Renewing the California Dream

Lenny Mendonca, Chief Economic and Business Advisor for CA

February 5, 2019
BY David B. Smith
Renewing the California Dream

This January, the NationSwell Council hosted a lunch with Governor Newsom’s Chief Economic and Business Advisor, Lenny Mendonca (the Council’s founding Bay Area member, several years back), to discuss the path towards economic mobility for all Californians. Specifically, the group sought to answer the question, “How might we eliminate deep poverty in California, reduce poverty in the state by 50%, and offer a path for all Californians into the middle class within the next decade?”

NSC members immediately dove into the conversation with solutions and ideas to reframe the challenge.

Members discussed concrete issues ranging from tax reform, healthcare, climate change and childcare to education and the future of work, proving the interconnectedness of often siloed policies and the need for a more holistic approach. While it was clear there is no single silver bullet, the conversation often circled back to education as a key pathway – with levers ranging from broadening workforce credentials to upgrading the CSU/UC requirements for relevance in the new economy.

The group identified the California Economic Summit as a current good actor. Hosted by California Forward and California Stewardship Network, the Summit convenes local, regional, and statewide leaders to identify shared goals and metrics for economic development. The group has also created the 2019 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity and a broader scorecard of metrics named the CA Dream Index.

How might we offer a path for all Californians into the middle class within the next decade? — Lenny Mendonca

Some recommended a better definition of poverty and middle class – away from the simplistic, federal income classification, and towards classifications based on ability to secure essential goods (e.g. food, housing, transportation, health care) alongside quality of life indicators. Further reframing from “safety net” to “opportunity” could also help shift + broaden the debate, focusing on how support systems enable individuals opportunity to achieve their fullest potential – both for themselves + for the state.

The group also discussed the government as a key source of leadership, alongside the limits of top-down approaches. The Governor’s budget proposes an Office of Digital Innovation with a primary goal of government increasing efficiency, focusing on customer service, and creating a culture of innovation within state government. This builds off of the models and success of the United States Digital Service and Code for America (led by fellow Council member Jen Pahlka).

This approach also furthers the broader goal of recruiting top talent to solve key challenges within government as championed by Partnership for Public Service and Fuse Corps – another NationSwell partner + ally. Finally, it’s all about driving innovation inside of government, following promising programs like the [email protected] and Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) Innovation Incubator.

While government can certainly help, the group was firm that economic mobility can only be achieved through cross-sector alignment of government, business, nonprofits, philanthropy, academia, individuals, and civil society. Such alignments will require redefining systems to create virtuous cycles of shared value.

As the new chief of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, Lenny Mendonca has been clear that the purpose of business needs to grow beyond generating short-term shareholder value. Lenny went even further, saying he will look at companies’ net impact on society to ensure that those operating in California are helping to reduce the gap between rich and poor, investing in the infrastructure and resilience of communities, and being good stewards of the environment.

NSC events close with a call to action, and this lunch was no exception. The group decided to join the Economic Mobility Collaborative and sign the open letter to the Governor; to read Governor Newsom’s budget; and to share the Roadmap to Shared Prosperity.

Let us know if and how you want to be part of this movement! You can reach David at [email protected]