– by Ed Goldman
To paraphrase Mark Twain’s lamentation about the weather, everyone talks about regionalism but no one does anything about it.
The California Stewardship Network (CSN), with 15 member economic regions (and counting), began as a civic concept, morphed into an expansive project, and has emerged as an effective network and learning exchange comprised of individuals who love their Golden State—but think it has some room for improvement.
“The three E’s guide us: the environment, the economy and social equity,” says CSN founder Becky Morgan. Ms. Morgan was a California State Senator when, in 1993, she gave up her seat to become the President/Chief Executive Officer of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, a public/private partnership that brought together tech community leaders who wanted to ensure that their region would be able to not only clearly define but also meet the multiple challenges facing it.
CSN’s commitment would be toward enhancing the Triple Bottom Line: the concept that sustainability—people, planet and profits—must figure in business decision-making.
“What I saw in Silicon Valley were leaders with passion and enthusiasm for finding new ways of operating and caring for their ‘place,’” Ms. Morgan says.
“Becky made real sense out of regionalism,” says Connie Martinez, who worked for Ms. Morgan at Joint Venture: Silicon Valley and today is the CEO of Silicon Valley Creates, a private/nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the arts and cultural profile of the Santa Clara area. “We were at the intersection of power and collaboration, anchored in a shared vision.”
That vision was the creation of a new, collaborative way to face California’s myriad problems. These included budgets that were truncated—sometimes, suffocated—that resulted in diminished or shuttered libraries, overpopulated but under-delivered services and supplies to classrooms, neglect for the concerns of senior citizens and individuals with mental health issues, and the downsizing or outright disappearance of traditional mid-income jobs.
The key, of course, was to lure participants: all would be acknowledged leaders of their individual companies or organizations and, most tellingly, all would be volunteers.
How We Started
CSN grew from the grass roots of earlier efforts, including the Collaborative Regional Initiative launched by the Irvine Foundation. That begat the California Center for Regional Leadership. Member organizations of these efforts, which would ultimately be part of CSN, included: the Inland Empire Economic Partnership; Fresno Business Council; both the Los Angeles and San Diego Economic Development Corporations; Redwood Coast Rural Action; the Sierra Business Council, Valley Vision and, naturally, Joint Venture: Silicon Valley.
In 2008, Ms. Morgan launched the California Stewardship Project (CSP) with a $1 million grant from the Morgan Family Foundation, and professional support from Doug Henton and John Melville of Collaborative Economics, Inc.,
The immediate predecessor of CSN, this was a group of 10 organizations whose spheres of influence began to demonstrate the reach CSN would eventually strive for.
The organizations that were chosen to participate—it should be noted that CSP and its successor, CSN, while aiming for inclusiveness, has also been selective about its membership—for adhering to a short but uncompromising list of criteria. Each had to exhibit stewardship values, an abiding belief in working from the bottom up to achieve change, a commitment to regionalism and measurable outcomes, and a passion for innovation.
Those first 10 member organizations were:
- Chico Stewardship Network;
- Fresno Business Council;
- Green Valley Initiative;
- Los Angeles County EDC;
- Humboldt Area Foundation;
- Valley Vision;
- San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation;
- Sierra Business Council;
- Joint Venture Silicon Valley; and
- Economic Development Board-Sonoma County
At the time of its formation, the group defined stewardship as “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care; it’s people committed to the long-term well-being of a place, whatever the size.
“This project,” the CSP’s statement of purpose continued, “focused on ‘stewardship of place,’ which requires attention to the economy, environmental and social dimensions of a region.”
How We Evolved
2010 was a seminal year for the organization.
The California Stewardship Project became the California Stewardship Network to better reflect its collaborative nature. We wanted to demonstrate that we were not only action-oriented but tied into one another. As we described it at the time: “We support each other and our reach can be wide—we are like a web that can be laid out across the state over all of the other outdated boundaries of cities, counties and special districts that were established as long as 150 years go.”
In short, CSN retained its philosophical edge—but recognized that philosophy without action would never effect change. As John W. Gardner, the former CEO of Common Cause, once declared, there could be “no more regionalism for its own sake. We now need pragmatic regionalism with a purpose.”
“I believe our purpose,” Becky Morgan added, “must be to convince millions of Californians to become stewards of their state and help California solve its gigantic problems.”
And so we became a network—an alliance of regional leaders committed to the economic, environmental and social well-being of our regions and our state.
Our ongoing commitment would be (and remains) to grow our circle of steward leaders across California, documenting and sharing best practices and lessons learned. We would also collaborate across regions and help to launch new regional stewardship teams.
The same year that CSN adopted its new name, its members invited the San Luis Obispo Economic Vitality Corporation into the fold. We now numbered 11. Our refreshed motto: “Thriving Regions Lead to a Thriving State.”
The following year, CSN began talks with California Forward, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with shared values, to create a statewide economic summit. In the next year, we held a series of civic engagement forums to formulate the agenda of the issues and challenges the summit, which was held in May 2012, would address.
How We See Things
Among the issues CSN has been addressing is one that may seem obvious but, in fact, has often been overlooked by elected officials: Every region in California is different—and California’s economy is region-based.
We have also recognized that while our state’s economy remains more than merely viable, over the past several years we’ve lost market share (jobs, businesses and their accompanying influence) to other states. Our infrastructure and K-12 education—which truly were once the envy of not only other states but also the world—are now both ranked with the country’s bottom five. And for more than a decade, California’s gross domestic product has been outpaced by that of Texas.
In 2013, CSN co-hosted a second economic summit that resulted in the creation of nine proposals to advance prosperity in California in 2014. In August 2014 several hundred citizens converged in Sacramento for Capitol Day to measure progress and focus on next steps leading up to the 2015 California Economic Summit.
How We See Ourselves
Here is what our members say they value most about their participation in CSN:
- The learning exchange.
- The opportunity to collaborate to effect change in the state.
- CSN’s focus on Stewardship and Triple-Bottom-Line measurement.
- Becky Morgan’s vision and long-standing passion for this work.
The 15 California regions represented today in CSN are Butte, Fresno, Inland Empire, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles, Monterey Bay, Redwood Coast, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco/Bay Area, San Luis Obispo, Sierra Nevada, Silicon Valley, Sonoma, and Ventura County.
Becky Morgan—whose desire to invent workable solutions for California’s acknowledged challenges, in collaboration with the best leaders in the state’s regions—reflects on the evolution of CSN and, especially, its participants. “The passion and enthusiasm for finding new ways of operating and caring for their place is as strong today as in 2008,” she says. “Seven of the original 10 individuals are still engaged today, as well as nine of the 10 organizations.”
In summary, when it comes to regionalism, people are doing more than talking about it. Through CSN—and the collaboration of hundreds of like-concerned individuals and organizations—they’re doing something about it.