Recently, I was lucky enough to be part of the Cause Conference 2023 in San Diego. Cause San Diego is a social impact hub designed to connect for-profit businesses with some of the most urgent issues in our region, aiming to accelerate social change and encourage collaboration between public and private sector organizations.
At the Cause Conference, I presented with Anne Middleton, the former Executive Director of EcoLife Conservation, and Laura Pitts, the CEO at Carlsbad Educational Foundation.
The Carlsbad Educational Foundation raises private funds for public education, helping to fill gaps in funding and create innovative ideas for teachers and students.
EcoLife is a nonprofit organization based in Carlsbad with two major program areas, both of which focus on the way we cook, grow and distribute food to make it more equitable and sustainable. EcoLife designs and builds aquaponics systems, which combine raising fish with hydroponics-growing plants, creating a soil-less ecosystem to demonstrate and distribute food that is grown sustainably. This uses 90% less space and water than conventional agriculture. EcoLife also builds fuel-efficient stoves around the Monarch Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. These replace open-fire cooking, reducing fuel wood usage, which in turn reduces deforestation in the Monarch butterfly habitat.
My company, Calsense, designs and manufactures smart irrigation systems. I’ve been at the company for 18 years, and I feel that as you reach a stage in your career and your company reaches maturity, it’s our responsibility to start to give back and get involved in the local community. As a result, I’ve been very heavily involved in several nonprofits, and I’m now chairperson of EcoLife Conservation, and I’m on the Board of Trustees at Carlsbad Education Foundation.
It’s that involvement of private business with public nonprofit organizations that we were discussing at the Cause Conference. We spoke about how nonprofits can partner with businesses, and we agreed that the key is relationships: finding businesses with values that match those of the nonprofit and building authentic relationships. It’s true for Calsense. Our mission statement talks about the importance of education and partnerships because we see these as critical for a sustainable future. So these two nonprofits, EcoLife and Carlsbad Educational Foundation, were an ideal match for us, and we’ve partnered with them for several years.
Anne pointed out that there are lots of amazing ‘win-win’ strategies for the for-profit sector when they partner with nonprofits, including things like marketing, tax write-offs, and providing volunteer engagement for employees. It’s not simply a case of a nonprofit asking a for-profit company for money. Ideal partnerships add value for both parties.
Every nonprofit needs three things: time, treasure, and talent. Businesses can provide much more than the ‘treasure’. We can give our own time as volunteers and offer up our expertise too. I’ve discovered that the work our nonprofit partners do has inspired the Calsense team. Like me, they feel rewarded knowing that they are contributing to the future of the community and the planet.
But it works both ways. I’m able to help by sitting on the boards of these organizations, mentoring and developing them to ensure they run more like businesses so that they will have a long-term future as well.
If you’re a business or a nonprofit looking for a partner to do good in the world with, I’d certainly recommend getting in touch with Cause San Diego.
A.J. van de Ven is president of Carlsbad-based smart irrigation company Calsense and a board member of the nonprofit EcoLife Conservation.