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My Valley Vision Experience

Mekdem Wright served a 12-month term as a Student Board Fellow with Valley Vision while pursuing his MBA at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, through the GSM’s Nonprofit Board Fellowship Program. He has recently graduated with his MBA and completed his board fellowship, and reflects on the experience here.

This past year with Valley Vision has been an invaluable experience for me. I’ve learned about the responsibilities of nonprofit board service and developed an understanding of how to manage and operate a nonprofit. I’ve learned an effective approach to economic, environmental and social progress. I’ve connected to this community – my community.

Learning Valley Vision’s Collective Impact Approach – My fellowship began with a one-on-one board orientation with CEO Bill Mueller and included a crash-course in who Valley Vision is, what they do, how they do it, and why they do it. He taught me their “Collective Impact” approach – how they connect and engage the regional ecosystem to mobilize towards economic, environmental and social progress. Wherever there are gaps in these change efforts, Valley Vision seeks not to fill the gaps themselves but instead to pull and “stitch” the regional network together, working through collaborative cross-sector partnerships and coalitions. They always have a positive exit strategy in mind, intending to eventually hand-off the work to others. This was profound to me at the time and counter to most of the conventional business school teachings I was receiving. In my time with Valley Vision, I saw this theory in practice time and time again and the success it produced. Collective Impact has now become my default approach and way of thinking about change.

A Seat at the Table – As a Board Fellow, I was humbled and honored to have a seat among the top CEOs, chancellors, presidents and executives of the region’s anchor institutions. We came together over (yummy!) food and drink to discuss important issues in the community including:

  • the Aggie Square Innovation Hub and improving connectivity between UC Davis and industry,
  • K-12 education in Sacramento County,
  • safety and equity in the Sacramento region in light of the Stephon Clark tragedy, and
  • regionally-driven, state-wide inclusive economic development strategies.

The insights I gained from these discussions were extremely valuable in developing my own understanding of effective strategies and tactics for regional change and the challenges and barriers that come with them.

Photo Credit: Brian Baer, California Rice Commission

Connecting to Valley Vision’s Network – As a backbone organization creating collective impact, Valley Vision is connected to a powerful leadership network that starts with its board of directors and expands out to over 6,000 leaders across Northern California. As a board fellow I had the privilege of accessing this network and developing my own personal network. Most notably, I helped Valley Vision to conduct a Wildfire Smoke Impacts Assessment which involved having one-on-one dialogue with top leaders from the region’s businesses, schools, universities, utilities, and governments.

I’ve grown to call this Capital region my home since moving here in 2016, and my experience with Valley Vision has played a big part in helping it to feel like home. Valley Vision has helped me to build my professional network, better understand the community, and embed myself within the community. I’m unsure where my next step will take me, but I hope to remain a part of this community and continue to help to make it more equitable and livable in whatever capacity I can.

Lastly but certainly not least, I want to thank all the passionate and dedicated staff at Valley Vision – my friends, mentors, and fellow champions of change. You are all truly heroes and continually inspire me with the work you do and how you do it.

Mekdem Wright served a 12-month term as a Student Board Fellow with Valley Vision while pursuing his MBA at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, through the GSM’s Nonprofit Board Fellowship Program. He has recently graduated with his MBA and completed his board fellowship.

Promoting Opportunity for All Californians

For the past 10 years, a group of regional business, government and nonprofit leaders have been gathering to answer a big question: In a state as big and diverse as California, how can we all come together and get behind a focused set of economic growth strategies with the power to build a California for all? As we can all relate, this is a monumental challenge in a state that is home both to great poverty and inequity, as well as immense wealth and ingenuity.

We knew the answer could come if we created a place open to all Californians to problem-solve. Where business, environmental groups, entrepreneurs, educators, labor, big corporations, nonprofits, and community organizations could each suspend their differences and look instead for areas we could agree upon on some of the toughest economic, equity, and environmental issues we face. The California Economic Summit, co-hosted by California Forward and the California Stewardship Network, was our answer. Over the past seven years, thousands of civic leaders from all parts of California have joined together to focus on building more affordable housing, improving the skills of middle income workers, and making key infrastructure more resilient to disaster, among many other areas. We have made great progress in some areas, changing policy and increasing investment in the workforce arena in particular, but not enough in others.

Sacramento has hosted many of these Summit conversations, and Valley Vision and our partners have played host. Perhaps you have been to one of these 2-day working meetings. Governor Gavin Newsom is proud to say he has been to six of the previous seven Summits, but he had to miss the last Summit in Sonoma due to the wildfires in both Northern and Southern California. He is co-sponsoring the next Summit set for November 7-8 in Fresno saying he will be there along with many of his senior staff, where he intends to lay out some of his economic strategies.

Since 2011, the California Economic Summit has been the leading forum for California’s regions to problem-solve together. Summit organizers California Forward and the California Stewardship Network are merging to power prosperity across the State.

To place even more horsepower behind this “regions up” inclusive growth strategy for the state, the California Forward and California Stewardship Network organizations announced this week that they are combining forces, growing staff and adding capabilities to push this effort forward. What I call the new “California Forward 2.0” has already recruited a major round of additional funding from the Morgan Family Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation, and is growing their staff team.

While we often work behind the scenes with little fanfare, it’s important to let you know that the Valley Vision board and staff team has dedicated themselves for years to working with others to create the conditions necessary for this inclusive growth agenda for California to happen, and even more importantly, to have the level of support and buy-in that can activate new business, housing, workforce, and infrastructure policies and investments across the entire state so that we see real results. Read more here about the combination announcement and what lies ahead. We hope you join us in the call for a more prosperous, just, and sustainable California for all at this year’s Summit on November 7-8 and beyond.

Bill Mueller was Valley Vision’s Chief Executive.

Featured photo credit: Habitat for Humanity