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Bennett Peji

Meet Designer-in-Residence Bennett Peji

Meet Designer-in-Residence Bennett Peji

Meet Designer-in-Residence Bennett Peji

When Bennett Peji was asked to join The Design Lab as a Designer-in-Residence, he immediately said yes. “It was a natural fit,” he explains. “The Design Lab is composed of so many talented people, both in leadership and in its students, who have tremendous technical abilities, but also a big heart for using that expertise for the greater good.” Peji works with the Community team at The Design Lab, working on ways to define what it means for San Diego to be a global city. He is the Chief Innovation Officer at several businesses and Chairman of California Humanities. “Seeing us all collectively as being a very unique region in the world is one distinguishing factor in developing the opportunities that we have here. My role is to be a connector and a bridge builder to organizations who are like-minded. Like-minded in terms of seeing our region holistically and working for more ways to collaborate and create greater economic opportunities and access.”

Bennett Peji

As a passionate advocate for inclusive community development through design thinking, Peji describes himself as ‘a community impact executive.’ “I am specifically focused on finding ways for voices to be heard that are typically not heard in the mainstream,” he explains. After studying a combination of math and fine arts at UCSD, and then earning a degree in Graphic Design from SDSU, Peji founded a community-centered design firm in San Diego, Bennett Peji Design, where his personal tagline is not the traditional touchstone in design of ‘form follows function,’ but rather, ‘form follows culture.’ “My belief from when I began 30 years ago was that function is critical, but designing to function must be preceded by understanding culture, our shared values, and discovering the individual ways that we look at the world. It has to be relevant to people, right? Otherwise, it’s just function in the lens of the inventor or designer, as opposed to the actual users,” he explains. “Until we bring in folks who don’t look or sound or see the world like we do, we will never have a truly diverse perspective and an innovative lens on the problem.” His focus is on understanding the unique communities his projects serve by weaving together the places, businesses and people in the built environment. “My work is focused on community building with a high level of community engagement and collaboration.”

This focus has made Peji a critical part of San Diego’s design community for three decades. He has seen the city’s growth first-hand, but it is the remaining gaps that continue to be his source of motivation. “San Diego has certainly grown economically in the innovation sector, but at the same time, there are communities, especially communities of color, who have not had the opportunity to join that growth,” Peji explains. “Recognizing that we have to find a way to get all San Diegans to benefit from economic prosperity and economic growth is a very important issue to me.”

Peji’s long-standing philosophy is simple, “You see a need, you fill it. Then you scale up that solution.” As the former Vice President at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, he did just that by co-founding the city’s first Business Accelerator focused on low-income, founders of color. The 4-month intensive program is focused on mentoring the businesses with the guiding understanding that talent exists in every community and will prosper when provided deep knowledge and control of their own financial future. “It was also a privilege to work in Southeastern San Diego, which are historically our region’s most underserved neighborhoods,” Peji says. “We have really profound conversations that provide us all greater insights into the systemic issues. It makes us more aware of the work we have to do to try to first build trust, and then work to undo a lot of those barriers.”

Peji’s core business mission through design thinking is deeply personal. He was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States when he was just two years old. His family lived in Logan Heights and Clairemont—the type of areas Peji now strives to embolden with an understanding of how to navigate the bi-cultural balance between “fitting in enough to get work and start businesses and survive; while knowing that we have a responsibility to pass along our heritage to the next generation and not be the cultural end of the line.”

This led Peji to see another gap in the community he wanted to fill. He and his wife, Lilia, helped design the first and only school dedicated to Filipino heritage in San Diego for entrepreneur Tony Olaes. Peji explains that The Filipino School, located in Mira Mesa, is “Filipino-modern, so that our kids and our kids’ kids can find relevance in their Filipino culture.” The school creates documentary films, animated movies, teaches Filipino language, culture, history, food, political empowerment, business and financial literacy to all ages. “It creates an inspirational environment where generational knowledge can be shared, and generation gaps can be closed.”

Peji is a walking example of practicing what he preaches in order to present San Diego as a unique, diverse, global city. He emphasizes that it is not enough to just be welcoming. We must be truly inclusive. “The real work is to include and empower the folks who have never been to the table, who don’t think and act and see the world the way we do, so that we can all have a more profound way of looking at the problems.” To do this, Peji has not been afraid to be the one swimming upstream. “We all have to find our way in this world called America and do the best we can. But since I’ve been on this journey for so long now, it has become so clear that it is not about assimilating [but instead] finding your own voice and expressing your own unique and distinct identity.”

