Finding Our Common Ground in Los Angeles

October 9, 2015


By John E. Kobara

Time and again I have seen how individual action is blunted by an inability to engage. Los Angeles County is a big and diverse place, where our challenges – from ending homelessness to providing quality public education – seem insurmountable. We are siloed in our cars, in our neighborhoods and in our day-to-day distractions. That insolation leads us to withdraw into apathy and to disengage. This is not an L.A. County problem. This is a challenge everywhere.

The California Community Foundation (CCF) recently partnered with USC and the Los Angeles Times on the first countywide poll that revealed some of this (just as a reminder, L.A. County would be the 9th largest state by population and its GDP is larger than Argentina!):

  • Many people want to get more involved in their communities, but are hindered by lack of knowledge of issues and the belief that their actions won’t have an impact.
  • People generally like living in Los Angeles – the weather being cited as a top reason. Yet, many are pessimistic about the future of the region.
  • People under-value the nonprofit sector and its capability to enact change.

These poll findings serve as wake-up calls to those of us – leaders from foundations, nonprofits, government and business – who seek to transform Los Angeles County. We must clearly do more to find common ground, educate people on current needs, and motivate everyday Angelenos to get involved to support our region. While a place of opportunity, Los Angeles County faces serious challenges. Too many individuals and families are suffering, and our nonprofit infrastructure struggles every day to keep up with these demands.

This week, we commemorate our 100th year of service, CCF reaffirms its commitment to achieving this vision and to helping those who are struggling, which in turn improves the quality of life for all Los Angeles County residents, by announcing a $1 billion pledge in grantmaking to the region.

It’s part of a vision for a future where we will go beyond targeting symptoms and instead tackle the root causes of the unique problems facing our county.

We can’t do this alone. As a community foundation, we depend on people who are motivated to act and give. Our goal of granting $1 billion to Los Angeles by 2025 will only be fulfilled by the generosity of donors – we hope to inspire individuals, families, corporations, the public sector and foundations to give more.

Since our founding in 1915, we have witnessed thousands of “ordinary” people do extraordinary things. People who gave what they had and entrusted their passions and dreams to CCF. Together these thousands of gifts and legacies have grown to nearly $1.5 billion—a growing pool of philanthropy that reflects our past and informs our future. In that pool we see the reflection of ourselves and the future we all want. Our destiny as a community is tied to our obligations to one another.

This is our call to anyone willing to shed the shroud of apathy and disengagement. To join their neighbors, nonprofits and the other sectors in improving the future of the L.A. region – together. $1 billion may be the largest grantmaking commitment ever made here, but it is a mere drop in the bucket of need. We hope it is a catalyst to reignite others to leverage our commitment multiple times.

Moreover, there is a dire need to expand pathways beyond giving to increase community engagement in general. Charitable giving in Los Angeles is well below the national average of giving, and everyone needs to give more. But giving and grants are insufficient. Meaningful volunteering, local activism and organizing can also go a long way in contributing to long term positive change. And that kind of community engagement, where people see the needs and work together, leads to bigger changes. Public sentiment and public policy gets shifted. Private and public resources get re-allocated. But it all starts with a spark, with a wake-up call, with something that moves our hearts and minds to enact change individually and collectively.

The future of our county, and dare I say our country, is linked to waking up each other to get engaged. So after 100 years, we plan to celebrate by increasing our commitment to the needs of the most vulnerable, to growing and sustaining our nonprofit partners, to challenging philanthropy and donors to do more and to help lead positive social change. As we see it, we have no other choice.

John E. Kobara is the executive vice president and COO of the California Community Foundation

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