“We want to elevate the network of purpose-driven and ethically-conscious businesses in San Diego.”
That message, delivered by Better Business Bureau Serving the Pacific Southwest President and CEO Matthew Fehling, encapsulated the goal and purpose behind Cause Conference 2022, held Sept. 15 at the University of San Diego.
The all-day event, hosted by the BBB Serving the Pacific Southwest and the San Diego Business Journal, drew around 430 leaders from across multiple sectors of business and nonprofit work and featured keynote speakers and panels on topics such as company culture, cross border collaboration, B-Corps, moving beyond profit and expanding reach through media.
In addition to hosts BBB Serving the Pacific Southwest and the Business Journal, Cause Conference 2022 included Platinum Partner Sempra; Diamond Partners Optima Office, Tri-City Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente and Visceral; and Silver Partners Managed Solution, Endeavor Bank, CMR, Cox, Mission Fed Credit Union, Dr. Bronner’s, Replica San Diego, UBS, the Conrad Prebys Foundation, United Charitable and iHeartMEDIA.
“Optima Office was proud to be a sponsor for the 2022 Cause Conference. Optima provides accounting, HR and Ops services to both for profit and non-profit businesses, so seeing them collaborate and support one another makes our team happy,” said Optima Founder and CEO Jennifer Barnes. “Building a stronger community that we live in aligns with our mission at Optima and we plan to sponsor the Cause conference for years to come.”
‘State of Our City’
In his welcoming remarks, emcee Carlo Cecchetto encouraged the “like-minded” participants at the event to engage with and learn from each other.
“We’re all pieces of a larger puzzle and we hope that you’ll meet some of your key pieces to your puzzle here today,” he said.
In the spirit of that engagement, the keynote presentations were given by two speakers in a conversation-stye format.
Conference co-chairs County of San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce CEO Donna DeBerry and Conrad Prebys Foundation CEO Grant Oliphant presented a conversation on “State of Our City – The Time is Now!” that touched on local issues, including poor sewage infrastructure and the inequitable consequences of the pandemic on Black and Brown communities in San Diego. Their discussion also stressed the importance of the business community to partner with nonprofits, or to address issues alongside nonprofits, in order for successful change to occur.
In a statement following the conference, DeBerry said the collaborative event was important for fostering change because social issues cannot be solved “in a vacuum or silos.”
“It’s not one entity’s responsibility. It’s all of ours as human beings, as leaders of organizations, companies – profit, and nonprofit – to come together for good,” she said, adding that the most interesting part of Cause Conference was “seeing everyone coming together, the diversity of thought, creating an inclusive process that engaged innovative ideas and best practices to solve social problems and injustices in the county of San Diego. This sold-out conference speaks volumes. It says people care.”
Oliphant commented on the conference’s success in encouraging the business community to tackle tough social challenges.
“Going into this event, we believed San Diego’s future depends on our collective willingness to turn our innovation and entrepreneurship talents on solving the big social and environmental issues of our times,” he said. “The conference proved this community is ready to step into those bigger shoes by figuring out how we can all work together to create a brighter and more inclusive future for everyone.”
‘It’s About Culture’
Following DeBerry and Oliphant, Evofem CEO Saundra Pelletier and former WD-40 Company CEO and founder of company culture consulting group The Learning Moment Garry Ridge presented “It’s Not About Your Tax Status, It’s About Culture” – a conversation on how businesses are becoming more like nonprofits as they align their mission statements with social values and nonprofits more like businesses in how they are run.
Pelletier shared her experience leading a nonprofit organization that distributed products for women in over 100 countries with a focus on access to safe contraception and how that experience is similar to her work leading Evofem, maker of a hormone-free contraceptive for women, because Evofem’s mission “is about empowering women.”
“This Cause Conference, I think, is an opportunity for us to see nonprofits and for-profits,” she said. “I would suggest there is no difference and that we all really have the same idea – that we need to have an underlying purpose.”
Ridge stressed the importance of fostering a positive culture in the workplace and its potential for a positive impact on society.
“Today, it’s even more important because happy people create happy families. Happy families create happy communities. Happy communities create a happy world. And by golly, we need a happy world because things are freaking messy out there right now,” he said.
Ridge added that implementing a positive company culture at WD-40 gave the company a competitive advantage, taking its market cap from $250 million to nearly $3 billion over the last 25 years.
Following the conference, Pelletier described the event as “a launching point for the critical connection and collaboration between all attendees who want to make an impact on our community.” She added that the annual event is “important to dispel the myths and misconceptions that a company’s tax status is what matters, when in reality, corporate culture is the game changer.”
After the keynote presentations, Cause Conference founder Parker Pike spoke about the accomplishments of the event before presenting a collegiate scholarship award that bears his name.
“Looking back over the 24 years since we’ve been doing this, over 7,000 organizations have actually been coached and helped and supported during this wonderful journey,” he said, adding that the initial goal of the conference was “to help corporations be smarter and stronger, be more effective with their donations, and for nonprofits to be stronger in using business skills.”
Pike likened the progression of collaboration between the business and nonprofit worlds to the proverb where giving a man a fish will feed him for a day but teaching a man to fish will feed him forever.
“Give a man a fish? That’s checkbook philanthropy. What’s better than that is to teach a man. For that, we’ve got universities, we’ve got professional associations,” he said. “And what’s better than that? Build fisheries. That would be our organizations, events, foundations and things like that. What’s even better than that? Collaboration – being together for the social sector to build a plan.”
In addition to founding the Cause Conference, Pike also founded a scholarship 15 years ago “to recognize emerging leaders and superstars from universities, colleges and junior colleges,” he said.
