Every year, a delegation of Philanthropy California members attend Foundations on the Hill, a convening of hundreds of foundation leaders from across the country to meet with legislators in Washington, DC, to discuss issues of critical importance to philanthropy and the communities we serve. In years past, our Public Policy team has met with Rep. Adam Schiff, Rep. Karen Bass, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, Rep. Harley Rouda, and many other Congress members. These meetings are essential for lawmakers to understand philanthropy’s role and for SCG members to share their knowledge and expertise on issues we collectively support.
We spoke to Alba Bautista, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at First 5 LA, and three times FOTH attendee. At First 5 LA, Alba focuses on building new partnerships with the philanthropic sector across our health, early education, and community-based strategic priorities. In this conversation, we tackle the role of civic engagement in philanthropy, First 5 LA’s system change efforts, and some tips for first-time FOTH attendees.
What is First 5 LA’s policy agenda, and what role does civic engagement play in these efforts?
Our North Star is that all children in Los Angeles County will enter kindergarten ready to succeed in school and life by 2028. To achieve this mission, we aim to support systems by providing improved and coordinated services for young children and families. We believe our best contribution to children and families is through policy change, practice change, and public will-building. Civic engagement plays a role in policy change to change rules governing institutions, practices, and resource allocation.
Can you share an example of how First 5 LA is working toward systems change?
A successful example that is still in progress is our food security strategy. First 5 LA focuses on access to affordable, healthy food and the broader government programs that promote food security. LA County has one of the lowest CalFresh (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participation rates in the country – less than 70% of eligible households participate, leaving over $1.2 billion in federal funding on the table and thousands of families without access to the food they need. The Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), which manages the CalFresh program, has embarked on numerous efforts to close this gap, but participation remains low.
To address the food access gap, First 5 LA partnered with DPSS to engage communities and collect data on food insecurity experiences. Working with the Los Angeles Food Policy Council to improve DPSS’s outreach strategy and processes, Fresh Ideas for CalFresh focus groups are being held in each Supervisorial District to learn directly from parents about their barriers to accessing CalFresh. Information and data collected from these focus groups will be aggregated and summarized in a report due out in June, outlining recommendations for improving the CalFresh delivery system and inform investment strategies for the future.
What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for philanthropic leaders to increase their impact on democracy and civic life?
We need to develop a shared understanding of what we mean by civic engagement in a county as large, racially, and linguistically diverse as Los Angeles. For example, civic engagement can be the strategy we employ to ensure all residents complete the upcoming 2020 Census and the process by which increased engagement is achieved, including facilitating the spaces and infrastructure to promote civic engagement.
Best Start is First 5 LA’s primary investment for engaging communities in a shared vision and intention for children and families to thrive, working to strengthen community leadership and collaboration across sectors. Best Start includes 14 geographic areas that have faced historical disenfranchisement. We are developing approaches for building the capacity of parents, nonprofits, environment advocates, and other stakeholders to help catalyze community-level change that supports the health and wellbeing of young children and their families.
What attracted you to FOTH? What did you appreciate the most about this opportunity?
FOTH presents an opportunity to join our advocacy efforts with our philanthropic partners and diversify the voices that champion early childhood issues. I appreciate the opportunity to build relationships with policymakers and the platform that FOTH provides to elevate the issues and policies important in our communities, particularly those of young children. I learned that one does not need a public policy background to be an advocate. Sharing our stories and experiences working in Los Angeles County plays a role in educating policymakers and building their will to prioritize young children’s issues and potentially spark partnership in the future. Funders are a resource to the public sector, and we should not shy away from showing up as advocates to affect change.
Do you have any advice for first-time FOTH attendees?
It can feel overwhelming to attend your first advocacy trip. You are going from meeting to meeting, and there is a lot of information shared during the trip, but you’ll have the materials and guidance you need to tell your story. SCG and Philanthropy California colleagues are great resources and partners at FOTH.