Election 2016: The Social Sector and Democracy

A conversation with The James Irvine Foundation

Virginia Mosqueda IMG_1936 web

With the 2016 Election around the corner, we are interested in examining the social sector’s role in American democracy. This week, we speak with Virginia Mosqueda, senior program officer at The James Irvine Foundation

1. What role does The Irvine Foundation believe the social sector plays in the 2016 US election?

Philanthropy can play a role in terms of nonpartisan voter education and engagement. Voters from underrepresented communities tend to have low voter turnout, so one of the strategies within Irvine’s Voter and Civic Engagement work is integrated voter engagement (IVE). This means engaging these voters on an ongoing basis regardless of whether there’s an election. Engagement can take many forms such as nonpartisan Get out the Vote (GOTV) work, door knocking, phone banking, and more. Essentially, it’s a way to get people involved in their local communities, regionally, or at the state level. Long term, IVE is a way to educate and engage low-propensity voters during off election years, so they can build trust and relationships and ultimately become civically engaged. Additionally, the earlier you get people engaged in democracy, the more likely they are to continue their engagement. The goal is to build the habit or muscle to be active participants in the political process.

For this upcoming election, for example, we’re supporting grantees’ IVE efforts, including such activities as nonpartisan GOTV work. We also have a separate strategy targeting young adults to determine what the best message and approach is to increase turn out among young people.

2. What problem is The Irvine Foundation trying to solve in the American political system? How?

Irvine has always believed that California’s election policies and systems should be representative of our state’s diversity. Because California is so diverse, we’re a bellwether for language access and cultural competence, and we can offer important lessons for people across the nation who will certainly grapple with these issues. The diversity and richness of California is a strength, but it can be challenging to ensure people have access to information that’s culturally accessible and available in their language.

In addition, on the voter and civic engagement side, we’re working to ensure that individuals are educated, informed, and engaged on the issues they’re voting on using strategies like IVE.

3. If you achieved all your goals as an organization, how would America be different? 


We would have an active citizenry that’s engaged in the political process, and our state’s policies and systems would reflect the views of the diverse communities they represent. In order for our democracy to flourish, it needs to be representative.

Additionally, people need to think about civic engagement work as a continuum and realize the various points where individuals can be engaged. Being engaged doesn’t only come down to voting. It can mean leadership development or ensuring people have access to the tools they need – such as data or research – to advocate effectively for the issues they care about.   

Want more information about the social sector and democracy? Foundation Funding for U.S. Democracy is Foundation Center’s data visualization platform that captures the myriad democracy-related activities that foundations have supported from 2011 to present. Foundation Center’s new infographic series takes a deeper dive into the grants data made available through the platform to examine different areas of democracy funding, such as voter turnout.

Read Part I in this series, featuring Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight.

Read Part II in this series, featuring a recap a recent SF Tech4Good panel discussion.