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Renewing the California Dream

Dave Smith

March 1, 2019

“The story of our state is the story of a dream…and it is up to us to renew the California Dream for a new generation.” – Governor Gavin Newsom’s Inaugural Address, January 7, 2019

California has always been a special place. With origins based on expansive opportunity and following dreams to becoming the global epicenter of technological innovation and the next industrial revolution, California represents the future. While California’s explosive growth continues to yield unparalleled opportunity for some, the increasing complexity of size and diversity leaves the California Dream out of reach for many. With rising inequality, high costs of living, and a rapidly changing climate, it is a critical time to renew the California Dream.

“We face a gulf between the rich and everyone else – and it’s not just inequality of wealth, it’s inequality of opportunity…These aren’t merely policy problems. They are moral imperatives.” – Governor Gavin Newsom

Defining the Dream

The California Dream is more than an individual living in a beautiful place with a job that pays the bills. It includes but is not limited to safe neighborhoods, good schools, access to health care, and the opportunity to cast a ballot. The California Dream is ultimately about finding purpose and fulfillment. California will thrive when a culture of civility and kindness unlocks the human spirit and potential of all residents.

Achieving the California Dream requires the pursuit of one’s potential. However, many Californians to not have the privilege to dream as their basic needs must be met. These needs include food, clean air and water, safety, health, and security. California needs to end childhood poverty and zip-code pre-determinism. All Californians should have a basic level of food, healthcare, education, and economic security guaranteed. All Californian communities should be safe and environmentally sustainable.  Additionally, the basic human need of connection to others should be available and encouraged for all through civic and social opportunities. Resiliency is directly tied to trust and connectedness, so this is an economic imperative. 


This is the California Dream I have heard from residents across sectors, partisanship, and regions. This was the compelling challenge that united our founding group to create the Economic Mobility Collaborative (#CADream4All) with the mission:  “The California Dream means a chance to work, discover one’s potential, and share that potential with others.”

Goals and Metrics

To support moving this dream to reality, on January 10, 2019, NationSwell Council (NSC) hosted a luncheon with Lenny Mendonca (NSC’s first Bay Area member) who had recently been named Governor Newsom’s Chief Economic and Business Advisor. The conversation was stimulated by the question of “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, beginning with the definition of poverty and middle class as both terms are defined federally based on income level. A primary focus raised was the need to redefine these classifications based on ability to secure essential goods (e.g. food, housing, transportation, health care) alongside quality of life indicators beyond finances. Additionally, reframing from “safety net” to “opportunity” and “we are all in this together” helps shift culture to re-envisioning what is possible and how we can achieve this state together.

The California Economic Summit,  hosted by California Forward and California Stewardship Network, has convened local, regional, and statewide leaders over the past seven years (including then Lt Gov Newsom for the first six years) to help identify shared goals and metrics for quality of life and economic development. One outcome was to clarify the definition of prosperity as focused on the triple bottom line (equity, sustainability, and prosperity, similar to what the United Nations defines as people, planet, and profit).

The California Economic Summit works year-round to support collective efforts aligning state policy and regional priorities, the 2019 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity calls for both specific goals and a broader scorecard of metrics named the CA Dream Index (aligned with the Economic Mobility Collaborative’s vision). Setting measurable indicators clarifies shared purpose, aligns local efforts under statewide goals, and helps stakeholders see how they are making progress towards achieving the Californian Dream. These goals include: 1 million more skilled workers, 1 million more homes, 1 million more acre-feet of water, and 1 million more livable wage jobs.

An Interconnected System

During the NSC luncheon, issues impacting prosperity and mobilizing ranged from tax reform and healthcare to climate change and childcare to education and the future of work. This demonstrated 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 credentials to upgrading the CSU/UC requirements for relevance in the new economy.

While California’s economy thrives, many Californians are left behind without the skills necessary to compete in the economy. One goal identified as part of the 2019 Roadmap to Shared Prosperity focuses on restoring upward mobility and meet employers’ needs, by ensuring California graduates one million more people with bachelor’s degrees and one million more workers with middle-skilled credentials over the next ten years. An example demonstrating how to kickstart collaboration around this goal is the Morgan Family Foundation’s investment of $1 million into the regional members of the California Stewardship Network to seed local partnerships with CA Community Colleges.

Government’s Role

Government is what we collectively decide to do together, and this is why our vote and our engagement matters. The desired impact of legislation and regulation should be clearly articulated.  Governmental operations should be efficient and effective, and service delivery should be resident-centric. Public service should be a purpose-driven and fulfilling calling. To achieve this vision, talent must be attracted by revamping civil service to incentivize success, recruiting critical skill sets from across sectors, and articulating the potential impact of each opportunity to serve.

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. It also speaks to a desire of recruiting top talent to solve key challenges within government as championed by Fuse Corps and Partnership for Public Service.  Finally, it’s all about driving innovation inside of government, following promising programs like the Lab@OPM and Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) Innovation Incubator.

Cross Sector Leadership

While government is what we collectively decide to do together, the California Dream can only be achieved through alignment of government, business, nonprofits, philanthropy, academia, individuals, and civil society. This alignment will require redefining systems to great virtuous cycles of shared value. Government can and should play a role to convene, inspire and incentivize collaboration around shared goals, but cross sector coalitions will be essential to realizing our goals.

While the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development has previously been a vehicle for recruiting companies through tax breaks and promises of reduced government oversight. The new chief, Lenny Mendonca, has been clear that the purpose of business needs to grow beyond generating short-term shareholder value. His views align with BlackRock’s CEO Larry Fink and the assertion that all companies need to have a focus, measure, and articulate their broader purpose and strategy to be community stewards. Lenny went even further to say 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 stewards of the environment.

“Let us be pioneering optimists who look to the future not with trepidation but with creativity and boundless energy. This is a time for courage — and we will rise to meet it…We will build one house for one California…This notion – that we’re all in this together – is a powerful one.” – Governor Gavin Newsom

Call to Action

As we close all NSC events with a call to action, I’ll do the same with this post. Join the Economic Mobility Collaborative and sign the open letter to the Governor.  Read Governor Newsom’s budget (Want to be inspired? Watch his inaugural address).  Share the Roadmap to Shared Prosperity.  Consider how you want to be part of this movement.

Our moment is now as we understand the problem and root causes better than ever, have identified potential solutions worth scaling, and the tools to realize these solutions are less expensive than ever. We now need ambitious and unifying goals, political will and public support to follow the roadmap, and the voice and action of all of us to make this the primary focus of our state and society. Ultimately, we are the solution, and together we can ensure opportunity and prosperity for all and renew the California Dream (and the American Dream).

 “California has always helped write America’s future…The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. And the future depends on us…Now more than ever, America needs California…This is our charge. That is our calling.” – Governor Gavin Newsom


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