When Bennett Peji was asked to join The Design Lab as a Designer-in-Residence, he immediately said yes. “It was a natural fit,” he explains. “The Design Lab is composed of so many talented people, both in leadership and in its students, who have tremendous technical abilities, but also a big heart for using that expertise for the greater good.” Peji works with the Community team at The Design Lab, working on ways to define what it means for San Diego to be a global city. He is the Chief Innovation Officer at several businesses and Chairman of California Humanities. “Seeing us all collectively as being a very unique region in the world is one distinguishing factor in developing the opportunities that we have here. My role is to be a connector and a bridge builder to organizations who are like-minded. Like-minded in terms of seeing our region holistically and working for more ways to collaborate and create greater economic opportunities and access.”

Bennett Peji

As a passionate advocate for inclusive community development through design thinking, Peji describes himself as ‘a community impact executive.’ “I am specifically focused on finding ways for voices to be heard that are typically not heard in the mainstream,” he explains. After studying a combination of math and fine arts at UCSD, and then earning a degree in Graphic Design from SDSU, Peji founded a community-centered design firm in San Diego, Bennett Peji Design, where his personal tagline is not the traditional touchstone in design of ‘form follows function,’ but rather, ‘form follows culture.’ “My belief from when I began 30 years ago was that function is critical, but designing to function must be preceded by understanding culture, our shared values, and discovering the individual ways that we look at the world. It has to be relevant to people, right? Otherwise, it’s just function in the lens of the inventor or designer, as opposed to the actual users,” he explains. “Until we bring in folks who don’t look or sound or see the world like we do, we will never have a truly diverse perspective and an innovative lens on the problem.” His focus is on understanding the unique communities his projects serve by weaving together the places, businesses and people in the built environment. “My work is focused on community building with a high level of community engagement and collaboration.”

This focus has made Peji a critical part of San Diego’s design community for three decades. He has seen the city’s growth first-hand, but it is the remaining gaps that continue to be his source of motivation. “San Diego has certainly grown economically in the innovation sector, but at the same time, there are communities, especially communities of color, who have not had the opportunity to join that growth,” Peji explains. “Recognizing that we have to find a way to get all San Diegans to benefit from economic prosperity and economic growth is a very important issue to me.”

Peji’s long-standing philosophy is simple, “You see a need, you fill it. Then you scale up that solution.” As the former Vice President at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, he did just that by co-founding the city’s first Business Accelerator focused on low-income, founders of color. The 4-month intensive program is focused on mentoring the businesses with the guiding understanding that talent exists in every community and will prosper when provided deep knowledge and control of their own financial future. “It was also a privilege to work in Southeastern San Diego, which are historically our region’s most underserved neighborhoods,” Peji says. “We have really profound conversations that provide us all greater insights into the systemic issues. It makes us more aware of the work we have to do to try to first build trust, and then work to undo a lot of those barriers.”

Peji’s core business mission through design thinking is deeply personal. He was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States when he was just two years old. His family lived in Logan Heights and Clairemont—the type of areas Peji now strives to embolden with an understanding of how to navigate the bi-cultural balance between “fitting in enough to get work and start businesses and survive; while knowing that we have a responsibility to pass along our heritage to the next generation and not be the cultural end of the line.”

This led Peji to see another gap in the community he wanted to fill. He and his wife, Lilia, helped design the first and only school dedicated to Filipino heritage in San Diego for entrepreneur Tony Olaes. Peji explains that The Filipino School, located in Mira Mesa, is “Filipino-modern, so that our kids and our kids’ kids can find relevance in their Filipino culture.” The school creates documentary films, animated movies, teaches Filipino language, culture, history, food, political empowerment, business and financial literacy to all ages. “It creates an inspirational environment where generational knowledge can be shared, and generation gaps can be closed.”

Peji is a walking example of practicing what he preaches in order to present San Diego as a unique, diverse, global city. He emphasizes that it is not enough to just be welcoming. We must be truly inclusive. “The real work is to include and empower the folks who have never been to the table, who don’t think and act and see the world the way we do, so that we can all have a more profound way of looking at the problems.” To do this, Peji has not been afraid to be the one swimming upstream. “We all have to find our way in this world called America and do the best we can. But since I’ve been on this journey for so long now, it has become so clear that it is not about assimilating [but instead] finding your own voice and expressing your own unique and distinct identity.”

