Windows of Opportunity are the Defining Issue of Our Time

Expanding opportunity is the defining challenge of our time. In the Bay Area, far too many of our families are being left behind, struggling to make ends meet, spending two-thirds of their income on housing and transportation alone. As a region, we are experiencing one of the largest disparities in wealth and income. In San Francisco alone, the gap between the wealthy and poor is growing faster than in any other city in the nation.

The Bay Area spirit and history is rooted in innovation. From vibrant culture and iconic landscapes, to world-class innovation and powerful social movements – it is unlike any other place. We have innovated and won major victories of social and economic change in the past. Today, we continue in that spirit, creating opportunities from cradle to career so that in 15-20 years, a zip code will no longer determine one’s future and opportunities for success.

This will be our future story as a region that is a microcosm for what the nation will become. Our region is the second most diverse in the country. Communities of color are already the majority. Our diverse, growing population is a major asset that can only be fully realized when all communities have the resources and opportunities they need to participate, prosper, and reach their full potential.

We have the opportunity to shape what the future of our country will be. When we innovate and create new models for economic growth here in the Bay Area, we are making change that will become a model for our nation.

In a few weeks, we will come together to talk about the role of foundations and philanthropy on these very issues. I believe that our role in philanthropy regarding this area of work is to invest to make opportunity accessible to everyone. But to truly be successful, we must take bold steps beyond our grantmaking to build pathways of opportunity for communities of color and those at the lowest rungs of the economic ladder in partnership with the public and private sectors.

A growing body of research finds that greater economic and racial inclusion fosters stronger economic growth. Our call to action is clear. When we are talking about innovation, when we are talking about making the economy work for families and children, we are talking about geography, race, and class.

Let me give one example of what this look like in practice: one of my first projects working for the City of San Francisco involved doing a deep data dive and analysis around kids and poverty. We mapped out data points around children’s health and wellness, as well as child welfare, and the indicators all pointed to one glaring fact: the overwhelming majority of kids who were the most vulnerable lived within walking distance of 7 corners in San Francisco. One is the corner of Jones and Eddy in the Tenderloin and the rest were in front of public housing. Our mandate was clear, and from this projects like HOPE SF were born.

This work will take patience. It will take partnership. It will take fortitude and now is the time to take action because windows of opportunity open and close very quickly. Our work is to invest bold and invest together in groups that have authentic demand and measurable impact to grow good middle wage jobs, strengthen cradle-to-career pathways, create equitable economic development and lift up best practices and solutions that scale to achieve new models for economic growth.

Fred Blackwell is the Chief Executive Officer of The San Francisco Foundation.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in engaging in the conversation about inequality in the Bay Area and beyond, these issues and more will be addressed at a session at the CEP Conference on May 20th at 3:00pm, with Fred Blackwell, Patricia Diaz, Executive Director of Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network, john a. powell, Executive Director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, and Miya Yoshitani, Executive Director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. We hope you’ll join in-person or join the conversation online at #CEP2015.

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