Interim CEO Dee Dee Brantley is leading The San Francisco Foundation in its mission as a “catalyst for change” in the San Francisco Bay Area, where it is making an impact with big ideas, innovative projects and continues to fund local programs that make a difference in the community.
Brantley is the first African American to lead the organization, taking over the helm after former CEO Dr. Sandra Hernández stepped down. With a background in human resources, Brantley has been at the foundation for over a decade and held the position of Chief Operating Officer (COO) before being appointed Interim CEO this month.
She moved to Oakland from her hometown of Ohio to attend Holy Names University where she earned her bachelors degree and MBA. Since then, she has been a longtime Oakland resident and has been married for almost 40 years having raised two sons.
The Post had a chance to sit down with Brantley to talk one-on-one about her career in philanthropy and her vision for the Foundation.
Post: How did you get involved in philanthropy?
Dee Dee Brantley: I actually had a career in the for-profit world, so I’ve seen both sides of the equation, what it’s like to work there versus what it’s like to work in a community-oriented, values-oriented organization.
I was at a point in my career where I actually felt compelled to be in a different environment and not in a for-profit environment any longer, where I felt I could actually make a difference. Fortunately, my sons actually did have some advantages, but even with those advantages, it didn’t stop some of the things that happen to people of color in this society.
Post: And what were some of those experiences that personally affected your sons?
Brantley: The things that come to mind – racial profiling, that’s probably one of the most prevalent.
The other is really around employment opportunities. My background is in human resources and different people that I have worked with, I have personally heard them make statements that they are intimidated or threatened by black males. How do you get in the door and have these opportunities when people who hold the power in the organizations in some of these higher positions are not accustomed to working with people of color, or may feel somewhat intimidated by a certain population?
Almost 2-to-1 of my nephews and my sons have experienced that.
Post: The Foundation has impacted so many communities with social justice, racial discrimination, youth programs, and civic engagement among other issues. What do you see as the most pressing need now?
Brantley: That’s a really difficult question if you say what is the single most pressing need now. From my perspective, there are a lot of needs that have been around forever.
If you think about equity inclusion at the macro level, that’s something that we always strive for. So if you think about pressing issues, I think it depends. If I think about Oakland where I live, one of the things that concerns me the most is the high crime rate and the high crime rate for various populations.
If you think about the changing demographics just in the Bay Area in general, I think the work that we’re doing around immigrant integration is really, really critical because that’s another group of individuals that face barriers in terms of employment. We have to be sensitive about how the world is changing around us.
With our FAITHS program, we’re doing a lot of work in that area and I think that is really a pressing issue.
The Bay Area has tremendous needs around affordable housing and again, that’s a really key focus of the Foundation with our HOPE SF projects, with Great Communities Collaborative, this transit-oriented development work that we’re doing. So affordable housing is really key because we’re going to lose so many people in our communities if they can’t afford to live here.
Post: What is your vision for the organization?
Brantley: My vision is really influenced, most recently, by the great Board of Trustees that I have the privilege of working with right now as we bring in a new leader for the Foundation.
One of the things that is extremely pleasing to me is that we’ve always been on the right path. Our mission is our mission; we’re a catalyst for change. The vision is successfully executing on that mission.
What may change a little bit is how we do the execution, what may change I think in some ways is where particular focus areas might be, because not only do we do all of the work in these core areas but we also position ourselves very well to look at emerging issues as they come.
But in terms of a vision, it’s more around how we do the work differently. One of the big things that’s happening with our Foundation is we’re finding more and more of the work we do – because we’re in it for the long-haul and because we’re dealing with extremely difficult issues – that if they were easy to solve, somebody would’ve solved them by now.
We can’t do it alone, no one can do it alone. So we are doing a lot of work that requires collaboration with other foundations, with other public entities, private entities, corporate entities, so that collectively we can actually make a big impact on some of the big issues that we’re dealing with.
For more info, visit www.sff.org.