After six fruitful years, Carol Littlejohn Chang is stepping down as Chair of the Balboa Park Conservancy Board of Trustees, having served two full terms in that capacity. Her tenure on the Conservancy Board, which began as founding Vice Chair, saw the creation of the Balboa Park Conservancy as the public-private partner of the City of San Diego to support the city in the care, enhancement and vision of Balboa Park. Her leadership continued through the successful merger with the 93-year-old nonprofit Balboa Park Central, the development of a professional Conservancy staff, the launch of important initiatives to activate the park’s public spaces and enhance its horticulture, and the building of many productive partnerships.
Chang’s professional career spanned 30 years in health care planning and organizational behavior. After she retired from UC San Francisco as Associate Dean for Administration and Clinics, School of Dentistry, she moved to San Diego where she began an active role in the community as a volunteer leader. In addition to serving as the Conservancy’s Board Chair, she served as president or chair on the boards of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, San Diego Women’s Foundation, and UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, and she currently serves as the Chair of the UC San Diego Foundation Board of Trustees.
While continuing to sit on the board as immediate past president, Chang completes her tenure as Board Chair with the organization on solid footing and poised for continued success.
Of the many things the Conservancy has accomplished during your time as Board Chair, what are you most proud of?
Those of us involved over the past 10 years, going back to the first Balboa Park task groups, have had the privilege of actually “creating an organization” and have served as active players in its growth. Eight years later, due to the efforts of a terrific group of board colleagues, a visionary CEO, and creative, dedicated staff, the Conservancy now has a solid foundation from which to grow. That makes me feel extraordinarily proud and humbled to have been a part of this “birthing process” from the very beginning.
You’ve served on and chaired many nonprofit boards throughout the San Diego community. What distinguishes the Balboa Park Conservancy Board from some of the others?
The chance to create something from just an idea or a vision has been really fun and gratifying. Typically, those of us who serve on boards move into an already formed “community.” With the Conservancy, we were given an opportunity to create the organization from the ground up and develop that “community” together.
How did you first discover and get involved in Balboa Park?
When I first moved to San Diego in 1996 from San Francisco, I thought I was moving to a cultural desert. But my husband and I started going to the Old Globe, which was really quite wonderful. Of course, it was in this gorgeous setting, so we immediately became Globe subscribers and are still supporters to this day. And then after my husband served on the Fleet board for three years, I was invited to join in 2004 and got very involved, staying on the board until last year. The Fleet really captured my imagination. I’ve done some work for the zoo as well. And through all that, I became somewhat known in the park, so my name came up to sit on the first task force that eventually led to the formation of the Conservancy.
What was your biggest lesson while serving as Board Chair?
Patience. In a public park owned by a city and with many, many already established support groups, starting a conservancy—intended to partner with the city and park entities to expand, enhance, and help to manage the whole of the park—could not and cannot be done quickly.
What would be your advice to the person replacing you as Board Chair?
Keep a sense of perspective in terms of timeline and scope of work and keep a very good sense of humor. I’m confident our incoming Chair, Joyce Gattas, can do that.
What will be your focus as you continue to serve on the Board of Trustees as Immediate Past Chair?
My primary focus will be to support Joyce as a voice in the background as needed, particularly in the arena of the political environment in which we live.
Where do you see the Conservancy, and Balboa Park as a whole, in five years?
Peering into my crystal ball: I see an established organization that is viewed as the city’s partner and major advocate for Balboa Park and its growth and enhancement. It will be seen by other park stakeholders as the go-to organization for support and leadership. Working together with other park entities and stakeholders, we will have created a botanical renaissance with Balboa Park becoming a horticultural destination, offering a rich variety of garden experiences throughout the park’s terrain. These visitor experiences will be enhanced by a robust group of trained volunteers and docents. Together with our park colleagues, we will have addressed the issues of park accessibility and wayfinding; we will have grown substantially the ways and means to maximize earned income within the park; and we will have been successful in finally developing dedicated funding from public and private sources to start the growth of an operating pool and an endowment earmarked for Balboa Park maintenance and enhancement.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about your time as Board Chair?
One of the real joys of this whole journey, in addition to being part of creating this organization from the start, is working with an incredible group of colleagues. We’ve worked well together, and it’s been really fun to play a role in shaping this group to be effective as an organization. Our board received the Kaleidoscope Award for Exceptional Governance from the University of San Diego in 2017 for showing extraordinary board leadership. And that board leadership was the board. We all came to the table to lead this effort. Our secret was that we all kept our eyes on the prize. We’re doing this for the park and not for any other reason. That’s the theme and thread that has run through this work the entire time.