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Member Spotlight: Bob Uyeki, CEO of Y & H Soda Foundation

Monday, August 1, 2016

Bob Uyeki is the CEO of the Y & H Soda Foundation and a former NCG board member. As a part of our Member Spotlight Series, Bob told us about his guilty pleasure and how his superpower is good for him and for humanity!

What’s the next NCG program you’re attending and why should other members join you there?

I’m attending the August 11th program, What's Next for California? The Immigration Agenda after the Surpeme Court Decision, because of my disappointment at the recent Supreme Court decision on Administrative Relief.  Though the 4-4 split decision did not set a precedent, it continues to put millions of families at risk of being torn apart by deportation.  Expanded DACA and DAPA were commonsense policies that would have allowed immigrant families to come out of the shadows and participate more fully in society and the economy.  In the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling and the rampant xenophobia polluting our national discourse, philanthropy, now more than ever, needs to come together to stand up for our fellow community members.  The briefing will help educate funders about the needs and gaps that still exist, and the special opportunities in California to support and protect immigrant rights and promote immigrant integration.   

How’d you get started in this work?

I started my nonprofit career in the Asian American community in San Francisco, initially doing research for a documentary film production on the Japanese American Internment and later serving as the Director of the San Francisco Asian American International Film Festival. Those experiences working in the Asian Pacific Islander community helped strengthen my commitment to inclusion and social justice and also served as a kind of “on-the-job training” in nonprofit management.  While running the festival, I became interested in what it would be like to be on the grantmaking side instead of the grantseeking side.  I had the good fortune to land a job at The San Francisco Foundation and later worked at the East Bay Community Foundation before joining the Y & H Soda Foundation about 12 years ago. 

What’s kept you there?

Working with amazing community partners and colleagues who are doing great work every day in helping create more equity and inclusion in the East Bay.  We are blessed to have such a strong and vibrant nonprofit sector in the Bay Area, with so many innovative organizations and great leaders.  We also have a strong philanthropic sector and most funders are interested in working together to increase our collective impact.  But beyond the inspiration there’s also the reality that the longer one works as a foundation CEO, the less equipped one becomes to do something else!

What’s your favorite on-screen guilty pleasure?

Watching reruns of game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.  I’m a proud Clevelander who waited 52 years for a championship.  Like a fine wine or a great book, it just gets better with every viewing.  It was also very kind of Dub Nation to demonstrate its commitment to equity by sharing the wealth after their amazing regular season (though the Kevin Durant acquisition looks like the kind of opportunity hoarding that Robert Putnam documented in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). 

What talent or superpower would you most like to have?  Now that Cleveland has won a championship, I wish I had the ability to get everyone to embrace our shared humanity and focus on the common good.  And perhaps change tax policy too.

Where are you inviting collaboration these days?

We are working with a group of other funders to build nonprofit organizational and leadership capacity in East Contra Costa County, an area of growing suburban poverty and limited nonprofit infrastructure.  We are also partnering with NCG, the Northern California Community Loan Fund, and other public and private funders to develop strategies to stop nonprofit displacement caused by the supercharged Bay Area real estate market. 

What’s the most exciting thing happening in your sector? 

I think philanthropy is having more explicit conversations about our responsibility to promote equity in our work, especially racial equity.  Though there have been foundations like The California Endowment who have been doing great equity work for years, the rest of the field is beginning to catch up.  I think this is a really important trend; whether it is coming internally from within philanthropy or externally in response to movements like Black Lives Matter is less important than the fact that we seem to be approaching a tipping point where equity is becoming embedded into the philanthropic mainstream.