Spokane Journal of Business

Regina Malveaux: Future prosperity model involves investing in people

 Income inequality is an issue that will need to be addressed

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I am the proud CEO of the YWCA of Spokane, where our mission is eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

While many in our community are familiar with the critical services that we provide for those experiencing domestic violence and homelessness, most are unaware of the YWCA’s rich and deep history as a social justice organization. We are proud of the role we play in the lives of victims working to reclaim their lives and build long-term stability for themselves and their children. Through our safe shelters and free counseling, legal, job readiness, and school readiness programs, we help empower families emotionally and economically.

We are equally as proud of our social justice legacy, which over our 115-year history in the Spokane community has included housing young women moving from rural communities to the city for jobs, hosting social groups for formerly interned Japanese American women, and welcoming African American women into our membership decades before many other organizations. Throughout our history, we have seen it as our role to not only provide support for individual women and their families, but to serve as a voice for what is right, fair, and just.

During a time when income inequality has broadened and so many of our clients and neighbors are struggling economically, it’s important that we all take the time to care about this issue and its impact not just on individual families, but on our community as a whole.

 Former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich captures this perfectly. Reich said, “The faith that anyone could move from rags to riches, with enough guts, gumption and hard work, was once at the core of the American Dream .… To get back to the kind of shared prosperity and upward mobility we once considered normal will require another era of fundamental reform .... We make the rules of the economy, and we have the power to change those rules.”

My vision over the next decade, for both my agency and the Spokane community, is that we will dedicate ourselves to helping to improve the lives of those struggling with poverty, unemployment, underemployment, violence, and disenfranchisement.

Across the government, business, and nonprofit sectors, we have many opportunities to effect lasting change for struggling families in our community.

In the government sector, that could mean increasing our investment in local organizations that help house and empower those struggling with homelessness. Currently less than 1 percent of our city budget is allocated to all of the agencies across the city. 

The Mayor’s Vision 2020 plan envisioned “initiatives which make Spokane safer, stronger, and smarter, including investments in public safety, growing jobs, and promoting a successful budget.” I believe Spokane has had success in these areas and has demonstrated that it’s a city of compassion that cares about its citizens. I also believe that it can do more. 

Increasing investment in local human service organizations like the YWCA, Transitions, Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America, and Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs will help equip our organizations and others with the resources needed to help ensure that there is a warm bed and safe shelter for every man, woman, and child who needs it. 

Additional investments in the programs that help our neighbors not only affirm our standing as a compassionate city, but as we help economically empower those who are unemployed or underemployed, our local economy and tax revenues grow.

The business sector also has a role to play in creating shared prosperity and upward mobility for all. There are many local businesses that have embraced an increased minimum wage, and others that already were investing their profits in higher wages and health care for those who help their businesses prosper and grow. Other corporations are working with job readiness programs like ours and those at community colleges to help ensure that those working hard to lift themselves and their families out of poverty have the skills needed to meet the workforce needs of business.

Almost 20 years in the nonprofit sector have confirmed for me that we too have a critical role in not only providing safety, security and empowerment for our clients but also in joining together to fight against threats to the poor and working class.

In the ’80s and ’90s, nonprofit organizations, including many that mostly represented middle-class people such as the League of Women Voters and professional social workers, joined together to fight cuts in the social safety net and fight the trend of government’s reduced investment in people in favor of unbalanced investment in tax cuts. These kinds of cuts ultimately pass on the cost of caring for our neighbors to a sector already struggling to meet increased demand by those left homeless, unemployed, or unemployable in today’s economy.

My vision for the next five to 10 years? To see Spokane be a model for how all of its citizens can prosper when a community chooses to invest in both business and people.

Regina Malveaux is the CEO of YWCA Spokane.

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