At the two-year COVID anniversary, let’s reflect on where our giving needs to go
The first day of the national emergency around the pandemic was one of those moments in history where everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. In many ways, the two years since March 2020 have been a blur. But thinking back on those early days, it’s clear no one was fully ready for what was coming.
Thankfully, the Silicon Valley community leaped into action, and the philanthropic world developed some groundbreaking solutions to the biggest health crisis in 100 years. It was gratifying to see so many come together to tackle problems raised by the pandemic, from innovative partnerships focused on small business relief and nonprofit support, to funding distance learning and nutritional assistance for school children.
However, the crisis also shone a light on the staggering inequality that has long existed in our community — and exacerbated it.
Joint Venture Silicon Valley’s 2022 Silicon Valley index shows incomes are growing despite inflation, but income inequality in the region has accelerated twice as fast as in the state and nation. What’s more, that inequality is deeply stratified by race. The top 10% of Silicon Valley households hold 74% of the region’s collective wealth. Yet more than six in 10 Latinx households lived below the Self-Sufficiency Standard last year, and the poverty rate for Black residents was more than double that of Asians or Whites. A full third of households in the valley don’t earn enough to meet their basic needs.
If we are to narrow the appalling income and wealth gap, all philanthropic endeavors in our region need to address some core problems. These include:
Funding early education for diverse students. The pandemic put a fine point on many things, but few more than the importance of childcare and educational support systems — and our economy’s reliance on them. During the pandemic, preschool enrollment rates in Silicon Valley declined nearly 40%, with disproportionate impacts on Black and Latinx children, according to Joint Venture’s index.
Early education provides the foundation for lifelong success, and initiatives such as The Big Lift — a collaboration of more than 300 organizations across San Mateo County helping children become confident readers by third grade — is a great way to provide this kind of foundational support. The pandemic showed the precarity of our educational systems. We need to create more innovative partnerships to ensure our childrens’ learning foundations remain strong.
Putting communities at the center of decision-making — particularly low-income households, immigrants, undocumented residents and communities of color. These are people who stand to benefit from philanthropic strategies and are better-positioned to identify needs. SVCF created a Community Advisory Council made up of community leaders of color. It has conducted town hall meetings, provided feedback and helps hold us accountable. Members inform community organizations about our funding resources and help review grant applications. Philanthropy is most effective if it’s driven by the communities we aim to serve.
Working together more often. Soon after the murder of George Floyd, the California Executive Roundtable on Philanthropy and Equity, a group of foundation leaders, formed the California Black Freedom Fund — which has already raised $60 million for Black-led organizations. As the Silicon Valley Index shows, our problems are wide and deep, and we must work together to fix them. Funds like this are a perfect example of what can be accomplished together. Let’s do more of it.
We live in an amazing place — a place that is changing the way people everywhere live their lives. But there are too many in our own backyard struggling and falling further behind. Those of us in positions to help should examine how to give more effectively and join together more often to develop solutions.
All of us in Silicon Valley will be better for it.
This op-ed was originally published in The Mercury News.
- Support local organizations in SVCF’s Giving Guides
- Contribute to the California Black Freedom Fund
- Learn more about SVCF’s COVID-19 Response