Meet the 2023 California Steward Leader Award Winners

1024 576 Nadine Ono

Three California leaders were recognized at the 2023 California Economic Summit held this week in Indian Wells. This year’s awardees include Stewart Knox as the California Steward Leader, Trish Kelly as the Regional Steward Leader and Alex Edgar as the Young Steward Leader.

2023 California Steward Leader

Stewart Knox, Secretary of the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency, is the 2023 California Economic Summit California Steward Leader Award recipient.

“Over the past 29 years, I have served the people of California both as a local government and community college leader to now serving as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet,” he said. “What has served me best is remembering that I have a responsibility to look after my neighbors and the people I am serving, quite literally to be a steward. I am humbled by this honor and am more committed than ever to serving all of you.”

Growing up in a rural area near Chico, he was influenced by his grandmother who always gave back to her community. He recalled she served on the local schoolboard and dedicated her life to helping those in need. From his first job working with dislocated workers at a job center to his current position, he strives to use public policy to better the lives of Californians, especially in communities that have often been left behind.

“How do you implement programs at the state level that are meaningful on the local level, really being thoughtful about rural connections,” he reflected. “How do we start to engage community-based organizations, how do we develop strategies to make sure that their work and our work is effective together, and really listening to underserved populations within those communities?”

Knox’s work with the Community Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) is a great example of his leadership from the program’s very beginning. While serving in the Governor’s Legislative Affairs Office, he broadened the initial program approach to focus on economic transition in regions across the state.

“Each region is unique and, as such, has a unique focus as part of our work to build economic resilience. With CERF, the state is taking a new, bottom-up approach to economic and workforce planning. Really listening and continuing to work with our local areas, to understand what their challenges and opportunities are, while also holding firm that we wanted equity built within all of the systems.”

In addition to receiving the Statewide Steward Leader Award, Knox will also participate on the California Summit plenary stage as part of a discussion among top state-level advisors on the state’s infrastructure strike team and investments.

2023 Regional Steward Leader

Valley Vision’s Trish Kelly will receive the Regional Steward Award at the 2023 California Economic Summit. “I’m thrilled and I’m honored,” she said. “I’ve worked on state regional collaborations around the triple bottom line and the economy since the 90s. I have a passion for it.”

Throughout her career, Kelly has championed regional economic development and policy in the Sacramento area and statewide. From the time she moved to California decades ago to work with farmworkers to her current role of Managing Director of Valley Vision, she has spent decades taking the triple-bottom line approach to uplift communities that have traditionally been left behind.

The creation of the California Economic Resilience Fund (CERF) brings her regional work full circle. “It’s really gratifying to see that what we started working on 30 years ago, what we had to do a lot of advocacy and explaining for, such as the concept of regionalism, is now embedded in the way we work, and the manifestation of that is CERF,” she explained. “Regional collaboration is hard work, but now there is a structure and a framework, and there is major investment coming to the regions through the state.” Valley Vision is the CERF convener for the Sacramento region.

“The concept for this award is steward leadership, so you work for the good of the region and I take that charge very seriously,” she added. “Valley Vision has given me the opportunity to be a regional steward and I’m really appreciative of that, and to be able to continue this state-regional partnership work and the policy work and be part of CA FWD to advance the priorities of the regions.”

One of her current projects is the Yolo Food Hub Network to strengthen the resilience and equity of the food system. “That’s one of my pride projects. We do this work within the framework of our regional economic strategy which includes regional industry clusters, so nothing is a one-off,” she explained. “For example, our food and ag projects advance a sector strategy where we have a competitive advantage; we conduct our broadband projects under the rubric of ‘this is critical infrastructure and it’s also a workforce priority within a digital equity strategy.’ One thing I really appreciate about Valley Vision is how networked and collaborative our projects are, which can be more impactful because you work within a strategic framework.”

2023 Young Steward Leader

Congratulations to Alex Edgar, the 2023 California Economic Summit’s Young Steward Leader Award recipient!

The University of California Berkeley student studying political behavior and public policy has proven himself a leader both on and off campus. He participates in student government positions both at UC Berkeley and the UC system as well as working with various organizations including the Youth Power Project, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the UC National Center for Free Speech and Civic Engagement, and California Common Cause.

“I am so deeply honored and touched that I am being named the 2023 Young Leader at the California Economic Summit,” said Edgar. “But I also wanted to take a second to shout out all of the other incredible young leaders across the state of California that I have the pleasure of working with and learning from each day.”

Edgar also serves as a member of CA FWD’s Young Leaders Advisory Council. “Joining YLAC has been an incredibly rewarding experience so far as I have had the opportunity to connect with so many inspiring young leaders from throughout California that have all expanded my understanding of the struggles and success that exist for young people across the state. I’m excited for the rest of my time as a member of YLAC and hope I can continue to learn from my peers.”

A Gen-Z activist, Edgar’s goal is to build a society more responsive to today’s youth by activating their voices and engaging them in the issues that affect them. He has traveled the country speaking at college campuses, non-profits and the news media advocating for youth engagement funding with an emphasis on voting and civil rights.

“What I and many young leaders are pushing for is a world where the spaces we are already in are transformed to center around young people and our voices,” explained Edgar. “We already have the passion and experience to thrive, we just need our voices to actually be heard.” He added that young people should be valued and included in any organizational structure because most decisions made today will affect them.

He is grateful to those who have helped him become the leader he is today. “As the famous saying goes, I truly feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants, as I could list dozens of mentors, family members, and friends whose encouragement, support, and collaboration has been integral in helping me get to this moment of joy and celebration. I hope I can live up to this honor and look forward to continuing to dedicate myself to uplifting youth voices in California and beyond.”


Nadine Ono

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