When Bennett Peji was asked to join The Design Lab as a Designer-in-Residence, he immediately said yes. “It was a natural fit,” he explains. “The Design Lab is composed of so many talented people, both in leadership and in its students, who have tremendous technical abilities, but also a big heart for using that expertise for the greater good.” Peji works with the Community team at The Design Lab, working on ways to define what it means for San Diego to be a global city. He is the Chief Innovation Officer at several businesses and Chairman of California Humanities. “Seeing us all collectively as being a very unique region in the world is one distinguishing factor in developing the opportunities that we have here. My role is to be a connector and a bridge builder to organizations who are like-minded. Like-minded in terms of seeing our region holistically and working for more ways to collaborate and create greater economic opportunities and access.”

Bennett Peji

As a passionate advocate for inclusive community development through design thinking, Peji describes himself as ‘a community impact executive.’ “I am specifically focused on finding ways for voices to be heard that are typically not heard in the mainstream,” he explains. After studying a combination of math and fine arts at UCSD, and then earning a degree in Graphic Design from SDSU, Peji founded a community-centered design firm in San Diego, Bennett Peji Design, where his personal tagline is not the traditional touchstone in design of ‘form follows function,’ but rather, ‘form follows culture.’ “My belief from when I began 30 years ago was that function is critical, but designing to function must be preceded by understanding culture, our shared values, and discovering the individual ways that we look at the world. It has to be relevant to people, right? Otherwise, it’s just function in the lens of the inventor or designer, as opposed to the actual users,” he explains. “Until we bring in folks who don’t look or sound or see the world like we do, we will never have a truly diverse perspective and an innovative lens on the problem.” His focus is on understanding the unique communities his projects serve by weaving together the places, businesses and people in the built environment. “My work is focused on community building with a high level of community engagement and collaboration.”

This focus has made Peji a critical part of San Diego’s design community for three decades. He has seen the city’s growth first-hand, but it is the remaining gaps that continue to be his source of motivation. “San Diego has certainly grown economically in the innovation sector, but at the same time, there are communities, especially communities of color, who have not had the opportunity to join that growth,” Peji explains. “Recognizing that we have to find a way to get all San Diegans to benefit from economic prosperity and economic growth is a very important issue to me.”

Peji’s long-standing philosophy is simple, “You see a need, you fill it. Then you scale up that solution.” As the former Vice President at the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, he did just that by co-founding the city’s first Business Accelerator focused on low-income, founders of color. The 4-month intensive program is focused on mentoring the businesses with the guiding understanding that talent exists in every community and will prosper when provided deep knowledge and control of their own financial future. “It was also a privilege to work in Southeastern San Diego, which are historically our region’s most underserved neighborhoods,” Peji says. “We have really profound conversations that provide us all greater insights into the systemic issues. It makes us more aware of the work we have to do to try to first build trust, and then work to undo a lot of those barriers.”

Peji’s core business mission through design thinking is deeply personal. He was born in Manila, Philippines, and immigrated to the United States when he was just two years old. His family lived in Logan Heights and Clairemont—the type of areas Peji now strives to embolden with an understanding of how to navigate the bi-cultural balance between “fitting in enough to get work and start businesses and survive; while knowing that we have a responsibility to pass along our heritage to the next generation and not be the cultural end of the line.”

This led Peji to see another gap in the community he wanted to fill. He and his wife, Lilia, helped design the first and only school dedicated to Filipino heritage in San Diego for entrepreneur Tony Olaes. Peji explains that The Filipino School, located in Mira Mesa, is “Filipino-modern, so that our kids and our kids’ kids can find relevance in their Filipino culture.” The school creates documentary films, animated movies, teaches Filipino language, culture, history, food, political empowerment, business and financial literacy to all ages. “It creates an inspirational environment where generational knowledge can be shared, and generation gaps can be closed.”

Peji is a walking example of practicing what he preaches in order to present San Diego as a unique, diverse, global city. He emphasizes that it is not enough to just be welcoming. We must be truly inclusive. “The real work is to include and empower the folks who have never been to the table, who don’t think and act and see the world the way we do, so that we can all have a more profound way of looking at the problems.” To do this, Peji has not been afraid to be the one swimming upstream. “We all have to find our way in this world called America and do the best we can. But since I’ve been on this journey for so long now, it has become so clear that it is not about assimilating [but instead] finding your own voice and expressing your own unique and distinct identity.”

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