For Immediate Release

The Brookings Institution’s President, John Allen, To Speak at Launch Event on Sept. 27

August 31, 2021 – San Diego, CA – The San Diego Foundation today announced the launch of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center, a new 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that is uniquely positioned to engage government, corporations and philanthropy in new ways to enhance the long-term sustainability and prosperity of the San Diego region.

A hub for innovative partnerships, the Policy & Innovation Center will conduct world-class research, support coordinated governmental and agency relationships, develop consensus regarding the region’s core needs, and recommend policy solutions to assist local leaders in attracting federal and state impact dollars and addressing regional issues such as improving critical infrastructure, creating stable high-paying jobs; and generating other measurable long-term socio-economic and environmental benefits.

The Policy & Innovation Center will support recovery from the cascading economic effects of COVID-19 and meet the needs of underserved communities by attracting funding and resources to the region; working with local municipalities and regional agencies to co-design new programs and pursue federal recovery and infrastructure funding; crafting new policy solutions; and driving large-scale private partnerships and investment opportunities.

The Policy & Innovation Center will officially launch on Monday, Sept. 27, when notable national, regional and local leaders, including John R. Allen, President, The Brookings Institution; Nathan Fletcher, Chair, San Diego County Board of Supervisors; Mark Cafferty, President & CEO, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation; Mark A. Stuart, President & CEO, The San Diego Foundation; and Shalini Vajjhala, Executive Director, San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center, come together to share strategic opportunities for our region to support multi-jurisdictional cooperation, attract new federal funds and become a national model for new partnerships.

The launch will be followed on Tuesday, Sept. 28, by a day-long government and agency convening featuring presentations from Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program scholars, including Vice President and Director Amy Liu, and working sessions to explore federal funding opportunities to meet urgent local recovery needs and attract greater public and private sector investment for long-term regional priorities.

“During the current COVID-19 crisis and past wildfire disasters, community foundations demonstrated their value in mobilizing funding for rapid response and recovery,” shared Mark Stuart, President & CEO of The San Diego Foundation. “This takes us one step further to balance our role as a community grantmaker with our long-term community changemaker vision for San Diego. For lasting, systemic change, we must and will forge strategic public-private partnerships with philanthropy, government, business and others.”

The organization will be advised by the Policy & Innovation Center Government Advisory Council with members selected from the County of San Diego and the region’s 18 municipalities, as well as San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS), Port of San Diego and San Diego Airport Authority following the Sept. 28 convening.

“We are united in our commitment to develop effective, practical, and equitable solutions for improving infrastructure, creating stable high-paying jobs, and generating transformational social, health, economic and environmental benefits,” emphasized Susan Guinn, President & CEO of the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center. “We will use research and data as an enabler to secure federal and state funding that we as a region have seldom done with one voice.”

The Policy & Innovation Center Leadership Council of Regional Organizations, consisting of Alliance Healthcare Foundation; Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC); San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (EDC); and San Diego Unified School District will also provide leadership, input and guidance.

The Policy & Innovation Center will be governed by a Board of community leaders, including:

  • Ben Haddad, Partner, California Strategies
  • Constance Carroll, Chancellor Emerita, San Diego Community College District
  • Ernest Rady, Chairman & CEO, American Assets Trust and philanthropist
  • Kay Coleman, President & CEO, Del Mar Venture Group
  • Lisa Cuestas, CEO, Casa Familiar
  • Mel Katz, Co-founder and Executive Officer, Manpower Staffing Services
  • Mark Stuart, President and CEO, The San Diego Foundation
  • Jim Howell, Chief Financial Officer, The San Diego Foundation
  • Susan Guinn, President and CEO, San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center

The San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center is led by CEO & President Susan Guinn, who is also Vice President, Chief Innovation Officer at The San Diego Foundation, and Executive Director Shalini Vajjhala. Prior to joining the Policy & Innovation Center, Vajjhala founded and led re:focus partners, a San Diego-based firm dedicated to developing integrated, resilient infrastructure solutions and innovative public-private partnerships for vulnerable communities around the world. She also co-founded The Atlas, an online community for local government leaders. Previously, Vajjhala held multiple positions in the Obama Administration, including special representative in the Office of Administrator Lisa Jackson at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); deputy assistant administrator in the Office of International & Tribal Affairs at EPA; and deputy associate director for Energy & Climate at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She received her Ph.D. in engineering & public policy and bachelor’s degree in architecture from Carnegie Mellon University.

About the San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center

The San Diego Regional Policy & Innovation Center is a new 501(c)(3) organization of The San Diego Foundation that develops, tests, and implements world-class research and policy-driven solutions to address San Diego’s most pressing challenges. Learn more at