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Dr. Becky Petitt: Thoughtful Philanthropy & Courageous Impact

“I’ve always given back to the community…but it wouldn’t be called philanthropy,” shared The San Diego Foundation Board of Governors member Becky Petitt.

Becky expressed that her earliest memories of community engagement and giving back wouldn’t be considered “philanthropy” in the conventional sense of giving significant gifts or sums of money to support different causes.

Inspired from a Young Age

“My mom was an activist, and an advocate for my brother,” she said.

Becky’s brother is deaf, and her mother would organize fundraising events to support the deaf community and do her part to raise awareness and address issues impacting them.

Becky and her brother were both in Scout troops, and she recalls her mother being a troop leader for each of them.

“Seeing my mom being community-engaged and doing things to serve and support particular communities was a really important model,” she emphasized, remembering the times her mother would bring her along to assist with the fundraising events she organized.

As a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., a Black sorority with a major focus on bettering the community, Becky helps organize blood drives, heart-healthy wellness checks, marches and events for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “fun runs” to raise money for different causes, and more.

From a very young age, Becky understood the power of giving her time and talent to her community. But giving “treasure” didn’t come until later.

Becky referenced the adage, “to whom much is given, much is required.” When she became financially able to do so, she realized it was time to take her giving to the next level.

Advocate for Education

The generosity of philanthropists supported Becky in the pursuit of her master’s and bachelor’s degrees and inspired her passion for higher education. She currently serves as Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of California San Diego.

“Were it not for individuals who decided to support the education of women of color, I would not have had that unburdened opportunity to pursue my education,” Becky emphasized.

Food insecurity and food recovery are other impact areas that matter deeply to Becky. She championed the creation of UC San Diego’s food notification app, a feature of the UC San Diego app that allows departments to send notifications to students when they have leftover food from events to help minimize food waste while ensuring access to food.

Additionally, she contributes regularly to the campus’s basic needs hub, where students in need can access supplies from fresh fruit and produce to shampoo, tampons, diapers and more.

Becky noted a piece of advice she received from a colleague: “Find the things you really care deeply about, that you’re really passionate about, and give deeply and consistently to those things.”

“A more thoughtful approach to philanthropy is ‘what do I really care about, and where do I really want to see a measurable impact?’” she shared.

Clarity and Courage

Becky believes that The San Diego Foundation is taking a more thoughtful approach to improving the quality of life in San Diego through its Strategic Plan, adopted in July 2021.

“What I really love is the clarity of our vision, and the courageousness in our conviction,” she expressed. She added that The Foundation is actively listening and being responsive to community needs, taking a community-led, community-informed approach to realizing its vision for just, equitable and resilient communities.

Becky is most passionate about advancing racial equity and social justice, the first pillar of the Strategic Plan.

“We are not in a post-racial society,” she emphasized. “[This pillar] focuses on some intractable issues that we need not take our eyes off of,” such as Black homeownership, the racial wealth gap and building Black generational wealth, she added. 

Becky also believes advancing racial equity and social justice will be the hardest pillar to address. “We are going up against centuries and systems of oppression that continue to be mutually reinforced.”

Despite the challenges, Becky is enthusiastic about the work ahead and believes The Foundation is well-positioned to make a significant impact.

“For me, it is important for people to understand that we are all connected,” she shared. She wants others to consider what their role is in helping to solve these issues.

“It’s our community, it’s our problem,” she stated. “Let’s figure out how we can work on these issues together.”

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