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Workforce Matters recently caught up with Rachel Korberg to check in on the progress of the Families and Workers Fund as it approaches its first anniversary. Rachel Korberg is currently a program officer at the Ford Foundation where she was a key member of the multi-foundation team that established the Families and Workers Fund. Beginning in April 2021, Rachel will serve as its founding executive director.

Tell us about the Families & Workers Fund. Why did you decide to launch a funder collaborative?

The Families and Workers Fund is a new, $33 million and growing funder collaborative helping to build a future in which every person has economic security and opportunity—especially those who have been historically locked out. We believe that the United States is experiencing a once-in-a-generation opening for change, and we are here to help philanthropy strategically pool and grow our resources and rise to meet this moment. We recently transitioned from a rapid response fund dedicated to the economic fallout caused by COVID-19 to a five-year funder collaborative that aims to help shape a more equitable recovery through fostering high quality job growth and helping to transform the benefits system, with a focus on unemployment insurance.

Our collaborative launched in April 2020 as the pandemic deepened its grip on the United States. We emerged from conversations across a group of funders all working on issues of economic opportunity but through different vantage points -- we wanted to create a nimble, quick way to do joint grant making and analyze the latest needs on the ground together. We know that economic opportunity philanthropy can sometimes be siloed: the policy and advocacy funders might be in one corner, the workforce development and skills training funders in the other, and tech and future of work funders in another still. In this moment of profound crisis, we wanted to bring these complementary sets of expertise and  perspectives together.

An Executive Committee guides our work, and it currently includes the Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundation, Eric and Wendy’s Schmidt’s Schmidt Futures, and the Skoll Foundation. An advisory board of our major co-funders also inform it, which includes Annie E. Casey Foundation, Craig Newmark Ventures, the JPB Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, Luminate, MacKenzie Scott, Morgan Stanley, the Omidyar Network, Open Society Foundations, and Jack Dorsey’s new philanthropy #StartSmall. The collaborative is fiscally sponsored by the Amalgamated Foundation, part of Amalgamated Bank.

What have been some of your biggest wins to date?

In 2020 as a rapid response effort, the Families and Workers Fund was able to help provide cash relief to 215,000 of the hardest hit workers and families, especially those who face barriers to accessing our benefits system, such as immigrant families, gig workers, and domestic workers. We did this by supporting worker and community nonprofits that were in long-term, trusting relationships with struggling communities. When these groups deliver cash, it is not only emergency relief but also an invitation to build community, collaborate on policy, connect with job opportunities, and more.

To source grantees, first we used the latest data and news coverage to identify the populations and places that were most locked out of an adequate social safety net. Then, the co-funders collectively built lists of prospective grantees. Some were national organizations that many of the co-funders knew well, such as National Domestic Workers Alliance or Mission Asset Fund, but in other cases we didn’t have solid leads and needed to do a rapid landscaping by speaking with community and place-based foundations, local leaders, and existing grantees. It was through this process of snowball-style interviews and quickly vetting leads collectively that we were able to identify grantees led for and by extremely marginalized populations, such as rural LGBTQ people in the South, and also in key places, such as Arizona, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico.

While we are now shifting our focus to address the underlying system failures that created the need for philanthropy to step in and provide cash relief in the first place, we learned a lot about who is excluded and why, and what integration across benefits and workforce delivery can look like, and how to work together as a collective of co-funders.

We don't normally see such a diverse group of funders work together -- there are new tech philanthropies, legacy foundations, corporate foundations, and individuals/families involved. What do you think brought everyone together?

All of our co-funders are united in their belief that we need to design for equity and ensure an effective delivery to build a recovery that uplifts us all. The dynamics of how unemployment insurance has played out provide a case study for why marrying both equity and delivery are so critical: for the people who were included in the policy, they often waited months to actually receive their checks—months that could make the difference between keeping food on the table or not. For millions more, they were formally excluded in part due to the way sexism, racism, xenophobia, and ableism were baked into these policies when they were created in the 1930s (e.g., excluding domestic and agricultural workers, who were and are disproportionately women, immigrants, and African Americans). That’s why unemployment insurance has a roughly 30% utilization rate right now, and white people receive nearly twice as much as Black people.

As we look ahead to the recovery, we will need policies and programs that are designed with and for the hardest hit communities and that are delivered with robust civic tech, financing models, and operational systems. And we will need new narratives to help fuel all of this. If we advocate for equity but underinvest in delivery -- or if we optimize for delivery efficiency but don’t center equity -- we are likely to see an incomplete recovery that deepens the longstanding inequities that plague our country. By coming together as tech philanthropies, social justice foundations, corporate foundations, and policy funders, I believe we have a great shot at helping to unlock the truly equitable, full recovery that our country needs and deserves—one that leaves us all feeling more united and with greater faith in our government and economy as a result.