Understanding Our Transborder Economy and the Binational Community That Makes It Possible

Catalyst’s Do the Work series invites you to a whole new level of learning this summer, as we center the voices and work of residents and stakeholders while exploring the issues and areas impacting our region.

Building a more in-depth exploration of the themes highlighted during All In, Catalyst’s 2021 conference, we are carving out a full day every month to immerse in conversation with funder colleagues and community leaders. On June 24, our first Do The Work stop will be in San Ysidro. We’ve got you covered with a primer to get caught up to speed on this important yet at times overlooked area of San Diego:

The CaliBaja Megaregion, which includes San Diego and Imperial counties on the U.S. side and the municipalities of Baja California in Mexico, is home to seven million inhabitants. It encompasses the largest integrated economic zone along the border, with a regional gross domestic product of $250 billion and $70 billion in cross-border trade flows. Our binational region is an economic powerhouse, with people, goods, and money flowing both ways across the border. Strong institutions and robust infrastructure benefit people and businesses in both countries. And in the middle of it all lies San Ysidro, a border community facing complex challenges, but which is also uniquely positioned for high impact philanthropic investment.

A small (under three square miles) but densely populated community home to approximately 50,000 San Diegans, San Ysidro is officially part of the city of San Diego—a fact which often comes as a surprise to both San Ysidro residents and other longtime residents of the city. Multiple factors, including its physical separation from San Diego’s urban core by the independent cities of National City and Chula Vista and an outsized impact of federal immigration and border policies on the lives and livelihoods of residents, have left this vital binational community known as the forgotten city of San Diego. The result is a legacy of historic disinvestment in the people and businesses sitting at the crossroads of the busiest land-border crossing in the world. Not merely a passing through point, San Ysidro is a vibrant community with a rich history, fully immersed in a binational and bicultural way of life. It is a place where families live and reunite and where businesses are beginning to thrive once again following COVID-19 travel restrictions.

When speaking at Catalyst’s All In conference in 2021, Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that San Diego doesn’t always see itself as a border town, while other cities across the U.S. southern border have fully embraced that role. And this is to our region’s detriment. Wells and the San Ysidro Chamber have worked extensively with stakeholders to outline investments needed to support the resilience and success of local businesses, bring transportation and other infrastructure up to speed, beautify public spaces, and quantify critical data for future advocacy and planning. And yet, many proposed plans benefiting San Ysidro and the border region languish, lacking the funds and broad political will needed to execute them.

At the same time, our environment recognizes no national borders. Pollution flowing from the Tijuana River harms our shared ecosystem and puts both people and wildlife at risk. Being close to border entry points also poses particular risk to San Ysidro residents, who are disproportionately exposed to air and other forms of pollution from idling vehicles and trade-related commercial trucking.

So why should funders take a closer look at San Ysidro and our communities on both sides of the border? As the devastating border closures at the height of the pandemic threw into stark relief: our people, our health and safety, and our livelihoods are profoundly interconnected. We rise in success together, and we all pay the price when our community members lack the resources and support services they need to thrive. The region also represents an exceptional opportunity to work with community members who are the real experts on challenges at the border and the strategies needed to overcome them. Here, funders can play a key role in building robust supports for our binational community. Infrastructure, public policy, health and safety net services, education, immigrant rights, racial equity, and environmental justice are all major issues at play in San Ysidro and our border region.

Join us on June 24th to learn how philanthropy and impact investors can catalyze change in a binational context while uplifting leaders of our local border communities to spearhead advocacy efforts and implement solutions.