Growth alone is not enough – initial reflections on a regional approach
by Ingrid Jacobson
After 22 years, having served hundreds of entrepreneurs who have created thousands of jobs and provided millions in wages, we are thinking differently about expansion, our impact, and our role in the region.
What began as a simple replication strategy has evolved into an approach that encourages regional cooperation and partnership. This strategy is based on authentic relationships, meaningful and aligned definitions of success, and a respect and honor for the unique contributions and characteristics of each community within the 9 county Bay Area. These unique characteristics, if cultivated, allow each city, each neighborhood to fully be itself, in turn making up a rich social fabric that continues to put the Bay Area in a rare position to see trends ahead of the rest of the nation.
ICA Fund Good Jobs was founded in 1996. Back then, downtown Oakland, the “inner city” was an actual place with many vacant storefronts, desolate streets after business hours, and a place demonstrating a need to focus on building a high-caliber small business ecosystem. Today, at first glance, we have a thriving and lively city center, positive press, and an increased attraction for economic development. However, the impacts on long-term residents without housing and job security are displacement and growing low-wage job options, exacerbating inequality across households, most notably for disenfranchised communities of color.
After understanding that a job alone is not enough to close the widening racial wealth gap, we pushed our mission to evolve from: job creation, to good jobs, to jobs that create economic freedom for those that have been systematically excluded from wealth creating opportunities. We embraced the opportunity to evolve and adapt our focus and approach to the rapid transformation we see in our city, and we began to look at the ways that our work could extend beyond our “Oakland lab,” throughout the region.
Our work has been deep rather than wide, and we are forever learning the ways in which we can apply our values-based work in other geographies. As a first step, we’ve identified the South Bay as such a region and to date, we have begun work in San Jose. In that spirit, we are energized by our partnership with The Sobrato Family Foundation, a long time advocate for advancing community solutions and a foundation that makes strategic investments in effective organizations striving to create sustainable impact. In this work, we choose collaboration, not duplication of the efforts of other small business support organizations. And we choose sharing the wins of growing small businesses as a strategy towards inclusive community revitalization. We choose this so that we can focus on a smaller number of high potential businesses that show a commitment and promise to solving one of the biggest challenges of our time: closing the racial wealth gap.
The movement from a hyper-community-based focus into one that looks at the region as an economic unit, brings forth a generative and creative tension. One that forces us to examine the role that high potential entrepreneurs play in closing the racial wealth gap through business growth and good job creation. We remain open to what we hear and learn, which pushes us to be more precise in our desired impact beyond the realm of market forces alone. Instead we look at the ways that our increased awareness of our interdependence across sectors, and real opportunities to collaborate, presents a kaleidoscope of solutions that can be shared across the region and the nation.
Ingrid Jacobson is Director of Regional Strategy and Partnerships at ICA Fund Good Jobs. When she is not planning for any number of post-apocalyptic scenarios, she can squint her eyes and see an emerging reality: one where we are living in the world we have been waiting for.