People in Your Neighborhood: La Jollan Tad Seth Parzen has his sights on San Diego’s success

La Jollan Tad Seth Parzen is president and chief executive of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement.
La Jollan Tad Seth Parzen is president and chief executive of the Burnham Center for Community Advancement, which aims to solve regional problems through collaboration.
(Courtesy of Tad Seth Parzen)

Tad Seth Parzen is ready to help propel a new “think and do tank” to tackle problems to promote regional success.

Parzen, a La Jolla resident since age 10, is president and chief executive of the newly launched Burnham Center for Community Advancement, which will be housed in the fall in UC San Diego’s new development in downtown San Diego.

The Burnham Center will be “a platform for civic innovation … to envision and manifest the future that we want to see for our region,” Parzen said.

The Burnham Center, founded by longtime area civic leader Malin Burnham, aims to be “the catalytic convener, the place where community input and research and data and innovative best practices … come together to spawn new and innovative solutions to the problems that we all see right in front of our eyes,” Parzen said.

“Nobody needs just another think tank,” he said, noting that San Diego is “among the world leaders in higher education. … The hard part in our community is getting it done.”

To try to remedy that, Parzen said, the Burnham Center will bring together various organizations “who have the real expertise in both their community issues and their very specific subject matter issues.”

“They’re the owners of the initiatives, not us,” he said. The center will “accelerate, amplify and enhance our partners’ work” by combining the organizations’ efforts.

“That cross pollination creates something entirely new and very valuable,” Parzen said.

Though community input will be gathered to help prioritize problems, “a lot of issues ripple from employment, housing, poverty, health, violence, domestic issues. We know that those are going to be high on the list,” Parzen said.

He said execution often is a problem when addressing those issues. “We’ve got a wonderful, innovative mindset, but then implementing that innovation seems to be a challenge for and within our region.

“The initial reaction is often, ‘Oh, it’s too hard’ or ‘We’ve never done that before’ or ‘There’s so much red tape.’ Our challenge is to help navigate that culture and catalyze a new culture of ‘Yes, we can do big things’ here in our region.”

He said the Burnham Center will function as a “fourth sector” organization to the nonprofit, for-profit and government sectors. “We are the ... sector where those three intersect. … What we do is we bring that entrepreneurial, innovation, data, research piece to a civic collaboration.”

Leveraging the skills and talents of all three sectors will work to achieve “the things that are necessary to make that [envisioned] future come true,” Parzen said.

“I’m most excited for the outcome and the beauty of the collaborative efforts that will occur.”

Parzen said he learned the value of cross-sector collaboration through his previous work as general counsel for the San Diego Unified School District, consulting work for the Los Angeles Unified School District and heading his own consulting firm, among other public service projects.

“I’ve always had this thought that it was going to take public-private partnerships to really get done what we need to get done in communities like our region,” he said.

Parzen, who spent his first decade on Chicago’s South Side, said the civil-rights movement of the 1960s “really captured my heart; it’s something from childhood that got in my blood. … This is how I want to spend my time.”

“There’s no reason why we all can’t do better,” he said.

The Burnham Center, Parzen said, “is a big idea … with a lot of humility built in. There’s a lot of recognition that these solutions have to be community efforts. Nobody does anything like this alone.”

“We want to be the place where people can gather to make these things happen.”

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