversation threatens the core of all the systemic stuff that we wanna get cleaned up. And who needs to be the lead to that? Who needs to help pilot that? Who needs to make sure that that’s gonna gonna happen an effective way? People like Elena and Don, it’s so clear.

So this is so exciting. It’s so cool. I’m so glad they’re talking about it. But the consequence of this and, and Eric, this is what, this is your fault, and then I’ll stop. Oh,

I’m sorry. This is your fault.

I apologize. You said, you said everybody in every other state listened to what’s being done here. This is another example of something that can roll outta California with extraordinarily positive impact in other parts of the country.

And I think it’s exactly right. So this is, I really, Eric, I think this is one of the most consequential conversations we’ve ever had on this podcast because this is creating real change today. There’s billions of dollars behind it, but it’s a model. It’s a model that could remake economies everywhere.

Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’m wrong. Me I’m wrong.

Eric: You’re right. And we’re done with this guy. Like what else is there to.

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time now, mind you, I had thought about it in different ways. I had been a press secretary for about half an hour in Washington on the, on the hill, and then when I went over onto the other side, I was thinking, huh, if we could do build better relationships between.

Actually, at the time it was nonprofits and, and members. But then when I went over into philanthropy, I thought, huh, foundations do all those things that Don was talking about. And governments have all that money. They can’t. And, and Elena talked about the re, the constraints on that money. Yeah, that is, it’s like, uh, whatever hand and glove come up with your, the metaphor of choice about how these two large institutions can work together.

And they are starting to do this. And it has happened in fits and starts in lots of places, but most states don’t have an Elena in place and many foundations don’t nearly have the. Bravery and the vision that Dawn has in understanding how these pieces fit together. And that was very exciting to me too when, when I read their piece, because it ought to be, as you say, a lesson for folks everywhere about how can, how can we make these two pieces fit together and add up to a whole lot more than just the sum of their parts.

Kirk: So can we talk about Elena specifically for a moment? Because, um, this notion of being the senior advisor for social innovation, serving a governor sitting in the governor’s office, obviously California is an interesting state. Big place. Yes. Fifth largest economy in the world. But Elena’s, and obviously there, there have been other people in this role though I thought that was an interesting back and forth about how this really is something that the Newsom administration has really made possible and, and made happen.

And the values alignment between what’s being put forward for this office of social innovation with philanthropies across the state are working towards, but. Alan’s particular skillset, particular background, particular resume just feels so perfectly suited for this role and, and as you were going through that conversation, I was thinking to myself.

This is another great illustration of kind of the systemic work that needs to be done. You know, these big players, you know, federal funding, state funding, philanthropic funding, bringing it together for these better outcomes, but there’s a real human element to it, and it seems like Elena is just the right person at the right time.

To pull these pieces together, to create this, let’s call it a tapestry, if you will, of, of just this change that’s gonna happen in all these positive ways across these different communities. It seems like, and I know you’ve worked with and been around Linda for a long time, but it really feels like this is an individual that’s got a very unique and perfectly suited skillset for this work in this moment.

Eric: Well, yes, and the understanding about how nonprofits work. How foundations work and how government works is, are there different muscles? There are different, as I had said, constraints and different opportunities and, and being able to fit those together appropriately is essential. The other thing is Elena is willing to go out there and when you work for an elected official, basically you go out into the field, you go out into the, the community and people just yell at you.

’cause they have, their expectations are at an 11. And your capacity to meet those expectations are somewhere in a, in the two to three zone. Yeah. And so the difference there is frustration and anger and all that other stuff. And, and Don kind of noted about how Elena takes that all in when she goes to a meeting.

But what she does instead of getting defensive is that she learns. And I also think that she is able to build trust within the nonprofit and the philanthropy community ’cause she’s one of them as well. And that kind of ability to really assess where the needs are, identify how to meet those needs using these various tools.

And that is foundations who can test things and try stuff. And if it doesn’t work, then you don’t do it. But understanding when it does does work, why it does work, and how you would use government money to, you know, help these things really fly. And the organizations, the nonprofits that are gonna be implementing much of this work and how they function and how they use money and all that stuff.

