Teaming Up with the Business Community to Achieve Bold Community Goals

by Carla Vargas Jasa


A little over a year after the rampant rise of COVID-19, there’s hope on the horizon. Vaccination programs continue to roll out and the next round of stimulus checks are reaching many Arizona families. Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, recovery efforts could take years. Additionally, the pandemic shone a bright light on health and economic disparities, especially for communities of color that must be addressed for our community to effectively move forward.

For 95 years, Valley of the Sun United Way has served millions of individuals, children and families across Maricopa County. For our neighbors in need to be able to recover and rebuild, the idea of “change” isn’t bold enough. It’s time to kick down old barriers and champion news ways of thinking. United Way is teaming up with the entire community to tackle systemic, interrelated issues that continue to create barriers to a quality education, accessible healthcare, affordable housing and a living wage. United Way is dedicated to redeploying its energies, realigning resources and engaging partners in new ways … to drive Mighty Change in our community.

In March, United Way unveiled its new five-year plan for Maricopa County, called MC2026, which shines a light on community-level goals and focuses our resources on achieving those goals. The new plan is a direct result of a year-long, community engagement and input process that included three surveys, 18 virtual town halls and 24 deep dive focus groups. 

United Way’s community-centered planning process led to four key areas for the MC2026 plan. Woven into each of the strategies is a focus on diversity, equity, access and inclusion. The main elements of the plan include: 

  • Health: Remove barriers to ensure everyone in our community is healthy, with a focus on access to food and healthcare.
    • MC2026 Goal: Decrease food insecurity by 50% and increase the number of individuals with access to affordable care by 100,000 by 2026.
  • Housing and Homelessness: Ensure all can have a safe home to call their own.
    MC2026 Goal: Reduce homelessness by 50% by 2026.
  • Education: Close opportunity gaps to ensure children read at grade level by 3rd grade and youth are prepared for educational success and employment by 2026.
    • MC2026 Goal: Increase the number of 3rd graders reading proficiently by 25% and increase the number of people aged 16 to 24 who are working and/or in school by 38% by 2026.
  • Workforce Development: Open pathways to better paying jobs.
    • MC2026 Goal: Increase preparation of individuals for a living wage job by 33% and achievement of higher paying employment by 20% by 2026.

To achieve the objectives set out in the MC2026 plan, the organization will build upon its strong relationships with the Valley’s business leaders and will elevate opportunities to match corporations’ Corporate Social Responsibility objectives to the needs of our community. 

An exciting area of exploration, within the MC2026 plan, is how United Way and corporate partners might co-create new strategies to support programs that provide opportunities for individuals to participate in work-based learning, apprenticeship and mentoring experiences. 

In February, United Way had more than 60 local CEO and business leaders join United Way’s CEO Advisory Circle, which will serve as a “kitchen cabinet” of thought partners to the organization, advising how to best engage the Valley’s business community in achieving the bold five-year goals. United Way will also leverage its partnerships with the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and Valley Leadership to mobilize leaders to meaningfully impact the most pressing issues facing Arizona.

Jeff Guldner, chairman, president and CEO of Pinnacle West Capital Corp and board chair of GPEC, stated, “You [United Way] can be a connector . . . that is United Way’s power and is what it’s known for — to connect us with those innovators, the partners it has in the community — that will have ideas we haven’t thought of.” 

More than ever before, consumers want to engage with companies that are helping society in meaningful ways. Companies want their brands to be perceived as contributing to the greater “social good” in an authentic way. United Way serves at the nexus of our community; as the connector to solutions that continue to change lives. The organization is uniquely positioned to activate employee engagement, elevate company brand and meet the critical needs of our community to create . . . Mighty Change.  

A Healthy Arizona Economy Requires Increased Postsecondary Education

By 2020, 65% of all jobs will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school. Although there are plenty of paths to get there — technical institute, an apprenticeship, community college, university, military service — today there aren’t nearly enough adults in Arizona with the training or education needed to support a healthy economy the future will demand.

The Arizona Department of Education website offers information about postsecondary education and training in Arizona.

Carla Vargas Jasa is the president and CEO of Valley of the Sun United Way in Phoenix, which serves the more than 4.3 million people of Maricopa County and is among the largest United Ways in the nation. 

Valley of the Sun United Way’s new MC2026 plan addresses the larger interconnected areas of Health, Housing and Homelessness; Education; and Workforce Development. The five-year plan is a direct result of a year-long, community engagement process and is the new direction for United Way.

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