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Seattle Foundation President & CEO Discusses the Need for Brave Systems Reinvention

"It is clear, and empirically proven, that we cannot intervene our way out of the challenges facing our region. Thoughtful, collaborative, and brave systems reinvention is our call to action."


November 09, 2016

By Michael Nank

Growing income inequality, the byproduct of our region’s innovation and economic boom, was the focus of Tony Mestres’ Election Day remarks to more than 100 members of the Bellevue Rotary Club.

With the cutting-edge businesses such as Concur, Edifecs, Overlake Hospital, T-Mobile, and soon to be REI, calling the Eastside home, it’s clear why so many people are moving to Bellevue and other nearby communities. “The economic indicators here continue to outpace those for most of the nation: job creation, housing prices, population growth, construction starts and more,” Mestres said, adding that Bellevue can expect job growth of 40 percent over the next ten years.

However, not everyone in the region is benefitting from this prosperity. Mestres shared that at last count, there are more than 200 homeless kids in the Bellevue school district and that the number of homeless in and around Bellevue was more than 800.

Income inequality plays a major role in many of the social problems we see today. Poverty, homelessness, health and educational underachievement can be tied back to the widening gap between the small percentage of our residents who have significant wealth and the large and growing percentage of residents who don’t. “We now know that fighting income inequality, revitalizing the middle class, and providing economic opportunity for all is an absolutely necessary function for a community to have economic prosperity.”

At Seattle Foundation, our work focuses on reducing these inequities by eliminating the root cause of the problems before they happen by making the changes at the policy and structural levels. “It is clear, and empirically proven, that we cannot intervene our way out of the challenges facing our region,” contends Mestres. “Thoughtful, collaborative, and brave systems reinvention is our call to action.”

One example of that systems-level work Mestres pointed to was our Vibrant Democracy Initiative. This newly launched initiative aims to increase the participation and voice of communities of color and low-income people, in order to ensure our democratic process and resulting polices, laws, and budgets address the needs of all of our residents. Through a pilot project with King County Elections there were more than 2,000 requests for “in” language ballots – either Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish or Korean. This is a huge jump from prior years. 

Communities of Opportunity, another partnership focused on places, policies and systems change, saw youth leaders from the Mockingbird Society work on legislation to extend foster care for young people with significant medical conditions. This law will allow these youth to stay in foster care until they are 21, rather than aging out at 18. Mestres said this is an example of taking a systems approach to tackling homelessness, which tragically is the outcome for many of the foster youth in our community.

Seattle Foundation works with many businesses, nonprofits, foundations and philanthropists on the Eastside.  And over the last five years, Seattle Foundation and our philanthropists have invested more than $30 million in nonprofit organizations based on the Eastside, and millions more in nonprofits that serve Bellevue residents.    

Eastside Pathways, Leadership Eastside, Kindering, Lifewise, HealthPoint and Bellevue College are all strategic partners with us and are critical organizations on the Eastside engaged in systems-level work. Seattle Foundation has had the privilege to work with these organizations and other nonprofits in Bellevue making an impact throughout the Puget Sound region. As Mestres told the Rotarians, “Seattle Foundation is a partner to all of you on the Eastside to meet the challenge of creating equity and opportunity for all.”

With the election as a backdrop, Mestres closed his remarks with a focus on the need for unity. “This election has left many Americans wondering how we are going to find a path forward in this time of divisiveness, unrest and change.  But we know we will.  And it is our collective responsibility to ensure that there is a place for everyone on that path, and we do not leave anyone behind.”

To learn more about Seattle Foundation’s activities in Bellevue or other parts of the Eastside, contact Ceil Erickson at c.erickson@seattlefoundation.org.  

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social equalityBasic Needseconomic opportunityhealthy community frameworkphilanthropistseducationChildren and youthcommunities of opportunity

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