An all-day event today (Sept. 15) has an ambitious goal: enlist San Diego’s business sector in the effort to make the wider community a better place.
Cause Conference 2022 is taking place Thursday at the University of San Diego.
Taken as a whole, the business community is one of the few segments of the wider San Diego community with the resources to make needed changes, said Larry Kesslin, conference director and Entrepreneurial Ambassador with the Better Business Bureau Serving the Pacific Southwest.
Change, he said, should not be left exclusively to governments and nonprofits.
Over the past few decades, Kesslin said, the idea of profit above all else has weakened our local communities. He advocates for a larger and more active role for today’s business leaders.
“The time is now,” added Kesslin. “I want to be clear. This is a mission bigger than any of us.”
Speakers at Cause Conference 2022 will address topics in business, philanthropy, corporate social responsibility and the tendency among Millennial and Gen Z talent to seek out employers who share their values — and support businesses that do the same.
Speakers for the conference include Donna DeBerry, CEO of the County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, and Grant Oliphant, CEO of The Conrad Prebys Foundation. They are the event co-chairs.
Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences and Garry Ridge, chairman and CEO of WD-40 Company, will kick off the day with a talk entitled, “It’s Not About Your Tax Status, It’s About Culture.”
The conference builds on decades of events and work by Parker Pike and the American Marketing Association, beginning in the late 1990s. Pike is now a partner with San Diego Social Venture Partners.
Attendees at the 2022 conference will hear from dozens of business leaders and philanthropy experts during 12 breakout sessions. They will take on multiple issues, including cross-border collaboration as well as why corporations need to focus on more than profits.
The conference has several Event Partners. The Platinum Level Partner is Sempra.
Diamond Level Partners are Kaiser Permanente, Optima Office, Tri-City Medical Center and Visceral.
Partners are CMR Risk & Insurance Services, The Conrad Prebys Foundation, Cox Communications, Dr. Bronner’s, Endeavor Bank, iHeart Media San Diego, Managed Solution, UBS and United Charitable.
The BBB is presenting the conference in conjunction with the San Diego Business Journal.
“We are proud to collaborate with leading organizations to elevate the network of purpose-driven and ethically conscious businesses in San Diego,” said Matthew Fehling, president and CEO of BBB Pacific Southwest. “BBB celebrates businesses that are doing the right thing, and our participation in the Cause Conference is another way for us to do just that. We want people to hear ‘Better Business Bureau’ and know it’s a place of support for good businesses.”
“At BBB Pacific Southwest, we stand for what’s right — not only in business but for our entire ecosystem,” said Kryistyna Hook, the organization’s director of media relations. “We are guided by our mission to ethically contribute to social well-being and support those bringing value to our people, community and environment. Businesses have a powerful platform to use their voice for good, and by working alongside companies in San Diego who are passionate about this work too, we can amplify the impact tenfold.”
‘Build a New Model’
Kesslin said one of his favorite quotes is from architect, engineer and philosopher Buckminster Fuller, who lived from 1895 to 1983.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality,” Fuller said. “To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
That is one of the ideas behind the Cause Conference.
The day will begin with thoughts from Donna DeBerry and Grant Oliphant. “We thought the two of them together would be really powerful,” said Kesslin.
DeBerry brings her perspective on diversity and inclusion, at both the local and global levels, among small businesses and major corporations. Prior to taking her role as CEO of the San Diego County Black Chamber of Commerce, DeBerry was the director of inclusion at Indeed, operator of the employment website, and led various diversity initiatives at Starbucks Corp. Her resume also includes work at Wyndham International and Nike.
Grant Oliphant took on his current role as CEO of the Conrad Prebys Foundation in March. His work in Pittsburgh, at The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation, won him acclaim.
“We live in a time of epic challenges,” Oliphant said recently, “and in the future every community and region is going to be defined by how well they meet those challenges. San Diego is in a position to lead, not just go along with the pack, in addressing major social, economic and environmental issues, and why shouldn’t we make that our ambition? Embracing that goal means we need to harness the entrepreneurship and innovation of every sector in this region. I agreed to co-chair the Cause Conference with Donna DeBerry because we need business at the table with foundations, nonprofits and government working collaboratively to bring the best resources and skills together to improve the well-being of all San Diegans in all our diverse communities.”
He continued: “The conference’s outcomes will include short-term networking and learning opportunities and long-term problem solving and implementation of creative, innovative solutions to problems that can appear intractable. San Diego can be a model for the nation in developing equitable solutions to the problems that, instead of defining us, can be springboards to a more just future for everyone.”
The Power of Culture
Saundra Pelletier, CEO of Evofem Biosciences and Garry Ridge, longtime chief of WD-40 Company, will speak together about the power of a positive corporate culture.
