A conversation with California leaders
November 19, 2012
One of the nation's most crucial regions -- California's Central Valley, which supplies half of the country's fruits and vegetables -- is also a place of considerable hardship. Too many people there struggle to afford life's basics and see no way to improve their prospects. That's why Roll Global, which operates orchards in the area, has made a long-term commitment to creating opportunity. Lynda Resnick, Roll's vice chairman, has taken a personal interest in improving conditions in ways that create lasting change.

Building on its history of providing college scholarships to local students (more than 700 so far), Roll has rebuilt a park and community center in the town of Lost Hills that's become the hub of new community engagement for residents of all ages. Where drug deals once took place around the clock, visitors now find programs for children of all ages, including after-school and summertime classes and activities. Parents use the new track and hiking trails for cardio. Young people are learning ballet, and yoga is becoming a community habit.

Roll's work in Lost Hills was one example of many described by this panel of California leaders committed to fostering long-term improvement.

Kafi Blumenfield of the Liberty Hill Foundation knows the importance of listening. That's the skill that underlies her organizationaEUR(TM)s success in developing programs that help community members gain leadership skills and help create solutions to big problems, such as the high drop-out rate of young men of color. Liberty Hill brought members of the community together with school officials, law enforcement and elected leaders, and their conversation revealed the factors that were essentially forcing young men out of school before they graduated. One solution: Once-inflexible tardiness policies were modified to accommodate older children who were late because they provided care for younger siblings. The new conversations allowed the people whoaEUR(TM)d most benefit from new approaches to help shape them -- a testament to the importance of listening.

California must work to retain its top intellectual talent. USC President Max Nikias has big plans to tackle that challenge as well as protect intellectual property, drive innovation, create jobs and save lives. He is leading efforts to develop a bio-med-tech park adjacent to the USC campus that will become a hub for R&D and a destination for venture capital and university-trained scientists.

Moderator James Canales, president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation, guided the discussion about efforts led by City National Bank and OneWest Bank to improve outcomes in the Los Angeles Independent School District. Roll is also involved with the LAISD. Panelists said it was too soon to share many details of their plans but that they are committed to making a meaningful impact. With projections portending a drop in educational attainment in California (see the opening presentation), there's no greater priority than helping make the stateaEUR(TM)s workforce ready for tomorrowaEUR(TM)s jobs.

Asked about what motivates them, the visionary leaders all spoke about the innovative spirit that has helped shape CaliforniaaEUR(TM)s past and that only needs encouragement to take new, exciting forms. Perhaps the most moving comments came from Resnick, who spoke about common values and concerns among diverse Californians. Take a look at the video. The entire panel is inspiring, but if you must fast-forward, youaEUR(TM)ll find what she had to say at the 1:10 mark.