Simon Pivots to Social Justice
Rachel Simon would be the first to admit she was blessed by the circumstances of her birth.
Her father is Herbert “Herb” Simon, the Indianapolis-based real-estate billionaire (and owner of the Indiana Pacers!), and her mother is Diane Meyer Simon, the notable political and environmental activist who founded Global Green, U.S.A.
Her father, Simon says, gave his kids “just enough room to make our own way, but was always there to instill the most important core values.”
Diane Meyer Simon was an active figure in the populist progressivism of the early Kennedy era. “My mom was just, you know, this super-cool woman, she worked for Bobby Kennedy and had all these awesome stories,” Simon says. “She was an environmental activist and so a lot of my interests probably followed from watching her do her work. [My parents are] both extremely engaged in the community and politically active. So, I mean, I lucked out. We all did.”
Together, Simon says, her parents created in her “a very environmentally conscious and progressive thinker.”
That progressive thinker is now leading the second generation of philanthropy at the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, based in Indianapolis, but with a regional and even global reach focusing on the environment, education, art and culture, and issues of social justice and sustainability.
As lucky as Simon is to have cool parents with a desire to give back to their communities and the means to do it, she is also grateful for the gifts that come with being the daughter of two distinct regions that are integral to the country’s cultural fabric – the American Midwest and the American Riviera.
Simon was born in Indianapolis and spent a good part of her childhood as a Hoosier, before her parents took up primary residence in Montecito. She returned to Indianapolis to attend the Herron School of Art and Design in the early 2000s. She majored in painting, something she laments she doesn’t find enough time for these days, and stayed in Indianapolis upon graduating.
Simons says she loves the seasons and close-knit community there, but admits that California and Montecito are never far from her mind. Montecito had a familiar small-town feel as her early childhood, and yet the West Coast opened her cultural horizons and helped hone a keen interest in climate and sustainability.
“As much as Indianapolis raised me, Montecito raised me,” she says. “If I hadn’t spent so much time in California, I definitely wouldn’t think the way I think, and wouldn’t be aware of the things I’m aware of… the social issues that are the forefront of the brain.”
As director of the Herbert Simon Family Foundation, Simon is bringing her diverse geographic and cultural influences together as she leads the foundation into a new decade brimming with urgent challenges, especially related to climate change, sustainability, and social justice. Simon says the foundation has just finished a strategic planning session that will keep its philosophy intact but will focus efforts more directly in some key areas.
“We are still focused on the environment, arts and culture, and basic needs,” she says, “but social justice will be its own impact area.”
She says the foundation will also work to sharpen its mission and message, especially working with grassroots, community-based organizations. “You know, you can support the education and then you can support equity in education. You can support the environment and then you can support environmental justice, and depending on how you tailor your focus, it could be in a bunch of different areas,” says Simon. “The intersectionality of [environmental and social justice] is so important for people to recognize right now.”
Getting back to parental influences, Simon says she’s “a huge basketball fan” but she won’t give her love to the Lakers, even though she attended USC, just down the road from Staples Center, for a couple years. That’s understandable as Simon is active with Indiana Pacers Foundation. For the Pacers, she has love, for the Lakers, it is “respect.”
Hey, we can live with that, after all, love and respect is what it’s all really about and that, in the end, seems like Simon’s true inheritance.
“Speaking of my parents, one of the most important things that they taught us was that we were so blessed and so fortunate… Every day that I work on foundation work, I feel grateful and blessed that I have the opportunity to give back because of the hard work of my parents. So, it’s an awesome responsibility that I’m grateful for.”
Santa Barbara Foundation
Vice President, Philanthropic Services: Tammy Johnson
What We Do
For over 92 years, the Santa Barbara Foundation has been a catalyst for change. We analyze issues to identify challenges that burden people every day in Santa Barbara County. We convene community stakeholders to build coalitions and partner with nonprofits and other leaders working on the front lines. Together, we chart a direction and mobilize people like you to support the dynamic initiatives that makes this a better place, now and for generations to come.
Begin to Build a Relationship
We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s director of development and/or Executive Director.
The Foundation is the “community living room,” a place where donors, community members, and leaders of its business, nonprofit, education, and civic sectors can gather, “to discuss and problem solve. Collaboration is layered into everything we do.
LEADERSHIP IN ACTION
The Santa Barbara Foundation leads the effort to bring people and resources together to work for large scale, sustainable improvements in the community. We do that by facilitating dialogue among stakeholders- business leaders, government representatives, leaders of nonprofit organizations, residents and funders who want to create positive change. We look for the chance to form strategic partnerships to leverage our collective strengths and maximize the power of our donor’s dollars. Because we do extensive research into the greatest needs of the community and the people who deliver services, we are positioned to champion specific causes and organizations. We then advocate for the funding to transform innovative ideas into reality. Learn more about our work within the community.
There are approximately 1,900 nonprofits in Santa Barbara County. Even the most diligent donor would find it daunting to try to learn about all of them and vet their work. In partnering with the Santa Barbara Foundation, donors can be assured that we award our grants through a rigorous process of research, planning, due diligence and evaluation. We work to identify and prioritize critical needs for strategic grantmaking requiring special focus and additional organizational resources. Once funded, we monitor and evaluate these initiatives for impact. We are committed to working with providers to maximize their effectiveness. Learn more about our grantmaking.
PARTNERS IN PHILANTHROPY
We are grateful that for more than 90 years the people of Santa Barbara County have trusted us to steward their charitable assets. Our team of philanthropic advisors help donors navigate the logistics of giving, and work with them to create a customized plan that aligns with their goals. As a community foundation, we have a responsibility to expand financial capital by reaching out to individuals and institutions to raise funds. We are committed to pooling our collective resources with those of forward-thinking funders to build scalable solutions. The Santa Barbara Foundation invites and encourages all donors, contributing all size donations, to join us. Learn more and become a Partner in Philanthropy.
SUPPORTING THE SOCIAL SECTOR
The Santa Barbara Foundation believes a healthy, high-achieving, creative social sector enables our county to fulfill its potential. To help make our nonprofits stronger and more resilient, we share knowledge through a series of capacity building workshops, leadership development, and technical assistance programs. We engage with practitioners to develop successful approaches for improved outcomes in the community. We connect them with funders and other nonprofits to make their efforts more powerful. Since this can be a demanding line of work, we recognize and reward hard work and excellence of those working in the social sector. Learn more about the Collaboration for Social Impact.