Ken Derrett: Leveling the Playing Field through Equity of Opportunity

Ken and Denise Derrett (pictured left) with The San Diego Foundation Board Vice Chair & Immediate Past Chair Kay Coleman
Ken and Denise Derrett (pictured left) with The San Diego Foundation Board Vice Chair & Immediate Past Chair Kay Coleman

Ken Derrett has been a fan of sports since he was a child.

But participating in sports wasn’t always possible. Growing up in a tough part of his hometown in Canada, gaining access to facilities and equipment was difficult for Ken’s family and his then-single mother.

Ken’s earliest memories of philanthropy are from the perspective of the receiving end. “I saw a commitment on the part of corporations and businesses to help provide opportunities,” he reflected.

Without the financial ability to join a local YMCA or other community clubs, Ken was moved by companies that stepped up to sponsor local teams and leagues – creating access for other young people like him.

“I look back and feel so indebted to those kinds of companies,” he shared.

Ken’s current work in the San Diego community, both personally and in his volunteer leadership role as a  Board of Governors Member of The San Diego Foundation (TSDF), underscores the ripple effect that philanthropy can have on youth and their desire to give back and make an impact in the future.

Inspiring Philanthropy

“Giving comes in other forms, too – council, your time, your family’s time,” Ken emphasized. “Whatever time you have, whatever money you have, is so important today.”

While sports are close to his heart, he knows that the generosity he received as a young person addressed much more than access to facilities and equipment – it supported his upbringing and personal growth and development.

Ken recalls seeing the efforts of his colleagues participating in all-star weekends while working for the NBA in Canada, and volunteering to feed the homeless with the Chargers through his former role as the team’s Chief Marketing Officer and Head of Sales and Marketing.

The philanthropic efforts of Ken and his wife, who have a family bursary at their alma mater – Laurentian University in Canada – and have volunteered with the American Cancer Society for almost 20 years, have moved their children to get involved. His daughter, a UCLA graduate, was active with a program helping young people in under-resourced areas of LA and his son works with disadvantaged youth in the Sacramento area.

“When they can see the need to do that without any coaching, it makes you feel good as a parent,” Ken shared.

Equity of Momentum

Seeing others making a difference was another motivation for Ken to get more involved throughout his career. When someone pulled out their checkbook at an event, led a committee or started a fundraising campaign, he asked himself, “What else can I do?”

Ken’s “what else” came in the form of meeting TSDF Board Members Kay Coleman and the late Donna Marie Robinson in 2018. Ken has brought a wealth of expertise to The San Diego Foundation Board, especially in his recent role as Co-Chair of the Strategic Planning Task Force.

“Any business plan that you write at the end of the day starts with identifying a key issue,” Ken said, citing the process of developing the Strategic Plan. He emphasized that it was a collaborative effort to step back and consider, strategically, what The Foundation is doing to effect change in the San Diego region.

“They’re all so important – they’re all interwoven,” Ken said of the four Strategic Plan pillars that support The Foundation’s vision for just, equitable and resilient communities:

  • Advancing racial and social justice
  • Fostering equity of opportunity
  • Building resilient communities
  • Delivering world-class philanthropy

“But when I think about my youth and I think of youth today, fostering equity of opportunity strikes a chord.”

For Ken, access is crucial. He believes that no young person should feel they can’t get to the next level because of their upbringing, finances or other circumstances. “The more we can deliver access, the better we’re going to be not just as a Foundation, but the better we’re going to be as a society.”

Strong Potential

“I feel very excited about the potential, both financially and from an impact standpoint, that The Foundation can demonstrate in this community,” Ken emphasized.

He believes that potential is even stronger through the Strategic Plan.

This new focus, he says, will help The Foundation address the most pressing issues facing the region, informed by the diverse perspectives of the donors, local nonprofit partners, civic and community leaders, board Members, staff, and other stakeholders who contributed to the development of the new strategic direction.

“There’s this wealth of knowledge because of the day-to-day work that’s being done with all these other entities in the County,” Ken added. “I really encourage people to think about The Foundation as a kind of resource, and a way to make an impact, too.”