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CEOs Support San Diego After Global Conference Cancellation

When months of hard work had to be scrapped and boxes filled with costly event materials and food suddenly had no purpose, YPO members rallied to find a positive outcome.

Their focus turned to the most vulnerable in the community.

In late February, the World Health Organization raised the global threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) to “very high” and YPO members were forced to make a very difficult decision. Out of an abundance of caution led by concern for staff and membership alike, YPO cancelled two of its largest global events.

YPO’s Global Leadership Conference and YPO EDGE 2020 were planned for the first week of March in San Diego, California. Over 2,500 people from 80 countries were expected to attend.

Many had already started traveling. Some had already arrived.

Canceling a major event is not only difficult for attendees and organizers, but the impact can be significant for local businesses, vendors and the community at large. But with the health and safety of the global YPO community addressed, local members in San Diego quickly turned their attention to the most vulnerable in the city who would likely see the greatest impact from COVID-19.

“You know that saying: When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade,” says Raymond Watt, Managing Partner at Simplexity Venture Studio Fund, YPO member and Host City Chair of the 2020 YPO EDGE in San Diego. “Well, what I’ve discovered is that it takes a village to make lemonade.”

After Watt got over the initial gut punch that an event he and his fellow YPO members had spent 18 months planning was not going to come to fruition, he says it quickly became obvious that there was no time to sit back and worry.

Watt made some calls to his fellow YPO members and they got to work repurposing and redirecting food, office supplies, back packs, jackets, vests and other event items to help the San Diego community.

Helping San Diego’s most vulnerable

Member James Brennan, CEO of Endev Enterprises LLC, says his first thought about who likely would be impacted by this global emergency causing the cancellation of many events in San Diego and beyond, was the city’s homeless and the elderly.

Of the 3.3 million people who live in San Diego, there are 8,000-9,000 people experiencing homelessness every single night.

But, “it’s a solvable problem,” says Karen Brailean, board member of the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless and member of Funders Together To End Homelessness. She is the spouse of YPO member Jim Brailean, Co-founder & Managing Director at BFT Equity Partners, and an active family member in the YPO community.

“We work hard to make homelessness rare, brief and non-repeatable.”

One of the organizations benefitting from the event cancellations is Voices of Our City, which brings together people experiencing homelessness once a week for choir practice and a meal. The week the YPO events were canceled, they benefited from towels originally purchased for conference attendees.

Other organizations receiving food, clothing and office supplies included Feeding San Diego, Catholic Charities of San Diego, and Father Joe’s Villages.

The San Diego Rescue Mission, which consistently provides shelter and services to San Diego’s homeless community, is serving a meal to 1,000 on Easter Sunday and will provide sustainable backpacks donated by YPO members. Donnie Dee, President and CEO of the mission, says they had been trying to figure out what they could offer their clients in addition to the meal. That’s when a YPO member reached out to him.

“I know it wasn’t your plan,” Dee says, “but the need it meets for us, because we’ve been praying about these logistics, is an incredible blessing. So, thank you for the backpacks.”­

Rachel’s Women’s Shelter received new clipboards, markers and blank journals, which a thrilled Antionette Fallon, Director of Homeless Services for Catholic Charities of San Diego, gladly accepted.  “We encourage women to identify their safe coping skills, to express their feelings, which they do through art, through drawing and a lot through writing,” she explains.

Pillows, blankets and vests – along with much needed hand sanitizer – found their way to Father Joe’s Villages and to Catholic Charities. Appaswamy ‘Vino’ Pajanor, CEO of Catholic Charities San Diego, says he understands the disappointment of YPO members unable to visit San Diego, but appreciates their generosity.

And the global response by YPO members to the cancellation of the events? Watt says he keeps receiving messages from members who want their event registration fees to be given to the San Diego community rather than refunded.

“I think what YPO does in forum really shined through in this situation,” says Jamie Lynn Sigler, CEO of J Public Relations, Inc. Immediately after the YPO events were canceled, members began to gather around the cause of making a difference in San Diego. She says that one of the things that was just so magical about what happened in the face of adversity is that everybody came together. “It was all about ‘What can we do to help?’ That’s what you do in YPO and that’s why I’m so proud to be in this organization.”

YPO is the global leadership community of more than 29,000 chief executives in 130 countries who are driven by the belief that the world needs better leaders. Each of our members have achieved significant leadership success at a young age. Combined, they lead businesses and organizations contributing USD 9 trillion in annual revenue. YPO members become better leaders and better people through peer learning and exceptional experiences in an inclusive community of open sharing and trust.