This year’s recipient of the Parker Pike Collegiate Nonprofit Scholarship was Zoey Brown, a junior at USD double majoring in marketing and business analytics. In addition to her studies, Brown is a social media management intern at Rescue where she helps nonprofits with community management. She recently helped the Nevada Cancer Coalition with a campaign aimed at curbing vaping among teenagers.
Pike surprised Brown with an additional $1,000 added to the initial $1,000 scholarship award, courtesy of a last-minute bump donation from R.J. Kelly and the Wolf Legacy Group.
Reactions From Breakout Panelists
Closing out the morning presentations, Staci Reidinger, a former Marine who continues her call to community service doing consulting and PR work for nonprofits, and Lead By Impact founder Michael Vargas led the conference in an exercise to facilitate introductions and collaborations among the participants.
The spontaneous networking exercise was considered by many attendees and participants as the highlight of the event and served as a fitting segue into the afternoon’s breakaway panels that brought together a diverse range of professionals to discuss the region’s issues and possible solutions.
“What stood out to me was the diversity of attendees from every industry — private, public, nonprofit, B Corps and other social enterprise leaders as well as educators and some of our largest employers such as Thermo Fisher and Sempra. I haven’t attended a San Diego conference that appealed to so many people who likely would otherwise not meet in a professional setting,” said Innovative Commercial Environments founder and CEO DeLinda Forsythe, who was a facilitator in the “Capture the Hearts, Minds and Engage the Next Generation” breakout discussion. “There is a real curiosity to learn more, to be a part of the promise of Cause. I think many of us are ready to be part of a solution for the challenges our society is facing, and Cause offers that potential.”
Neville Billimoria was a facilitator in the “Identifying our Unique Roles in the Long Arc of System Change” breakout discussion. As a former Cause Conference co-chair, he said he participated in helping the conference pivot from focusing solely on nonprofits to a focus on “purpose for all enterprise and sectors to include and engage businesses as forces for good.”
“This year’s conference actualized that vision to bring philanthropy, nonprofits, businesses, government and education together and portends a great and inclusive future for our region,” he added.
Unity Lab CEO Brandon Peele, a facilitator on “The Future of Social Impact – Sustainable Business Models at Work” panel, shared that participant feedback about that discussion was that it was impactful “because the questions invited vulnerability, messiness, and strong opinions.”
“I also think the entrepreneurs were courageous in touching on pain points like mental health, sexism, discrimination, racism, inequality and living/thriving wages,” he added.
Emily Young, executive director of The Nonprofit Institute at the University of San Diego, helped facilitate the “San Diego’s Top Foundations Talk Impact” panel. She said the Cause Conference is a “great reminder” that the region depends on collaboration between academia, business, government and nonprofits to tackle “urgent challenges.”
“Much of what makes the San Diego region such a great place to live – the cultural vibrancy of our binational border region, our burgeoning blue and green economy, the rich array of amenities that contribute to our quality of life with Balboa Park, our growing network of parks, trails and open space from our coast to mountains and deserts – depends on steadfast civic leadership and investment,” she said. “Now is the time for our community of business leaders and social entrepreneurs to step up and become more engaged in building a better future for all San Diegans.”
San Diego – Tijuana Smart Border Coalition Executive Director Gustavo De La Fuente was a facilitator on the “We’re A Region, Not A City; Understanding Cross Border Collaboration” panel.
“For too long, San Diego business in general has forgotten about the border or believes it has no relation to it, and it is time it paid attention to it in the same way it does to our innovation economy, our military apparatus and our tourism,” he said. “San Diego is part of a binational urban area that, if it worked together as a unit more often, would put us on the global map in unprecedented ways.”
De La Fuente added that the region would benefit from a much stronger business-civil society relationship at the border.
“There is much to gain here, though solutions don’t come easily,” he said.
Cause Conference 2022 Director Larry Kesslin said the event was “one of the best experiences” in his business life.
“Probably one of the most fulfilling and rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on personally,” he said. “I’d like to especially thank project manager Wendy Stull as well as the over 30 volunteers who worked on the event. The conference would not be anywhere close to what it was without them.”
Kesslin, who has participated in Cause Conference off and on since 2014 when he was a keynote speaker and served as an event co-chair in 2018, praised the evolution of the event’s nonprofit focus to one that includes the business community.
“That’s the problem with the whole ecosystem in this moment – that we rely on 10% of our workforce to solve all of our social problems,” he said. “It’s really all our responsibility. The business community needs to be more actively engaged. Most of the people who work in for-profits want to do something meaningful, yet their organizations don’t know what to do.”
A big part of the discussion that came out of the Cause Conference was the need for a local organization that helps businesses know what to do to get engaged, help their employees feel like they’re doing something that matters “and to help our community become a better place to live, work and play,” Kesslin said.
Kesslin’s initiative, Cause San Diego, is envisioned to be an organization that focuses on helping for-profit businesses be more impactful on social issues.
Pike welcomed the idea that builds on the Cause Conference he founded because there is urgency for this kind of organization to help the nearly 12,000 nonprofits in the region.
“So many struggle and companies can help,” he said. “It’s more than money, when you consider the skills and technical assistance that company employees can offer, especially in social media, PR, storytelling, the latest web analytics and web development.”
Businesses and nonprofits will be able to “continue the conversation,” Kesslin said, on Nov. 17 for another Cause event held in the UCSD Design and Innovation Building. The event will run 7:30-9:30 a.m. and be a collaboration event focused on small group discussions and networking. For more information, visit causesandiego.org.