A Closer Look at CZI’s Growing Push for Equity in Silicon Valley Communities

Food security is one issue on CZI’s local agenda. Photo: addkm/shutterstock

Food security is one issue on CZI’s local agenda. Photo: addkm/shutterstock

Since emerging as major philanthropists a few years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan have been best known for their big ambitions regarding biomedical research and education. But they’ve also been major donors in their home region of Silicon Valley. In 2017, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative set up the CZI Community Fund to expand its local work and address some of the most critical issues facing low-income residents in a region rife with deep inequities. Specific communities on the fund’s radar are Belle Haven, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks and Redwood City.

From the beginning, CZI has emphasized a bottom-up approach to local grantmaking. When we spoke last year to Cristina Huezo, a CZI director focused on the Bay Area, she told us a bit about why the fund was created and how it was developed:

We wanted a dedicated way to be able to support more community-driven solutions and respond to emerging local needs that may go beyond our core work around education, science, and justice and opportunity. As we began thinking about creating a community fund, we met with parents, local leaders, students through town hall meetings, conversations, and surveys to get a sense of the most pressing issues they face and their vision for thriving communities. These conversations shaped—and will continue to shape—the design and focus of the CZI Community Fund.

The CZI Community Fund’s first round of grantmaking was announced in early 2018, with grants ranging in amount from $25,000 to $100,000 given to 41 organizations. The work of these groups focuses on issues of education, homelessness, housing, immigration, transportation, and workforce development—areas that Huezo said had been “identified by local residents as top priorities.”

About 30 of the first CZI Community Fund grants addressed the issue of education. However, many of the education-related grants that the fund made touched on multiple other issues, as well. Take, for example, the grant to Belle Haven Action, which advocates for equity and justice, acts as a local liaison for community projects, and initiates and supports new and existing programs for improved quality of life. Several other early grants had components of education as well as workforce development and immigration. For example, the grant to Free at Last: Recovery and Rehabilitation Services addressed multiple issues.

Housing has been another major focus of the CZI Community Fund. Even before CZI played a leading role recently in launching a major new housing initiative, the Partnership for the Bay’s Future, its local fund was addressing an issue that residents had flagged as a top concern in their conversations with CZI. “Community members shared that they often feel left out of economic growth in the Bay Area and at risk of being pushed out of their communities by high housing costs and limited supply,” Huezo said.

While the new Partnership for the Bay’s Future is mainly about mobilizing capital to invest in building new housing, it will also be making grants for policy research and advocacy, building on work that the CZI Community Fund has now been doing for a while. The Partnership for the Bay’s Future is a regional effort that launched with two funds, which together focus not only on production but also on protection and preservation. Huezo said last year that this grantmaking has included “supporting Bay Area community groups who are developing a regional housing affordability advocacy strategy; investing in a company called Landed that is helping educators buy homes near where they work; supporting legal aid to help more residents stay in their homes; supporting researcher Matt Desmond’s new project on housing insecurity called EvictionLab; and other efforts to help more people find housing that meets their needs.”

Last month, CZI announced its second batch of community grants. A total of 37 local organizations received CZI Community Fund support in this round of giving, with grants in the $25,000 to $100,000 range.

When CZI invited community groups to apply for this new funding last year, it said at the time that this round of grants would “prioritize organizations working to address basic and most urgent needs of at-risk and vulnerable individuals or families."

Grantees that received money are involved in work that includes addressing food security, safety/security, and mental health/health care. New food security grantees include the Ecumenical Hunger Program and St. Anthony’s Padua Dining Room. New security/safety grantees include Adolescent Counseling Services and Project WeHOPE, and new mental health/health care grantees are Community Gatepath and the Ravenswood Family Health Center. Furthermore, a majority of these second-round grants serve all four communities of Belle Haven, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks and Redwood City.

Last year, applications were due to the CZI Community Fund in mid-September, so we’re expecting to see news about proposals accepted for 2020 grants sometime this summer.

It’s important to remember that this part of CZI’s grantmaking remains pretty new and is still a work in progress. As Huezo told us last year, “This fund is designed to be nimble and responsive to local needs, so we will continue to incorporate feedback from these communities about which issues should be the focus of each round of grantmaking.”

Related: Close to Home and Bottom Up: Chan Zuckerberg's New Local Giving