Bold Ideas in Action

CA fellows share what they do and what’s at stake
Blog Post
May 15, 2018

Last week we announced our third cohort of New America CA fellows. These leaders’ bold ideas and innovative approaches are inspiring communities and decision-makers alike to make local and statewide progress, both in policy and practice. These visionary social entrepreneurs are working to tackle some of the most pressing issues faced in California and beyond. From promoting community-centered redistricting reform to battling the educational marginalization of homeless youth, from revolutionizing access to the social safety net to economically empowering survivors of domestic violence, these fellows are solving issues that affect real Californians, right now.

Over the next year, we will be supporting these leaders and helping to share their stories. Our goal is that this will engage and inspire new audiences to participate in developing creative solutions to problems they experience at home and in their own communities.

We have asked our 2018 fellows to tell us how they are addressing a critical issue in California. Here are their responses:

Sonya Passi, FreeFrom

One in four women will endure severe domestic violence within their lifetime. Financial insecurity is the number one reason survivors stay with or return to an abuser, yielding them dependent on shelters, welfare systems or their abuser for survival. Shelters don’t end violence. Restraining orders don’t end violence. Welfare doesn’t end violence. It is only if a survivor can afford to leave, rebuild and heal, that we end domestic violence in California. FreeFrom is re-imagining what it means to be a survivor of domestic violence by cultivating the power survivors have to re-construct the movement with their own hands. Our goal is survivor wealth and we equip survivors with the financial resources needed to permanently leave, heal, and rebuild. This is how we will end the cycle of violence against women in California and beyond.

Fanna Gamal, East Bay Community Law Center

Between 2014 and 2016, the population of homeless students in California grew by 20%. More than 200,000 California students identify as homeless. They live in cars, parks, doubled and tripled-up with relatives, or in shelters and hotels. These students battle powerful forces of educational marginalization: their numbers are poorly tracked by school officials, they are more likely to be pushed out of school, less likely to graduate, and more likely to come in contact with the juvenile legal system. Through direct representation, local policy advocacy, and education, East Bay Community Law Center advocates for the most marginalized students in our public schools. For these students, the need for a quality education could not be higher. Education for homeless and housing insecure students is fundamentally about disrupting cycles of generational poverty that drive wealth inequality and threaten democracy.

Lili Gangas, Kapor Center for Social Impact

It is critical that we help prepare and upskill our communities of color for the future, today. If we don’t look forward with more urgency, we will miss another tech transformation and thus miss the opportunity to unlock the economic rewards that technology may bring in various emerging fields. Incentivized collaborations with members of the community helps us more easily see where the gaps are in the ecosystem. We need the entire ecosystem ( orgs, private & public sector, entrepreneurs, investors, academia) to be aligned in not just an Oakland-centric strategy but rather East Bay wide for regional economic growth that systematically closes those gaps. It's time for us to stop trying to fix parts of the "system" but rather create new more inclusive systems with more intentionality and intersectionality.

Rey Faustino, One Degree

One Degree is revolutionizing the way low-income families access vital social services. We're leading the way on designing and serving products for a technology-enabled low-income population, a market segment that is largely under-served by technology companies. While we have tools that make it easy for us to buy a book online with a few clicks, our most vulnerable families are stuck in the dark ages when trying to meet their most basic needs like housing or food. My long-term goal is to create a nationwide public utility for social services, the one place to access social services for anyone, anywhere, and, as a result, impact millions of people across the country. I want to build a social safety net that is more like a trampoline that enables people to bounce back and up, and create an upward trajectory toward social and economic mobility.

Nicolas Heidorn, California Local Redistricting Project

The decisions made by our local elected officials often have a more direct day-to-day impact on our lives than any other level of government. Something as simple as how election districts are drawn can determine for the next decade who can get elected to local office and which communities will get representation. All too often, this process is abused to protect incumbents or maximize one political party’s advantage; as a result, communities may be fractured into multiple districts to intentionally weaken their electoral power. However, in 2008 Californians passed a ballot measure to turn over the state redistricting process to a citizens commission whose members were carefully chosen to be both impartial and representative. We give local communities the educational, policy, and legal tools they need to set up their own citizens commissions and reclaim the redistricting process, and in turn their democracy.

New America CA is a civic nonprofit working to amplify the reach of California change agents whose innovations solve public problems in bold new ways.