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Inland Empire leaders discuss region’s future at Riverside event

Source: The Press-Enterprise

As excerpted from the Press-Enterprise:

A local community foundation brought together leaders, innovators and change-makers to learn, discuss and share ideas on how to build a stronger region.

On Wednesday, Aug. 9, and Thursday, Aug. 10, the Inland Empire Community Foundation staged its Third Annual Policy and Engagement Forum at the Riverside Convention Center. The sold-out event hosted 400 guests who gathered to gain insight from local elected officials, funders, nonprofit organizations and peers.

According to foundation, the Inland Empire is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan regions in the country and is home to more than 4.5 million residents. The region is projected to rise to a population beyond 7 million by 2050 with tremendous cultural and racial diversity. With this rapid growth, the foundation believes that the Inland Empire needs to invest in solutions to historic issues to become a region of choice and opportunity for all residents. However, public and private investment lags significantly behind other regions and the state.

According to the Foundation Center, Riverside and San Bernardino counties receive about $31 per capita in philanthropic investments, just a fraction of the $139, $272, and $745 received in Orange County, Los Angeles County and the Bay Area, respectively.

Deepening its commitment to growing resources and influencing change that addresses inequities that contribute to some of the challenges facing the region, the foundation’s board of directors began exploring policy advocacy as a new approach for the foundation in 2018.

The annual policy forum followed soon after, establishing the foundation’s policy and advocacy arm. In 2020, the foundation identified five policy priority areas based on conversations with nonprofit partners. Focusing on the priorities areas of education equity, climate and the environment, inclusive economic development, housing and health, the 2023 policy forum featured plenary sessions, panel discussions, breakout sessions focused on each of the priority areas, working sessions and opportunities to network socially.

“Strengths exist in the region that can be leveraged to address barriers to a vibrant, prosperous, and shared future as we use this moment to create a lasting tangible difference for people in the Inland Empire region,” said R. Michelle Decker, the foundation’s president and CEO. “We hope the community will continue to join with us in collaboration and partnership to advance our vision of a vibrant, generous and just region with unlimited opportunities.”

On Wednesday, the opening plenary with the Inland Empire Legislative Caucus was moderated by Jacob Mejia, of the Pechanga Development Corp., and featured a discussion by Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside; Assemblymember Corey Jackson, D-Perris; Assemblymember James Ramos, D-Highland; and state Sen. Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh, R-Yucaipa.

An afternoon philanthropy panel discussion was moderated by Bansree Parikh, of Bank of America, and featured Elena Chávez Quezada from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office; Max Espinoza, from the Gates Foundation; Randall Lewis, from Lewis Group of Companies; and Jesse Melgar, of the UC Berkeley Possibility Lab.

Decker moderated the closing plenary session with local elected officials Curt Hagman, a San Bernardino County Supervisor; Patricia Lock Dawson, Riverside’s mayor; Helen Tran, San Bernardino’s mayor; Gwen Dowdy-Rodgers, a member of the San Bernardino County Board of Education; Armando Carmona, a Jurupa Valley city councilmember; and Denise Davis, a Redlands city councilmember.

On Thursday, the forum opened with a keynote presentation by Josh Fryday, California chief service officer from Newsom’s office.

Tickets to the event were made affordable for attendees through sponsors, including presenting sponsor Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the title sponsor The James Irvine Foundation. Additional sponsors included Harbor Freight Foundation, Inland Empire Health Plan, Kaiser Permanente, Lewis Group of Companies, Edison International, Western Wind Foundation, Wingate Foundation, Amazon, IEGO, Partners for Better Health and Varner & Brandt.

“We are so proud of the work happening in the Inland Empire to build connection, community and a sense of belonging for all,” Fryday said. “We are creating opportunities for every Californian, so they are empowered to contribute and shape their communities. The Inland Empire is leading the way.”


Inland Empire Community Foundation works to strengthen Inland Southern California through philanthropy.