Words matter: reflections from the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable

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This week, local leaders finalized a report compiling the work of the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable-- a 59-member coalition of diverse leaders from academia, philanthropy, business, labor and social sectors. The Roundtable spent about 100 days seeking answers to four core questions related to recovering from the pandemic and its economic fallout:

  1. How do we reduce risks and reopen safely and productively?
  2. How do we make the recovery inclusive for our community’s most vulnerable members?
  3. How do we enable businesses to survive and thrive?
  4. How do we innovate to build the foundation of the new normal?

SVCF’s president and CEO, Nicole Taylor, was appointed as one of five co-chairs in the coalition to offer her perspective from the philanthropic realm. Members worked hard to reflect emerging recommendations from our respective communities  that are guided by our collective vision of a “Better Silicon Valley” -- one that is inclusive, just and innovative.

It was an incredible experience to see leaders from the different sectors coalesce around a common understanding that we would take the best aspects of Silicon Valley and ensure that our future benefits those who have made innovation possible -- low income communities, communities of color and undocumented immigrants. Moreover, it was a reckoning that the growing crises of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic devastation and racial inequities urged us to seek this “Better Silicon Valley.”

Despite the grueling nature of the process, one thing has been clear throughout: words matter. Terms like, "at-risk communities” and "underserved communities” were thrown around with a clear understanding of who was being referenced, but lacking a clear understanding of power dynamics or the weight of the qualifier.

“Vulnerable communities” requires us to say, "communities that have been made ‘vulnerable’ by centuries of racial injustices and oppression.” We know that it takes incredible resilience to be financially insecure, and even more so for people of color who are surviving and thriving in our world.

“At-risk communities” are those that have been put at risk because of intentional segregationist policies, including red-lining and others. Again, these communities are at risk because they have been put at risk.

“Underserved communities” are those that have been the intentional recipients of de-investment. This is not through charitable contributions nor band-aid programs, but through systemic de-investment policies.

“For those of us in philanthropy, and in all sectors, words matter. Words can empower or minimize. Words send messages of power, inclusion and common goals. Or on the contrary, words can disempower and cause exclusion and oppression.” -- Gina Dalma, SVCF’s Executive Vice President of Community Action, Policy, and Strategy

Silicon Valley Community Foundation will continue to work hard to ensure that through this process and as we create a “Better Silicon Valley” together, our words relay a common purpose of a future that is inclusive, just and sustainable. View the Silicon Valley Recovery Roundtable’s report.