That kind of, those kinds of. Skills and, and I don’t know. They’re very, very soft skills in a sense. You kind of really have to be able to read. People are, Mm-Hmm. I wouldn’t, they’re rare, but they needn’t be rare because I think there are a lot of, they’re rare in that job, but I think there are a lot of folks out there who’d be great in that job in different places.

And if you are working in a state that has a strong philanthropic community, many do, some don’t, but some do. And a governor or a. Whatever, some kind of executive function that has money that is dedicated towards these kinds of programs or ideas or approaches. I do think that that is the opportunity for marriages that is pro, uh, most certainly underutilized right now.

Kirk: And there’s real risk here. I mean, Elena talks about humility being a key aspect of partnership and you know, for somebody from the state of California to be talked about humility and to mean it authentically, I mean, well, California needs your point. Let’s do something. California gets something done.

California, it, it can, can actually sit authentically in that place and see, you know, we’re gonna actually have authentic partnerships. And I really thought the rapport and the respect between Don and Elena was so. Obvious in this conversation, but it also made me think about Don, you know here you’re the President and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, this work, this kind of partnership work.

Knitting these different pieces together, making the money work, you know, delivering funding for childcare and transportation to help make sure that people can get to meetings that they would otherwise be cut out of. That’s not without its own kind of risks. Right. And, and, and, and to actually have these.

Different institutions kind of figure out a way to work together. You know, you know where, where we have the billions of dollars of, of federal and state dollars moving, but then we have millions or less than amounts of, than that from foundations kind of helping try to guide that. That’s not what that at its own kind of risk.

And I thought I just, I, I love that way that Don was, was really engaging that conversation, but also was so clearly just deeply respectful of the way that Elena’s pulling this all together and then creating spaces for. The foundation to come forward with its own investments. And, and by the way, as Don points out, it created these incredible opportunities for leveraged wins.

Right? Very, very small dollars can create these huge outsized outcomes in this environment.

Eric: For sure. I, I, I would say I have two comments there. One is that the, on the, on the foundation side, the, the risk is kind of, it’s such a small R risk. What’s the risk that you’re gonna find out that a hypothesis that you had turned out not to be the case?

Big deal. That’s actually good. And we talk, we talk about this all the time. It learning what doesn’t work is as important as learning what does work. And so if the foundation can incur that kind of, so-called risk, but it’s really just learning what doesn’t work in a way that doesn’t. Cause people to whatever, not get voted back into office or that, or, and frankly, it doesn’t, uh, encourage a government to spend a whole lot of money on something that has a low chance of success because they don’t really have the luxury of testing in that same way.

When you go in and sell a program, you kind of sell it on faith sometimes because Mm-Hmm. You just don’t know that it’s gonna do what you think it’s gonna do. So, so I don’t think there’s that much risk. And then on the second point is that you can, you can tell that Don is an incredible systems thinker.

Yeah. He, he, he looks at these opportunities from a million angles and he thinks to himself, okay, what, what are some of the variables. We have the potential or the capacity to, to have an influence on so that these much larger, these huge amounts of, of money can be used properly. Yeah. Childcare at a meeting seems like who to think, who would think of that kind of stuff, but, and my guess is also this comes from grant listening to grantees, listening carefully to the community and other things, like actually knowing what people need that that requires.

As you say, humility, an ability to listen, an understanding about how systems work and a willingness to do that stuff. And some of that stuff is very unsung, but who cares? The point is, is to get things done and to make a difference. And that’s the one more thing I would say about Dondi is very outcomes oriented.

Like he, he wants to know what good thing is gonna happen as a result of this and, and it shows.

Kirk: I just wanted to cut up a latest comments and just like odd quotes all over my office because what of this comment El starts talking about? We get distracted by the big policy win, but then we don’t focus on implementation.

Could we please just repeat that again and again and again? It’s not just the policy win we have to implement and this notion that billions of dollars are now flowing from these federal. Bills that were passed and now rolling through states and they’re headed towards communities. And I just, every time I, and there’s a time limit, this has gotta be delivered so quickly.

It just feels like these poor communities are being asked to step under an Niagara Falls, not even being given an umbrella. It’s, it’s a, you know, grab your thimble and see what you can catch from this just on rush. And it’s so hard to get it right. So to see. Folks leaning into that conversation too and saying, you know, yeah, we’ve got some big wins.

