Building the Capacity of Community Leaders

Best Practices & Lessons Learned from the Partners Advancing Climate Equity (PACE) Pilot Program

Earlier this year, the California Strategic Growth Council concluded the Partners Advancing Climate Equity (PACE) pilot program, and we are excited to share the lessons learned from this first experience offering targeted capacity building to community leaders. In tandem, we are releasing the PACE curriculum, which includes resources that may be useful for community leaders advancing their climate priorities, as well organizations seeking to develop similar programs.

PACE is an emerging model for investing in community leaders through targeted capacity building to accelerate climate equity in California. Capacity building is defined as the process of strengthening local coordination, leadership, knowledge, skills, expertise, and access to resources in California Native American tribal and under-resourced communities with the goal of helping to develop or increase the ability of that community to independently compete for grants and implement projects in the future. In February 2021, PACE brought together a multigenerational, multi-regional, diverse, and committed cohort of 22 community leaders from across California. The 22 leaders represent various community-based organizations, Tribal-serving organizations, and California Native American Tribes and work across an array of issues at the intersection of climate and equity. PACE provided the opportunity for the participants to connect with peers, cultivate new skills, and inspire transformative change in their respective communities, with the ultimate aim of enabling leaders to:

  • Leverage available resources (like funding) to advance local climate resilience and social equity priorities
  • Create data-driven, community-led needs assessments and action plans
  • Form cross-sector partnerships to enhance collective impact
  • Navigate state funding programs

Validated through a third-party evaluation process, the pilot program addressed a critical need across California: equipping underserved and historically disinvested communities with targeted support to unlock funding, catalyze community climate action through activation of community leaders to anchor this work. The pilot yielded critical insights and learnings applicable to governments and funding entities, including:

  1. Increased access to resources: Nearly all cohort participants reported that PACE increased their awareness of new funding opportunities and provided connections to networks and resources to help them stay informed of new opportunities.
  2. New funding attained: Roughly half of the cohort reported that PACE influenced new grant applications, and over a dozen of these applications have since been awarded. Through the support from PACE, one PACE participant was able to partner with a fiscal sponsor and apply for their first State grant opportunity.
  3. Leadership Representation: Three PACE participants now serve on state-level equity advisory boards and two participants are members of SGC’s steering committee for the 2023 Catalyst Conference. PACE inspired ongoing leadership development and capacity-building as two PACE participants are now involved in the UC Davis Environmental Justice and Equity Fellowship program and one is now UC Berkeley’s Leaders in Residence program.

For Government and Funders: Build Pre-Implementation Capacity Through Community Leaders

Using the Final Report, Recommendations Report, and Facilitator Resources, the PACE model can also be easily adapted and replicated within various contexts. These resources may be useful for government agencies or other funders interested in developing similar programs that are sector-specific (energy, transportation, water, etc.) or multi-benefit like PACE.

The Final Report provides an overview of the pilot’s goals, structure, activities, and evaluation results, breaking down how the program was developed and implemented. The PACE Recommendation Report — Capacity Building with Frontline Community Leaders: Best Practices & Recommendations — offers capacity building best practices, structural challenges faced by frontline communities, and recommendations for State programs and policies, based on the collective experiences and learnings from the pilot. These reports describe three overarching sets of takeaways, based on the experiences and learnings of PACE’s pilot year, to support and shape future State capacity building programs and investments.

  • Capacity Building Programs: Best Practices — ways to support the development of future capacity building programs that are grounded in meeting the needs of frontline communities.
  • Frontline Communities: Challenges & Recommendations — observations and recommendations for capacity building and grant programs to better support the overall capacity of grassroots leaders.
  • State Practices: Challenges & Recommendations — how State programs, policies and guidelines can be made more accessible to CBOs, non-profit organizations and Tribal governments.

For Community Leaders: Access PACE Program Resources

SGC received over 150 applications for the pilot cohort, which had only 22 spots available. Given the need and interest in capacity-building programs like PACE, the PACE Project Team published the program resources to expand access to the curriculum and promote continued capacity building beyond the cohort members. Community leaders or community-serving organizations can complete or tailor the PACE curriculum to their needs, using the learning modules, Community Needs Assessments Toolkit, and Resource Library.

  • The PACE Curriculum includes a suite of resources intended to support other community leaders in building capacity:
  • The Community Needs Assessment Toolkit includes a robust set of prompts and resources to guide the development of actionable, community-driven plans.
  • Facilitator Resources including template agendas, sample activities, and additional guidance and resources for facilitators interested in replicating any and all of the sessions organized.
  • Key recordings and presentations led by the PACE Team and PACE Leaders from the pilot’s cohort sessions, peer exchanges, and supplemental trainings.
  • A Resource Library that compiles existing reports, resources, case studies, and tools relevant to the PACE Curriculum.

All key recordings and presentations are available in a YouTube playlist for easy navigation. Click here to watch on YouTube.

Looking Ahead

SGC is committed to supporting leaders across California’s diverse communities and anticipates the launch of the second round of the Partners Advancing Climate Equity Program in the coming year. Excitingly, many of the lessons learned from the inaugural PACE cohort are informing the implementation of SGC’s new Regional Climate Collaboratives Program, which similarly focuses on supporting communities to build capacity and pursue competitive funding resources. It is SGC’s hope that these types of capacity building models are scaled to ensure that historic levels of state, federal, and private climate investment is funded in the communities that need it most, but that often lack the capacity to apply to and absorb these resources.

Our Thank You:

The PACE program was facilitated by a tremendous team of thought leaders in the climate equity, resilience, and social justice fields, bringing an intersectional and equity centered approach to all aspects of the program. The team includes Civic Well, Climate Resolve, Urban Permaculture Institute, the Greenlining Institute, and the Peoples Climate Innovation Center.



California Strategic Growth Council (SGC)

SGC coordinates and works collaboratively with public agencies, communities, and stakeholders to support healthy, thriving, and resilient communities for all.