The main focus of the holiday season is giving thanks for things large and small from the delicious turkey to the health and well-being of those we love. It’s a time to reflect on what we have, and it motivates many of us to help those who do not have the basic elements of a decent life.
At this time of year, I am deeply grateful for the beauty of the place we live, and the dynamism, creativity and optimism of the people living here Bay Area and in California. This corner of the world, home to a peacefully coexisting, diverse population has exerted unparalleled influence over the world’s economy and culture.
Even in politics, California has made striking progress with a budget surplus for the first time in years.
However, despite the good news, California’s unemployment rate remains stubbornly higher than the nation’s average, and the disparities in income and wealth here are stark and growing. The number of people who lack the basic elements of a decent life are getting larger and larger.
In the face of these disparities, California has innovated in business, government, and in our social sector. Business leaders are investing in new models to address inequities, while generating earned revenue to complement philanthropy and government in powerful new ways. Highly educated young people, that companies are trying to attract, want to see their employers practicing social responsibility.
George R. Roberts, the Bay Area-based chairman of KKR, one of the world’s largest private equity firms recently spoke in San Francisco about how his views and actions as an investor shifted from ‘shareholder value’ to creation of ‘shared value’ for the community as a whole – causing KKR to get more deeply engaged with environmental and social issues that align with the business mission of the companies they invest in.
Roberts also founded REDF sixteen years ago, in the face of growing homelessness in the Bay Area to support social enterprises, double bottom line businesses that create jobs and provide support to people otherwise excluded from our workforce. The business revenue model makes it more sustainable than interventions supported wholly by government or philanthropy.
And there are signs of hope that California is influencing the nation’s approach to solving social problems. Social enterprises are proliferating throughout California and around the country. Governor Brown just approved a new tax credit that will spur job creation for veterans, those formerly incarcerated and long-term unemployed. UC Berkeley in partnership with the Aspen Institute and Annie E. Casey Foundation has put up a whole compendium of good ideas for creating jobs.
Equity resonates with the open, networked world our internet companies promote. Creating jobs that put more Americans across the economic spectrum to work if they want to work resonates with the business community. As we reflect and celebrate this holiday season, let’s hope that California’s new ideas in the social sector match its prowess on the technology and investment front, making the world a lot more equitable, satisfying and gratitude-filled place.