These are, these are landmark pieces of legislation. But, but to make sure these dollars get delivered. And, and the pitch I’d think about risk, Eric, is that if, if we get this wrong, then our goals for equity, our goals for these outcomes are either delayed or they’re simply missed again. And so to me, that’s the risk.

Like, like none of these folks want this crazy once in a generation opportunity. To run by the wayside. And so yes, there can be learning if we get it wrong, but the real, but there’s a real opportunity here that’s got some real timelines around it.

Eric: Yeah, no, I, I completely agree. And the, the other thing that I, we kind of alluded to in our conversation is this willingness of foundations to engage deeply with elected officials and with policy and legislation in ways that are legal and appropriate.

And you’re allowed to do, but so many, I mean, many grant. Letters will say, you’re not allowed to use this money to lobby. Mm. Which is which hamstrings, the grantee. The fact is there are so many ways that a grantee can use foundation’s money to lobby and to tell them that they can’t is incorrect. They can, they have all sorts of ways to do it.

You can’t direct them to use the money to lobby, but they can take their money and they, you know, there’s also, I won’t get into the legality of it, but the other thing is that these, that, that grant that. The Irvine Foundation and found and other foundations like this are willing to have the conversations with legislators and with elected officials.

To about what a better world looks like and they’re able to do the kind of grant making that helps get them there. And that’s the sort of thing that many foundations shy away from for reasons that absolutely escape me. They are mystifying because this stuff is legal. It’s okay. And it actually, if you want the so-called leverage.

Everyone is talking about leverage this and leverage that. If you want real leverage. You know, your a hundred thousand dollars could unlock tens of millions of dollars of government spending if you get it right. Now, that’s actual leverage.

Kirk: The fact that this kind of relationship building is kind of a new idea and it’s only been happening within a certain, you know, timeframe around the news of administration is incredible to think about, particularly in California where there’s such a wealth of philanthropy and resources to draw on.

I will say hearing Don talk about partnership and partnership being possible, again, I go back to this. Is this systemic or is this just Don’s a super intelligent, thoughtful, the right person to help guide this stuff? Because you know, this notion, and, and I’d love to hear you talk about this, Eric, given your experiences in philanthropy, partnership seems like such a great word, especially when it’s, it’s.

You know, other words are around it, like trust and relationship and vulnerability. You know, these partnerships that have all these aspects, and yet partnership is such a difficult thing to get right in, in a philanthropic context. Now you’re talking about bringing in the state. So how difficult is this partnership thing really, because it actually seems like it’s extraordinarily difficult.

To do this kind of public private thing around philanthropy and, and, and then leveraging state resources.

Eric: Well, I mean, for starters, you could play kind of words that sound good. Philanthropy, speak bingo, and go partnerships and trust and engagement and collaboration. And they’ll say it and say it and say it and not mean it.

Mm-Hmm. Uh, partners. Talk foundations talk about grantees as their partners, which is Hmm. Sometimes that’s true and sometimes they’re like, they’re partners in as long as they do what we tell them to do. Uh, so to actually be honest, when you’re talking about relationships and trust and partnerships, those things are based on time spent together.

They’re based on personal relationships. Uh, and Donna and Ena go back and they were able to skip through a bunch of the muck in order to get to. Real outcomes. ’cause I’m sure everyone wants Elena’s ear and wants the governor to care about their issue and wants the government of California to spend money on their thing.

And so Elena has got, has uses these relationships to cut to the chase to understand who’s really willing to do what it takes to be successful and who just wants a quick fix. And so those things take time. They are born out of. Real conversations and being able to admit when something doesn’t go right and being candid about what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, that’s when you take all that philanthr jargon, nonsense, bingo and turn it into something meaningful and real.

And I would just ask anybody who is talking about that stuff to show their work. That’s, that’s really important. And this is on both sides, but especially on the foundation side, because we can say whatever we want and no one’s gonna challenge us. But I, I say you gotta go show your work. If you’re talking about trust, then tell me why you’re, why you’re trustworthy.

