How We Build Back Better in San Diego

Our strategic plan is the distilled expression of The San Diego Foundation priorities for the next five years.
Our strategic plan is the distilled expression of The San Diego Foundation priorities for the next five years.

When I moved to San Diego 16 years ago, my family and I knew there was nowhere else we’d rather be.

San Diego amazed me. From its pristine beaches to its mountain trails, to its innovation in industries from craft beer to biotech, San Diego is a place where the best ideas come from.

But, what I immediately recognize as the best part of San Diego is its people. Our diversity of lived experiences, optimism and generosity of spirit are unmatched anywhere else in the country.

As with anyone we love, we know San Diego isn’t perfect. It has flaws. But these flaws are not unfixable or immovable. Even after emerging from a year-long global pandemic, I am confident that San Diego’s best days are ahead. That’s why The San Diego Foundation recently launched a new strategic plan with a vision of just, equitable and resilient communities.

Advancing Racial and Social Justice

That aforementioned generosity of spirit belies a very real wealth inequality gap based on race, where local Black and Latinx median household incomes were approximately 62.4% and 67% of white median household income pre-pandemic.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 only exacerbated that gap. By almost every measure – infections, vaccinations, job losses, access to government aid and deaths – Black and Latinx communities suffered the worst locally and nationally during the pandemic.

When The San Diego Foundation interrupted its strategic planning to respond to COVID-19, we saw this inequity of experience first-hand through the work of our nonprofit partners. When we returned to our strategic planning, it was with the knowledge and experience of the long-term health, economic and educational impacts of COVID-19. These impacts must be addressed if we hope to build back better in San Diego.

That wealth inequality gap makes it easier for some San Diegans to purchase homes and build generational wealth, but makes it more out of reach for others. Along with our co-founder, the San Diego Central Black Chamber of Commerce, and other local leaders, we launched the Black Community Investment Fund last year to address this gap and provide equity of economic opportunity for Black San Diegans.

San Diego’s diversity is one of our greatest strengths. We welcome newcomers with open arms, be they a Midwestern transplant or an international refugee escaping violence in a war-torn home country. That diversity has created distinct neighborhoods that serve as their own characters in the story that is San Diego. Unfortunately, members of our diverse community experience stark disparities in their physical health and well-being, depending on race/ethnicity, income and what neighborhood they call home. To build resilience in our communities and to advance racial and social justice, we need to and will address these health inequities.

Fostering Equity of Opportunity

San Diego is a hotbed for innovation. People are drawn to our region because of it. But, that draw isn’t enough to stem the predicted high- and middle-skills workforce gap that will emerge if more people – especially those from historically underrepresented groups – cannot access the training and college degrees needed to keep our local industries strong and to grow income, wages and wealth.

Our Science & Technology and Community Scholarships programs help shrink the gap, but we need to grow these efforts to truly foster equity of opportunity. 

We also know that to support our local workforce and economy, we need to offer more and better early childcare and education for working families. By doing so, we support caregivers re-entering the workforce and provide high-quality services to help children be successful later in life. We also will remove some of the barriers preventing San Diegans from realizing full and healthy lives.

Building Resilient Communities

Those of us who came from other states and countries to live in San Diego often delight in our year-round ability to enjoy the mountains, desert and beaches all in one day. But those treasured open spaces are inaccessible to many of our neighbors and imperiled by climate change.

That lack of access – whether it’s an inability to visit or due to safety or convenience – has a documented effect on our health and well-being

If COVID-19 has shown us nothing else, it’s that we need to acknowledge the mental and behavioral challenges we all face as we recover from this collective trauma. We are committed to improving mental and behavioral health resources in our region. We believe that by making these investments we can help our communities adapt and persist through changing circumstances, whether it’s COVID-19 or challenges yet to be predicted.

Lifting Our Community

We love our community dearly, but we’re not blind to its flaws. We must work together to make it stronger, more resilient, with more success for all San Diegans. Our strategic plan is about lifting up all communities, and some communities need more lifting than others.

That said, when there is any heavy burden, many hands make light work. Let’s work together, San Diego.

Learn more about The Foundation’s Strategic Plan at sdfoundation.org/strategicplan.


About Mark Stuart, CFRE

Mark A. Stuart

As President & CEO, Mark reports to and collaborates with the Board of Governors and is responsible for developing and managing relationships with a wide range of stakeholders as well as for the operating health of The Foundation. Mark’s career has been devoted to helping donors realize their hopes, dreams and aspirations. Prior to joining The Foundation, Mark managed a staff of 64 and a budget of $14 million at San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG), including development, membership, and government and community relations.

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