James Higa, Executive Director, on PVF's latest venture to create change.
"Foundation," "government" and "technology" are not words you often see in the same sentence. But, this is exactly what is happening in a project that brings together Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, the County of San Mateo, and Code for America in a new kind of philanthropic partnership.
This unlikely joining of hands began with a comment by U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier while she was trying to live on $4.50 a day as part of her Food Stamp Challenge: "You can't learn in school if you have an empty belly." She ate a lot of tuna, stretched one tomato all week and "thought about food all day long." Although there are hungry people all around us, San Mateo County - the second wealthiest county in California - is ranked second from the bottom in participation by those eligible for CalFresh (the food stamp program). California as a whole ranks third from the bottom in the nation for participation in the food stamp program by those eligible. Beverly Beasley Johnson, the director of the Human Service Agency in San Mateo County, reinforced the need and she welcomed with open arms a search for a new way to get things done.
As we met with our peers and community organizations working in this space, bringing technology to bear emerged as a common thread. I hearkened back to my time on the original Macintosh team where I learned that collaboration born out of a diversity of ideas & skills can yield astounding solutions. We had an artist and even a musician on the development team. I had never heard of that before. Susan Kare would draw the desktop as we know it today and the engineers would go write the code to bring that to life. I've wondered why this type of interdisciplinary cooperation isn't commonplace in philanthropy. Why couldn't a foundation be the agent to forge this type of collaboration? Could we bring technology into our grassroots philanthropic world? We decided to try.
PVF reached out to Code for America (CfA). Think of CfA as a Peace Corp for geeks. More than 550 coders, web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs vied to be one of 29 fellows to spend the year collaborating with local governments -- and working to make government work better for all of us. Watch this TED Talk by the founder, Jennifer Pahlka, to get a sense of the dynamism and audacity at the heart of CfA. Although CfA had never worked with counties, only cities, they agreed to venture into new territory to consider San Mateo County for a spot in their 2013 program.
Within 72 hours, PVF's individual donors -- who are so supportive of our mission for grassroots philanthropy born out of creative thinking - put us on the road towards funding this project.
Second Harvest Food Bank, pictured here, serves an average of 243,1770 people per month in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.
San Mateo County completed the partnership. Adrienne Tissier, President of the Board of Supervisors, and County Manager John L. Maltbie shattered every stereotype you might have about working with government. They are accessible, open minded, and profoundly thoughtful about change and innovation. They moved with alacrity to approve, to co-fund with PVF, and to mobilize the staff to support and integrate the CfA fellows. On October 1 San Mateo County was introduced to be a part of the 2013 CfA program. The entire endeavor from initial idea to official launch came together in an unprecedented scant three months.
This is an uncommonly unique collaboration -- a philanthropic foundation, government, and a technology nonprofit coming together to create together. PVF has always been a demonstration foundation, taking risks and trying new approaches. We will continue on this new path towards the intersection of grassroots philanthropy and technology, and embrace our role as an active connector for change.