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Regional Stewardship Strategies: Grassroots Economic Response in California

Doug Henton / Jan 06 2011


For Release Sunday, January 9, 2011

Doug HentonFaced with 12 percent unemployment and a $26 billion budget deficit, California offers a perfect storm of economic disruption and public paralysis. This is the product of not only the national financial meltdown, but also a self-imposed governance crisis caused by years of ballot box initiatives as well as budget overruns.

However, below the chaotic surface, the grassroots has been active in responding to this dual economic and governance crisis. The seeds were actually planted in the 1990s during an earlier economic downturn. In regions as diverse as Silicon Valley and the Sierra Nevada, new collaborations of business, government and community leaders were launched to address complex challenges spanning multiple political jurisdictions. Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Sierra Business Council became models for other regions. Next, the James Irvine Foundation provided seed funding to support similar collaborative regional initiatives in urban and rural areas across the state based on these models. Then some of the leaders from these regional efforts joined state government and began to incorporate this new regional approach into state policies, integrating housing, transportation and land use planning, connecting workforce and economic development efforts, and promoting broad-based telecommunication strategies.

In 2008, the Morgan Family Foundation launched the California Stewardship Network as a civic venture, investing $ 1.5 million over 2 years in matching grants to 10 economic regions that agreed to focus on breakthroughs led by stewardship teams composed of business, community and government civic entrepreneurs.

Stewardship is defined as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to us. The network focuses on “stewardship of place” — which requires simultaneous attention to the economic, environmental and social dimensions of the region. Or simply put, stewardship equals personal responsibility for community-wide well-being, not advocacy of one interest over another.

While each regional team has developed its own stewardship strategy, all share a common approach. Typically, these strategies are (1) data-driven, (2) based on economic regions and industry clusters, (3) successful in sustaining the engagement of business, (4) effective at integrating economic, social, and environmental considerations, and (5) innovative in their approach to public-private partnerships in implementation. The teams represent the diversity of California ranging from San Diego and Los Angeles in the South to the Silicon Valley and Sacramento Valley, the Fresno Region and the Central Coast to the Sierra Region, Sonoma and Butte Counties and the Redwood Coast near the Oregon Border. These regional groups meet on regular basis and exchange best practices (see

These regional stewardship teams are currently focusing on economic development, education and green prosperity. A prime example is the Los Angeles County’s first-ever Consensus Economic Strategy, which was developed through a process that engaged of over 1,000 business and civic leaders. The convener was the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, a regional business group, but the plan has been adopted by the County Board of Supervisors and 88 cities including the City of Los Angeles, as well as the labor and environmental communities. The strategic plan commits its partners to specific actions to invest in an educated workforce, implement a 21st Century Infrastructure, promote smart land use, enhance quality of life, and create a business-friendly environment (

Other regions have developed green prosperity strategies including a “Climate Prosperity Strategy” for promoting clean energy alternatives while reducing greenhouse gases in Silicon Valley ( and a “Green Capital Alliance” in Sacramento Region ( Sonoma County’s team has focused on closing the achieving gap for Hispanic students through mentoring and other programs ( Butte County has taken a similar approach. The Fresno region in the San Joaquin Valley launched regional jobs and human investment initiatives. (

Building on these grassroots results, the regions are now working together to affect state policy. Leaders from the network drafted a shared agenda for action titled Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State; its elements were then communicated to candidates during the 2010 election cycle. (

As Jerry Brown now returns to the California governorship, he must confront a challenging budget deficit and record high unemployment as well as long term governance challenges. His top three priorities stated during his campaign were as follows:

  • We must get California working again — both its government and its people
  • We need an honest budget and a government closer to the people
  • We need leadership that can attract investment and new jobs, promote quality education and protect public safety

California’s dual crises could be an opportunity for transformation. At the December 2010 California Stewardship Exchange, regional stewardship groups considered the following questions: Does the grassroots stewardship approach that has been emerging from the bottom up, based on a recognition of regional diversity and the importance of collaboration, provide a solution to the both the economic and governance challenges facing California? Is this a practical way to help bring government closer to the people, with stewards communicating to state government the needs of their diverse regions through an ongoing dialogue and partnership?

Sometimes it takes a crisis (or two) to generate a fundamentally new response. In California, a grassroots movement has been underway for several years, and is now culminating in a bottom up transformation of several economic regions. At the same time, new state leadership is looking for innovative ideas and partners. If stewards step forward at all levels, the next few years could produce a new state-regional model for both California’s economic recovery and long-term governance.

As Margaret Mead said many years ago: “a small group of thoughtful people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Doug Henton is a Citistates Associate who is CEO of the Silicon Valley-based firm of Collaborative Economics. In the early ’90s, he helped manage the start-up of the Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. He advises the California Economic Strategy Panel strategy. He founded Collaborative Economics in 1993, after a decade at SRI, where he directed local, state and regional economic strategy projects spanning Florida to Texas to California.

John Melville is president of Collaborative Economics. Together with Doug Henton he helped launch Joint Venture Silicon Valley and other regional collaboratives in California. He is a consultant to California State Workforce Investment Board working with regions in California on innovative collaborative workforce strategies.

Becky Morgan is president of the Morgan Family Foundation and was the first president and CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. She was state senator from Silicon Valley and a county supervisor from Santa Clara County. The Morgan Family Foundation funded the California Stewardship Network columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit and send an electronic copy of usage to


  1. Marc Brenman
    Posted January 7, 2011 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    These California stewardship organizations seem almost entirely business oriented, and appear to ignore the racial and ethnic diversity of the state, especially the Hispanic population. A quick and admittedly crude review of the people involved in the organizations shows practically no Latino names. One can look at the website of the Los Angeles group and never realize that the LA Basin is very heavily Latino, including in small business ownership and entrepreneurialism. I wonder how the big problems facing California are ever going to be solved unless social equity and community diversity are included as important factors and the needs and views of all the people are considered? Organizations having similar problems by leaving out almost half the population, feel free to contact me at Marc Brenman, Social Justice Consultancy and Senior Policy Advisor, The City Project

  2. Richard Strathern
    Posted January 8, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    This would be a great model for Oregon! They have the same economic and governance issues as as their southern neighbor! By the way I thought the Mayor of LA. was Latino and he should be leading the parade for diverse involvement and leadership.

  3. Posted January 9, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Marc Brennan makes an important point about the inclusion in regional stewardship in California given our ethnic diversity. If he looks deeper that these specific initiatives he will see that the Sonoma County effort is lead by a Latino leader and is focused on closing the educational achievement gap, that Fresno’s human investment initiative is lead by a diverse group focusing on equity issues and that the Los Angeles County Economic Strategy has engaged over 1,000 diverse leaders cross the regoin and with the full support of the Mayor of Los Angeles who is a major Latino leader in California.

    These regional stewardship efforts must engage a wide range of Latino, African America, Asian and Anglo community leaders who represent the new face of California. There is no other pathway to success today.