2023 Gardner Fellows: Public Impact with Private Philanthropy

March 29, 2024

Community engagement has always been a passion of mine. There is a sense of altruism and belonging when collaborating with community members to promote collective impact. Coming from a lived experience with minimal resources (homelessness, food insecurity, poverty), I believe in the power of public involvement, investment, and empowerment. I am an Urban Planner with experience working for public agencies and capacity building for local organizations. Having worked for Alameda County and creating a nonprofit organization, I understand the limitations of funding.

With the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), I entered into a community of philanthropic investors who are passionate about going beyond conventional donations by engaging with grantees. The “beyond-the-dollar” and trust-based models of SV2 take philanthropy, venture capital, and community organizing to the next level through a blend of commitments to further social impact. I learned about the processes funders use to evaluate and accelerate organizations to promote a diverse range of public assets including health and wellbeing, housing, environment, advocacy, gender and racial mobility, tech equity, and education. Furthermore, I am developing meaningful relationships with SV2’s partners (donors) who are successful professionals now investing time and money into communities, nonprofits, and social innovators. During the fellowship placement search, I expressed my desire to join an organization where I could learn about the investment process and develop lasting relationships with socially influential and resourceful people. My fellowship with SV2 has surpassed my expectations as I am now hands-on involved in the grantmaking and impact investing processes. SV2 is teaching me about due diligence processes and critical financial and organizational analysis. I am supporting community organizations and growing my social network with wealthy donors who genuinely support my journey.

The best part is that my mentor is David Onek, the executive director of SV2. He brought me on as a “thought partner” to engage at every level of the organization. On top of work meetings, we meet weekly for check-ins. He will be my long-term mentor and friend. John Gardner said everybody should cultivate a group of mentors and friends to advise you throughout your career– a personal board of directors. David Onek will definitely be a longstanding member of my Personal Board of Directors.

Below are some examples of my work with SV2. The first photo is from an SV2 board meeting hosted at a winery in Portola Valley. The second photo is from our “Tech for Good” Grant Round, where I had the opportunity to meet one of my long-time entrepreneurial heroes, Vernon J, who is digitizing real estate assets on the blockchain for equitable distribution to communities historically removed from real estate ownership. I wrote a research paper on this at Cal.

group photo of 2023 UC Berkeley Gardner Fellow Jon Dena at a Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund board meeting held at a Portola Valley winery

Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2) Board Meeting 

2023 UC Berkeley John Gardner Fellow Jon Dena with entrepreneur Vernon J at "Tech for Good” Grant Round

2023 UC Berkeley John Gardner Fellow Jon Dena with entrepreneur Vernon J at Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2) "Tech for Good” Grant Round