In this Presidential Leadership Scholar spotlight, Rachel Korberg, Executive Director at The Families and Workers Fund, discusses her passion for building the future of the climate workforce, the lessons she learned in the Presidential Leadership Scholar program, and ways people can advance the clean energy and infrastructure transition.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your personal leadership project.
My name is Rachel Korberg, and I am a proud 2023 Presidential Leadership Scholar! I am also the Executive Director of the Families and Workers Fund, a $110 million nonprofit fund that invests in creating economic opportunity for the many people in the U.S. who are still struggling to get by and get ahead. We make grants and build strategic partnerships to advance uplifting careers and help deliver poverty-reducing public benefits, with a special focus on fostering collaboration between philanthropy and government.
For my personal leadership project, I decided to further develop a new initiative that our team, partners, and I had dreamed about launching – a special fund for nonprofits and government to help overlooked and underestimated talent train for and succeed in good, family-sustaining careers in the rapidly growing climate and infrastructure sectors. The PLS community – including scholars, alums, staff, and faculty – helped me test and improve the initiative’s design as well as strengthen our communications to best reach key stakeholders, especially those who may have different or conflicting viewpoints with each other but all of whom we need at the table to build the climate workforce of the future.
Which lessons learned during the Presidential Leadership Scholars program have stayed with you the most, and how have you put those lessons into action?
Communicate to reach people where they are and in the ways that will impact them most – don’t communicate solely in the ways that sound or feel right to you. We live in a moment of deep political polarization and high inequality, which means that it’s easy to talk past each other and never really listen. It is incumbent on every person who is working to help change our country for the better to not give people an easy excuse to tune us out. PLS helped me strengthen my muscles to communicate and reach across differences.
I am working to put these ideas into action by integrating user testing into the design of our work and calling on fellow PLS scholars, alums, and others who come from different sectors, industries, backgrounds, and viewpoints. I was delighted that, among the advisors to our Powering Climate and Infrastructure Careers Initiative, are two former cabinet secretaries who served under President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush: Margaret Spellings, former President of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, founder of PLS who spoke to our cohort, and the current President and CEO of the Bipartisan Policy Center, and Shaun Donovan, the current President and CEO of Enterprise Community Partners.
The Families and Workers Fund has also built an “Essential Leaders Council” of community leaders who are living every day with the impacts of the challenges we work to help address – such as poverty or not having access to a good job opportunity – and thus know best what the solutions are. This Council has impacted millions of dollars of our grantmaking, shaped our nationally recognized definition of what makes a job good, and spoken to leading media outlets about their experiences.
Your organization – the Families & Workers Fund – recently reached $110 million in total investment. What is the impact of this milestone?
The Families and Workers Fund began as a $7 million project to respond to the financial hardship workers and families were facing in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the honor of a lifetime for the Fund to now stand at $110 million. Thanks to our recent financial growth, we are setting some ambitious outcome targets: help 1.5 million people currently facing poverty or unemployment access public benefits and help create and advance more than 1 million uplifting careers.
You recently launched a new initiative for climate careers. Can you please discuss the need it’s addressing in the industry?
The Powering Climate and Infrastructure Careers for All initiative is a $50 million philanthropic effort to help tackle the serious workforce implementation challenges facing the United States on its path toward a net-zero economy and 21st century infrastructure. Combining grants and technical assistance to nonprofits, state and local governments, training and education providers, and private sector employer groups, the new initiative aims to help advance at least 1 million uplifting careers in the booming clean energy and infrastructure industries.
We created the initiative to respond to today’s once-in-a-generation chance to advance economic opportunity and good job creation thanks to $2 trillion in federal investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and other recent legislation, as well as private sector investment. These laws are projected to create 15 million jobs in the next decade, yet companies are struggling to hire and retain enough talent to keep up with today’s demands. The Fund’s efforts will help connect people in underinvested communities – especially women, rural and low-income communities, and people facing racial inequities – to uplifting careers in clean energy, construction, and other specialized industries. The initiative will advance a two-part strategy: 1) investing directly in catalytic models for training that can scale to help address labor supply gaps; and 2) supporting state and local government agencies and their community partners to plan for and implement good job creation and inclusive workforce development.
What are some of the ways we can collectively advance the clean energy and infrastructure transition?
At the family and individual level, consider switching to energy efficient appliances in your home or to an electric vehicle, and take advantage of the tax credits that can help you to do so! At the community level, help ensure that the influx of federal investment that you see locally creates good, family-sustaining jobs and that diverse community members have access to the training and support they need to have a shot at getting hired.