“The greatest human need is the need to feel significant,” said Pelletier. “When we spend as much time at work as we do at home, passion and purpose equals productivity. The best way to instill passion and purpose is to create a culture of significance regardless of role, tenure or expertise.”
“The days of sustainably working for a paycheck are over. The best talent gravitates to a work environment that embraces a mindset that understands the difference between doing the right things versus doing things right. The evolution of public-private partnerships has resulted in conscious capitalistic companies whose mission-driven purpose is more than just words on their website. More money, more mission.”
“Business has the best opportunity to be a force for good in the world, and good culture in organizations is the driving force,” said Ridge. “I am pleased to share my ‘learning moments’ as a 25-year public company CEO at the Cause Conference, [and to speak] about creating a culture that is not only a competitive advantage but one that enhances the employee experience.”
Conference speaker DeLinda Forsythe, CEO and founder of Innovative Commercial Environments (ICE), echoed those sentiments.
“With The Great Resignation, leaders are beginning to understand that the true value of a corporation is human capital,” she said. “Attracting and retaining young talent is the lifeblood of an organization and what inspires them is social impact. Almost 50% of our workforce is under 42 years of age and employers need to understand what it requires to inspire them to remain with a company. The Gen Z generation is especially attuned to social impact — this is not a momentary trend. Data supports that business leaders that frame decisions from a much longer, generational perspective create a more sustainable, resilient business, improves mental well-being and is great for the community.”
Roots in Philanthropy
The conference is rooted in an earlier series of events put together by Parker Pike for the nonprofit community.
“The Cause Conference grew out of a request from SDG&E’s philanthropy team to help nonprofits develop better grant proposals, and save them time and resources,” Pike recalled. “Company and foundation executives joined business experts to share best practices to not only help nonprofit executives and board members, but also help companies realize the many benefits of nonprofit partnerships for their brand, sales and employee engagement.”
During the conference, Pike will give away the 15th annual Parker Pike Collegiate Nonprofit Scholarship.
Event Partners On Board
Event Partners, including Kaiser Permanente, Optima Office, Tri-City Medical Center and Visceral, are looking forward to the gathering.
“At Tri-City Medical Center, we believe that ‘Healthy Lives Start with Healthy Communities’ which is why we felt it necessary to get involved with the Cause Conference for the opportunity to further collaborate with leaders of the region working to make an impact,” said Jessica Shrader, manager of government affairs and community engagement for Tri-City.
“Since 1961, Tri-City Medical Center has been faithfully providing quality and patient-focused healthcare services to the coastal North County region. Our mission is to advance the health and wellness of the community we serve,” said Aaron Byzak, chief external affairs officer for the medical center. “As part of this mission, Tri-City Medical Center is actively engaged in our community through outreach initiatives like the COASTAL Commitment.” (The abbreviation stands for Community Outreach And Support Through Active Leadership).
“With more than 80 partnerships with local organizations, this data-driven program is an opportunity for the medical center and its staff to actively support and lead community improvement programs for those organizations that are best positioned to ‘move the needle’ on community health issues,” he continued. “We look forward to sharing our best practices at the conference and building out our network of resources to help create healthy communities.”
Another Event Partner is Kaiser Permanente.
“Kaiser Permanente’s mission is to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We support the Cause Conference because it brings together those who care about making San Diego a better, healthier place for all,” said Jane Finley, senior vice president and area manager of the organization.
Matthew Billingsley, partner and creative director for Visceral, got on board after conversations with Parker Pike.
“First, it was hearing about the passion and vision from Parker to reconnect with the social impact leaders in San Diego,” Billingsley said. “I first met Parker while preparing a presentation for the San Diego AMA around purpose-driven branding. He loved it and became an advocate for us afterward. When he shared his plan for re-establishing the conference in a post-pandemic world, I jumped at the chance to help. As a values-first company that only partners with mission-driven organizations, his vision spoke clearly to us. We need gatherings like the Cause Conference to help cultivate and grow this community here and nationwide. Businesses within all industries, nonprofit leaders, corporate executives, impact investors, and social advocates can and should all learn from one another.”
“Supporting the communities in which we live and work is incredibly important to me, so helping to revive the Cause Conference last year was a no brainer,” said Jennifer Barnes, CEO of Optima Office. “I am elated that Parker Pike asked Optima to get involved and seeing the Cause Conference gain so much traction is more than we could have asked for. Having the San Diego Business Journal along with the BBB, which I am on the board of, spearhead the conference is a perfect example of the nonprofit and for profit community working together to create a stronger impact. This is exactly what Optima hopes to achieve by being involved. We have always had a focus on serving the nonprofit community as more than 20% of our clients are not for profits, so the new theme of the conference to get for-profits to create greater social impact is completely in line with our mission.”