Statement by Emmett D. Carson, Ph.D., on Departure from Silicon Valley Community Foundation as Founding President and CEO


Over 11 years ago, I was inspired by the never before undertaken challenge of merging two longstanding, very different, community foundations to establish Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Our vision was to create an entirely new community foundation model that would both tackle Silicon Valley’s most difficult regional problems while also helping individual and corporate donors achieve their local, national and global philanthropic goals. 


Guided by a board willing to take bold risks and a highly dedicated and committed staff who believed no challenge was beyond their capabilities, we achieved our goals beyond anyone’s dreams, including my own. SVCF charted an entirely new course recognizing that in an increasingly global society, individual and corporate donors have geographically diverse charitable interests and desire a single philanthropic institution through which to achieve their goals. That this approach remains controversial today – over a decade after SVCF’s founding – is testament to how visionary and disruptive this idea has been in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.


I am especially grateful that the Board of SVCF afforded me the privilege of a lifetime to chart a course and set an agenda that I believe will endure for generations to come providing leadership and philanthropic resources to Silicon Valley, the nation and the world.


SVCF has helped pave new ground for community foundations by leading and not following on issues of social justice through community engagement, research and successfully lobbying to change local and state laws with respect to education, payday lending, immigration, housing and transportation, among other issues. 


We also raised billions of dollars in new philanthropic capital from generous donors that decades from now will continue to be a source for much good in Silicon Valley and beyond. In the process of this accelerated growth from $1.6 billion to $13.5 billion in assets under management, we became the largest community foundation in the world and the region’s largest grantmaker to local causes.


Most importantly, the ethos of Silicon Valley runs deep in the bones of SCVF.  We embraced change, took risks, believed that disruption could be a force for good, tackled seemingly impossible and intractable problems, and harnessed the creativity of Silicon Valley to go after audacious goals. I am certain all of this will continue, even as my tenure as founding SVCF president and CEO has come to a close.


Recent events have brought to light that in the pursuit of these ambitious goals, some staff felt they were not sufficiently heard. Others felt that they could not trust that they could rely on the multiple systems in place, including an anonymous hotline, to report complaints or concerns and have them fully and fairly addressed.  I am sorry that this occurred and regret any role that I may have played in contributing to these feelings.


Building SVCF as a unique global philanthropic enterprise, seeing it thrive, and watching other community foundations begin to model its approach has been incredibly rewarding and a true honor.  I believe that SVCF’s future remains incredibly bright and that its best years are still ahead.  As for me, after 34 years of philanthropic leadership and scholarship, I look forward to taking a much needed respite before resuming a career that has been dedicated to championing social justice issues and creating an equitable society for all.