Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties

It is impossible to separate equity from economics. Knowing that systemic exclusion has served as the backdrop of the American story for generations, Catalyst of San Diego & Imperial Counties works to bring about equity and lasting change in these regions, by funneling investments toward people and communities most impacted by racism.

Catalyst and its members aim to uplift the work of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC)-led organizations in San Diego and Imperial County communities, through relationship-building, trust-based grantmaking, and incorporating community leadership and accountability in funding plans. 

For example, Catalyst’s Social Equity Collaborative Fund (SECF) is a pooled grantmaking fund that supports collaborative, grassroots racial justice efforts where funding decisions are made directly by community members most impacted by exclusion, racism, and historic under-investment. In the past five years, SECF has distributed more than $2 million to grassroots groups throughout San Diego County, including funding food sovereignty initiatives like Project New Village, and programs supporting farmers of color and propping up farming as a climate solution such as Solidarity Farm.  

“The fund seeks to support community groups that are ‘hard to find and hard to fund’,” explains Megan Thomas, the interim president of Catalyst. “That is to say, they operate outside of the dominant nonprofit and philanthropy network, even though they are most connected to the communities of concern.”

Thomas explains, “We are here to learn, be uncomfortable, and grow with funders and grantees.”

Ten years from now, she says, Catalyst expects that funders of all backgrounds will center BIPOC leadership in funding opportunities. Furthermore, they will realize the efficacy of ceding power in funding decisions to BIPOC leaders and BIPOC-led groups.

Dismantling the inequitable power structures that dominate our society now requires intentionally moving away from the common narrative that classifies people exclusively as “those who have” or “those who need.” 

“All people deserve access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. This is critical for leading a joyful and dignified life,” Thomas says.

SECF translates intention into action. It is overseen by a committee of community-based leaders and racial equity advocates building trusting relationships with and among community-based organizations.

Thomas says that for SECF, the path forward is three-pronged. In 2020, the group decided to commit to the following:

  1. “Give everything we can now to Black-led work aimed at radical systemic change.”
  2. “Draw on the relationships we’ve built to adapt our actions to what the community needs.”
  3. “Use our privilege to bring significantly more funding to BIPOC-led work in the future.”

Relief funds have flowed into marginalized populations during the challenges of 2020, but there is still a disproportionate, long-term impact on communities of color, making programs like the Social Equity Collaborative Fund critical. The goal of the group is to create lasting solutions, not quick fixes during crises that later fade away.

“When communities face food insecurity and have no food sovereignty, we often don’t see a lack of just resources, but rather, a complete disconnect between community voices and needs, and investment or sources of funding,” Thomas said.

Ensuring that our region is resilient to the uncertainties of the future requires sharing prosperity, and realizing that we are all interconnected. A truly sustainable food system is one that takes just as good care of producers, workers, and the eaters of one community as it does the eaters of another community. With this vision, Catalyst, its funders, and grantees are all forging a path toward health, sovereignty, and self-determination for all, together.

Megan Thomas is the President & CEO of Catalyst San Diego. She provides strategic and logistical support to strengthen San Diego communities through shared learning and aligned funding strategies. Megan oversees Catalyst’s facilitation of funder members and other stakeholders; leads the production of philanthropy and impact investing skills-building; and spearheads Catalyst’s work related to championing equity and opportunity.

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