Human Assets + Vision = Opportunity in the I.E.

Regional Convening on Social Innovation and Empowerment connects researchers, nonprofits, and funders

Fred Ali, president and CEO of Weingart Foundation, told Regional Convening on Social Innovation and Empowerment attendees that he sees the Inland Empire as a place of opportunities and assets. In his closing reflections on the convening, Ali said he was impressed with the work UCR is doing in community service and community-engaged research. carlos puma

With greater investment in human assets and a vision of the Inland Empire as a place of opportunity, what could the two-county region become?

Leaders of community nonprofits, UCR researchers who partner with those grassroots organizations, and key funders gathered on campus May 24 to consider that question in the Regional Convening on Social Innovation and Empowerment. The event was organized by the School of Public Policy (SPP) with collaboration from the faculty and staff in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Graduate School of Education, and School of Medicine.

The event was designed to get a sense of partnerships already underway and to help shape how UCR can best contribute as “a committed institutional partner in an ecosystem that supports and grows the region’s nonprofit and civic capacity,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, SPP associate dean.

“The challenges facing this region are significant. But even more formidable are the talents we have in the region, and what we can do together if we approach this in an intentional, coordinated, and sustainable manner,” he told more than 100 participants, including 21 representatives from foundations and 51 leaders of regional community organizations.

The convening began with welcoming remarks by Interim Provost Cindy Larive and ended with closing remarks by Chancellor Kim Wilcox and leaders of major California foundations. The rest of the event included a plenary panel on university-community partnerships, followed by breakout sessions focused on particular topics.

During the plenary panel, Beth Classen Thrush, Educational Initiatives coordinator at the Office of Undergraduate Education, discussed various initiatives to connect students and interns with service and community research opportunities. Juliet McMullin, associate director for community engagement in the UCR Center for Healthy Communities, discussed the importance of having institutional support, training, and incentives to make community-university collaborations strategic and sustainable.

More than 100 leaders of regional community organizations, foundations, and UCR faculty participated in the Regional Convening on Social Innovation and Empowerment, which was organized by the School of Public Policy with collaboration from the faculty and staff in the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Graduate School of Education, and School of Medicine.
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Nonprofit leaders on the panel noted that an extensive network of community-based organizations has accomplished much with few resources, and those groups remain passionate about their work. But they need more resources, particularly when it comes to leadership development and long-term financial support.

“The nonprofit culture here tends to be one of workaholics and people doing a lot with very little,” said Deborah Phares, coordinator of Inland Empowerment, a partnership of nine 501(c)3 organizations dedicated to building power in the Inland region for long-ignored and disenfranchised communities.

Elizabeth Ayala, a program associate for the Women’s Policy Institute-County at the Women’s Foundation of California, said the region has many emerging leaders who want to transform their communities, but who lack the experience needed to serve on city and county boards and commissions or to run for public office. “We have to look at long-term investments in each other,” she said.

Attendees broke into working groups to discuss challenges, current efforts, and what remains to be done in five areas – community health and well-being; economic mobility and improved workplace conditions; educational attainment, youth engagement and youth empowerment; immigrant integration; and leadership development and civic engagement.

Recurring themes resulting from those conversations related to the region’s lack of political clout, a political power structure that does not reflect rapidly changing demographics in the region, policy decisions made without adequate consultation with affected communities, lack of financial resources, and the need for good data and community-based research.

Don Howard, CEO of the James Irvine Foundation, said he was impressed with the candor of the discussions, “which speaks to the relationships the university has created with the community.”

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox said the Inland Empire has the potential to become a national model for community transformation. “This region is what America will look like in 20 years,” he said. “Investments you make here will be seen as the way to do it elsewhere.”

Coordination between academia, philanthropy, and policymakers is important, said Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California. “The people who are closest to the problems know how to solve them. … There is huge potential here if we invest in the region.”

Ramakrishnan concluded the day with a discussion of next steps at the university, including a strategic visioning process on external outreach and community engagement. He also noted that the School of Public Policy is developing a Center for Social Innovation, connecting with local communities and providing a credible research voice “that will help unlock the region’s potential in the eyes of government agencies and foundations, as well as the corporate sector and elected officials.”

Sheheryar Kaoosji of the Warehouse Workers Resource Center and Ellen Reese, professor of sociology, report on challenges, assets, and opportunities identified by the Economic Mobility and Improved Workplace Conditions working group. Participants in this discussion group expressed an interest in a UCR center that supports community-based research.
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