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Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

Why an Executive Started the OC Social Justice Fund

Editors Note: Keith Swayne for 22 years served as CEO of Case Swayne Co., a maker of custom sauces and seasonings, and after its sale to BestFoods, as CEO of its successor International Food Solutions.

Since retiring in 2000, Keith has remained active on a variety of corporate and nonprofit boards. Shelley Hoss is president and CEO of the Orange County Community Foundation, which is Orange County’s fourth largest nonprofit with $99.8 million in revenue for the 12 months ended June 30, 2022.

Orange County has a rich history and diverse cultural landscape. It is also a community of contrasts. While resources and economic opportunities abound, deeply rooted barriers prevent many from fully participating in our region’s economic and civic life.

For example, the 2022-23 OC Indicators Report shows that OC’s homeownership rate of 57% lags the national average of 64%, driven by significant gaps for Latino and Black residents with homeownership rates of 38% and 34% respectively, compared to 65% for whites and 63% for Asians.

According to the US Census Bureau, the median homeowner has a net worth 80 times higher than the median renter, making homeownership the primary way of building wealth for most Americans.

Strategies that fuel small business and entrepreneurship, job training, workforce development, and financial education for underrepresented populations can help close the homeownership gap and drive the economic opportunity that is key to Orange County’s future.

Believing that Orange County’s future depends on all residents having the opportunity to thrive, Keith Swayne, a well-known business leader and philanthropist, decided on a bold new approach: launching the Orange County Social Justice Fund (OCSJF) at the Orange County Community Foundation.

I invited Keith to share his vision and goals for the OC Social Justice Fund in his own words.

Shelley Hoss (SH): Why did you create the Orange County Social Justice Fund (OCSJF)?

Keith Swayne (KS): Social justice is a core principle for me. My time in the military, in business and working with nonprofits has enlightened me about the obstacles faced by many talented, motivated individuals facing barriers based on their race, ethnicity or other factors.

I began working with the OC Human Relations Council at its inception which further contributed to my prioritizing social justice and civic engagement with both my time and financial support.

When I had the idea for the Social Justice Fund, I wanted to tap into OCCF’s deep community knowledge to ensure greatest impact, while stewarding the fund as a permanent endowment to enable a lasting commitment as well as the opportunity for others to join the cause.

SH: What is your vision for the Fund?

KS: My hope is that the OCSJF will shine a light on the issues that need to be addressed in Orange County to ensure it is a community that provides equitable opportunity to all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or other characteristics.

I moved to Orange County when I was 10 years old, and the population was 250,000 and predominantly white. Now, we have over 3 million residents, and it is one of the most diverse counties in the nation.

We have many challenges to surmount in building an Orange County where all our residents have the opportunity to reach their full potential, and I want to do my part in realizing this vision.

SH: What has the Fund accomplished so far?

KS: Inaugural grants totaling $400,000 were awarded to 25 local nonprofits last December. For example, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, led by Robert Santana, will use the funding for its workforce development efforts.

CIELO, a small business incubator for under-resourced communities, will support promising minority entrepreneurs. Funding for High School Inc., a joint venture of the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and Santa Ana Unified School District, will help youth navigate college and career readiness academies.

Other grantees will focus on strengthening youth and parent leaders, increasing civic participation, providing access to legal services, and supporting quality health care for vulnerable populations including victims of domestic violence. I’m extremely proud of these organizations and their impact in our community.

SH: What’s ahead for the Social Justice Fund in 2023?

KS: We’re working on our approach for the coming year, including a participatory grantmaking process incorporating the perspectives of community leaders closest to the issues.

We’re hoping more people join the effort, like my friend and business leader Donnie Crevier, founder of Crevier BMW, who contributed to the fund in our first year. I seeded the fund with an initial gift of $6.5 million, and my hope is that the endowment will grow to at least $10 million to create an enduring resource for Orange County’s future.

“I grew up without much family stability or support and was pretty much on my own by the time I was a young teenager,” Crevier stated. “To have resources and support from organizations trying to make this corner of the world a better, brighter and more equitable place for everyone is something I wholeheartedly support.”

Swayne added, “If we are going to be a strong and thriving county, which we all want, then we should recognize diversity for what it is, a strength, not a weakness or a challenge.”

To learn more about the Orange County Social Justice Fund, visit https://www.oc-cf.org/orange-county-social-justice-fund.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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