Q&A with Son Chau, Philanthropy Advisor; the second piece in a SVCF staff spotlight series. Read the first piece in the series, featuring Mallory Zickfeld, Associate Manager, Corporate Responsibility.
Q: How long have you been at SVCF? What did your career path look like before joining the community foundation? Why did you want to work here?
A: In 2016 I worked as a Summer Fellow in SVCF’s Donor Engagement department. In November 2018, two and a half years later, I returned to the same department as a Philanthropy Advisor! My background is in organizing marginalized communities. For several years I worked in the South Bay with Working Partnerships USA (one of SVCF’s strategic initiatives grantees) building grassroots coalitions to address Silicon Valley’s inequality. These coalitions worked successfully to secure an increase in San Jose’s minimum wage, which became effective in 2013.
In fall of 2015, I moved across the country and earned a Master of Public Administration degree at New York University. Shortly thereafter, I joined Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA). There, I worked with clients to fund special initiatives in issue areas ranging from criminal justice reform to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
After three years in New York, I chose to return to Silicon Valley and to SVCF because I wanted to a part of a community foundation playing an important role in the Bay Area nonprofit ecosystem. I knew I would be returning during a challenging time, but as an experienced advocate for workers’ rights, I saw it as an opportunity to participate in SVCF’s internal efforts to develop a healthier workplace culture. I was also excited to move back close to my family in San Jose.
Q: What was it like to grow up in the Bay Area?
A: Born to a Vietnamese refugee family, I grew up in an area of San Jose that bordered two racially and socio-economically different parts of town -- one of affluent white families and one of working-class Latino and Vietnamese families -- so I gained an interesting perspective on what diversity and inclusion could mean (or not mean) at a young age.
Since returning from New York I’ve seen a number of my friends, neighbors, and family members move elsewhere because the Bay Area has gotten too expensive. I’ve seen low-income neighborhoods change as a result of the introduction of high-rise, luxury apartment buildings and increased rents. And I’ve noticed that the highways are more congested due to the increase in population. I am determined to do my part to help make the region I call home more inclusive.
Q: Tell us about your role at SVCF.
A: As a Philanthropy Advisor, I equip SVCF donors with the knowledge, tools, and opportunities to practice effective philanthropy. Within the Donor Engagement department, I am part of a dynamic, talented team of 19 people. An average day consists of managing relationships, both externally with clients and internally with various teams within SVCF. Externally, I provide strategic and operational advice to individuals and families who aim to make the greatest impact in their chosen focus areas with the funds available. Internally, I collaborate with coworkers to fulfill client requests and troubleshoot problems as they arise. I’m also a member of an internal committee working to bring SVCF’s new values to life, as part of our culture improvement efforts.
Q: What do you like most about working at SVCF?
A: The staff at SVCF are incredibly compassionate and passionate human beings, who share my vision that a better world is possible. I also admire the resiliency of staff members, who in spite of organizational struggles in 2018 remain committed to making a difference.
Q: What inspires you about SVCF's community impact work?
A: As a recipient of scholarships throughout my undergraduate and graduate education, I am a fan of SVCF’s scholarship programs and recognize the significant impact they can have on low-income students’ economic mobility and their journey toward prosperity. Our work around civic participation also resonates with me. I’m a believer that transformative change is rooted in empowering marginalized communities and addressing the gaps that exist in civic representation, wealth distribution, and diversity and inclusion.
Q: What do you like to do outside the office?
A: Beyond work, I love volunteering for grassroots organizations and mentoring young leaders from the professional and activist networks I am part of. I’m also quite a foodie and arts enthusiast. I’m always on the look out for new brunch spots to try and independent films to watch.