And if you’re talking about collaboration, then prove that you’re actually willing to do something that somebody else wants to do more than the thing that you wanna do. And you’re finding a way in the middle to be stronger together.

Kirk: And isn’t that why this is so consequential? Because you listen to the way that Elena and Don talk about this, the evidence behind what they’re doing, there’s real impacts in the field.

They’re being transparent about it, they’re writing about it. Don has had this as his personal priority to talk about this for the past 18 months, which I’d love, you know, that he’s, he’s committed to this as one of the things that, that from his office and his, his, his, uh, position. He’s got a. Talk about, but to me this is, this gets to the heart of why this is also so threatening, if you will, because equity is at the center of this.

There’s creating, there’s real outcomes being created to bring people in who have otherwise been being left out. And it’s working. It’s showing that you can actually do this and, and so I think that’s where this gets so disruptive and so threatening and so consequential. There’s a whole bunch of other people that don’t want our public sector to work on our behalf.

They wanna break that. They’re working as hard as they can to break that. And this conversation is showing actually that it can work and it can work quite well, and it can have real values that we all care about at the center of it. And I think that’s just, it’s an incredible conversation to listen in on consequential ness.

Eric: That’s our middle name, Kirk.

So, so, uh oh. You’re gonna wrap it up.

Kirk: Let, lemme test you on this one. Lemme test you on this one. Lemme test you on this one. This is the last one. Lemme test you on this one. All. Is there a scary side of this conversation? So we love hearing this. We love hearing Don and Elena.

We hear, we love hearing this connection because we care about, we share these values around equity. We are around positive change. If we heard this conversation from people who had different values, but they were mingling public and private dollars to create outsized outcomes that were headed the other direction, in whatever way you wanna talk about that, would we be concerned about that?

How would we express that concern?

Eric: Well, you could say the same thing about government or philanthropy anyway. Yeah. So, uh, I mean, I don’t think that, that, yes, you, you, when people hold the purse strings who have, who would like to continue the status quo or frankly make it worse. I mean, that happens every day.

And I, I think there are probably not, uh, a few state houses in this country in which that is the case. Same thing for philanthropy. Philanthropy isn’t good or bad as a mechanism. It’s only good or bad with what you do with the mechanism. So I mean, life is scary. It’s scary enough as it is with all the, you know, with the uphill battle that so much of this work is facing.

So, but I love to see where we are able to combine these forces in such a consequential place to use a cookie word to make a difference.

Kirk: You, you’re right. So I guess you’re right, the alternatives were in some respects we’re just describing the status quo. Yeah. This is, that’s Monday. This

is just disrupting that status quo, which again, is why it’s so exciting to hear about.

Well, my goodness, um, Elena, all the best to you. Keep writing, keep doing this work. It’s so exciting to see what’s happening out of the, uh, office of Social Innovation and. Uh, Mr. Howard, Don Howard, and the Irvine Foundation, thank you for being partners in this and being willing to talk about it and take the, I think risks, but also deliver the outcomes we care about.

Eric, that was such a cool conversation. I’m so glad we all got to listen in on it.

Eric: I just do these to make you happy, Kirk.

Kirk: are you coming around six years in? Are you coming around? Oh, this is a good idea. This is a good idea.

Well, that was awesome. So that was, um. Elena Chavez Quezada from the Office of the Governor for the State of California, the Office of Social Innovation, and Don Howard, the president and CEO of the James Irvine Foundation on Let’s Hear it. Thank you so much, and Eric, thank you and we’ll see you next time.

Eric: Thank you, Kirky. See you next time.


Kirk: Okay, everybody. That’s it for this episode. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about what you heard today or people we should have on this show, and that definitely includes yourself. And we’d like to thank…

Eric: Our indefatigable producer, Harper Brown.

Kirk: John Allee, the tuneful and inspiring composer of our theme music.

Eric: Our sponsor, the Lumina Foundation.

Kirk: And please check out Lumina’s terrific podcast, Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Talent, and you can find that at luminafoundation.org.

Eric: We certainly thank today’s guest, and of course, all of you.

Kirk: And most importantly, thank you, Mr. Brown.

Eric: Oh, no, no, no, no. Thank you, Mr. Brown.

Kirk: Okay, everybody, till next time.