Centering People

Centering People

There’s this perverse irony that a lot of wealth has been made at a time when there’s been extraordinary unemployment, extraordinary hunger, extraordinary displacement. And so the lesson there is that philanthropy’s job during these times is to double down and reinvest both in assets but, more importantly, in community.

Sandra Hernández, former SFF CEO, 2021
The 2018 Measure Z campaign helped increase wages and workplace protections for hotel workers in Oakland. Photo courtesy of East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), an SFF grantee
Investing in People and Jobs

Elvia Perez firmly believed the long hours she spent fighting to improve the rights of her fellow hotel workers would pay off. In 2018, during the height of the #MeToo movement, she successfully helped rally support for Measure Z, which ensured that larger hotels in Oakland would pay their staff—the majority of whom are women of color—fair wages, provide health care benefits, and better protect employees, by way of a panic button system, from being harassed and assaulted.

“We are often so invisible, we feel like no one cares. But [with Measure Z] winning with 86% of the vote, we feel seen and heard,” Perez told us in 2019, soon after the measure took effect. The victory presented a significant step in bringing justice to Bay Area workers and, specifically, women-of-color workers.

Did you know?

In 1974, SFF was the first foundation to support the Asian Law Caucus, the first legal organization dedicated to protecting the civil rights of Asian Americans. The caucus used our early grants to enforce minimum wage standards and working conditions, including for Chinatown’s many garment workers. Nearly half a century later, the organization, now known as Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, has grown into a pillar in the community that continues to fight for the rights of Asian Americans and other communities marginalized by inequitable systems.

SFF’s support for Measure Z and the leaders behind it is emblematic of our People work—one of the three core pathways (People, Place and Power) that make up our Equity Agenda. The People Pathway focuses on countering discriminatory practices that make it difficult to get a good job, buy a home or open a business—the most powerful ways that people can build financial security and wealth and put their children on a brighter path. In practice, this means backing policies and investing in organizations that are creating just laws and practices and building worker power and community wealth.

Organizing Funders To Support Workers in the Bay Area

Since day one, SFF has been working to ensure that everyone in the Bay Area can get a good job that helps build financial security and personal agency. In the 1940s and 1950s, we pushed for policies dedicated to equal employment rights for women; in the 1970s, we funded the legal costs of Filipinx workers fighting employment discrimination; and today, the belief that good jobs are key to an inclusive Bay Area is central to our Equity Agenda.

From 2004 to 2005, after decades of allocating funding for workers’ rights and well-being, we took our commitment a step further by forming a collaborativeof foundations, state partners, employers, local colleges and public agenciessolely committed to the Bay Area’s workforce.

After a year and a half of planning and fundraising, we formed ReWork the Bay (formerly known as the Bay Area Workforce Funders Collaborative), with a vision to support people by creating opportunities to sustain their families and help them advance their careers.

Many of our initial programs helped residents—in particular, immigrants—living on low incomes to pursue nursing and biotech careers. We wanted to create a pathway for more people to qualify for jobs that would provide larger paychecks and full benefits, as well as stability and economic mobility.

Recognizing the power of working collectively, ReWork the Bay looked to make a difference for the half a million students enrolled in the Bay Area’s 15 community colleges. The collaborative supported the EDGE Coalition with long-term core funding to address the challenges faced by underrepresented and educationally underprepared students, such as childcare, balancing school with multiple jobs, and not having stable housing or enough food. In 2013, EDGE helped shape and ensure the passage of AB86, providing $25 million to K–12 school districts and California’s community colleges to integrate and improve adult education programs.

What started as a small cohort of funders has grown into a network of leaders and organizations working together to advance racial equity and build the power of workers to determine their own standards for good jobs. Since its beginning more than 15 years ago, ReWork the Bay has distributed more than $16 million to organizations that connect people with better jobs at good wages and advocate for policies that can shift the practices of whole sectors, reaching hundreds of thousands of working people. 

Building Community Wealth for Generations to Come

Did you know?

In its first grantmaking cycle, ReWork the Bay raised $2.1 million from 13 foundations and trained nearly 700 people working low-wage jobs for higher-paying jobs in healthcare and biotech industries.

In 2014, after the Great Recession, tech companies began expanding beyond Silicon Valley and established a presence farther north on the Peninsula, in San Francisco and in Oakland. Their expansion brought economic opportunity to the region, but not for everyone. 

As SFF CEO Fred Blackwell recalls, “There was … a feeling like the opportunities that existed in the companies that were growing and creating a presence in places like Oakland and San Francisco weren’t providing equal opportunity for all folks.” Companies arrived in diverse communities such as East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park but neglected to hire local people of color in higher-paying positions. Their expansion also led local housing prices to spike, leaving workers in low-wage jobs unable to compete with tech workers and their high salaries. “There was a big question mark around whether or not all this economic growth was good and what it was going to mean for the Bay Area and who was going to benefit,” Blackwell says. 

Blackwell, who was new to SFF at the time, felt a sense of responsibility and urgency. He wanted to address the systemic issues behind the economic inequalities and injustices the region was facing, made more extreme by the expansion of these companies without policies in place to protect people. Under Blackwell’s leadership and the new Equity Agenda, we prioritized race and socioeconomic status in our grantmaking, including policies and advocacy that would protect working people. 

As SFF developed a focus on racial equity and economic prosperity, a strategy dedicated to building wealth in communities was not only called for but a natural evolution of the work we’ve been doing for generations. 

The People Pathway is one of the Equity Agenda’s three interconnected strategies focused on a Bay Area where people have good jobs and are able to build wealth and save for the future. Driven by grantmaking, investments and funder collaboratives like ReWork the Bay, this work has remained critical in both good and bad economic times.