Our Story

After more than 50 years of community service in the San Diego region, leading to honors including “Mr. San Diego” and “Philanthropist of the Year,” Malin Burnham founded the Burnham Center for Community Advancement (BCCA) in 2021. Malin had a clear purpose when creating BCCA: create a platform that would bring people together to move our community forward, driving positive impacts big and small, for the betterment of the entire region’s quality of life.

Seeing our nation succumb to the nation’s polarization and the impact of the global pandemic, Malin believed it was time for the community to put aside differences and work together to solve the pressing issues we all face. As our founder and current board chair, Malin views his work with the organization as some of his most important, a culmination of his life-long commitment to civic engagement. 

After a substantial commitment of time and resources to launch BCCA, and after hearing the resoundingly positive community response to having such an institution in our region, Malin and his wife Roberta announced a generous $20 million investment to secure the long-term success of the organization for years to come. Malin sees BCCA as the embodiment of his motto “Community Before Self” and, with this gift in April 2023, has now ensured this community resource will continue well beyond his lifetime.

Some of our early successes include co-leading the efforts to secure the designation of San Diego and Tijuana as World Design Capital 2024, which will have a significant economic and cultural impact on the region, and showcase our design and innovation prowess on the international stage. We researched and published a community report outlining the governance and fiscal challenges to the long-term sustainability of Balboa Park and offered recommendations for solving those challenges. Other early focus areas include housing affordability, rebuilding community fabric, and spreading prosperity and opportunity to more communities in our region.

Our Founder

Image courtesy of the PastPerfect Museum.

Born in San Diego in 1927, Malin Burnham was the first in his family to graduate from college. Growing up in the San Diego neighborhood of Point Loma, Malin developed a strong interest and talent in competitive sailing. It was through sailing as a young man that Malin cemented the seven virtues that would steer his life moving forward: commitment, dedication, hard work, teamwork, follow through, playing by the rules, and planning ahead. These values are now on the doorway to the San Diego Yacht Club Junior Sailing building. After becoming the youngest skipper ever to win a world championship in the international star class at the age of 17, Malin continued sailing for his alma mater, Stanford University, where he graduated with a B.A. in Industrial Engineering. 

After graduation, Malin entered his grandfather’s real estate firm, John Burnham & Company, and dedicated his time to growing the family business. During his time as Chairman of John Burnham & Co. Insurance and Burnham Real Estate from 1949 to 2008, and as a board member until 2022, Malin’s work in the commercial real estate industry significantly shaped the development of the San Diego region. In 2008, Burnham Real Estate was acquired by Cushman & Wakefield.

Becoming Mr. San Diego

Image courtesy of the National Sailing Hall of Fame & Museum, Inc.

Living a life of integrity and purposeful giving, Malin became involved with many organizations and civic groups over the years, knowing that only by working in collaboration could goals be achieved. Malin preaches teamwork at every opportunity, no matter what the endeavor. Here are just a few of his achievements:

As a world-recognized sailor, Malin was enthusiastically involved in the America's Cup and the San Diego Yacht Club for nearly three decades. Determined to return the America’s Cup—the world’s oldest international competition—to a U.S. sailing team and club, Malin led the effort to do so, winning the cup in 1987. After winning the cup the San Diego Yacht Club has since hosted the event three times (1988, 1992, 1998). Being a sports enthusiast, Malin was previously part-owner of the San Diego Sockers and San Diego Padres and was also involved with the early efforts of envisioning a new downtown ballpark.

Image courtesy of the USS Midway Museum.

Malin was the visionary and one of the leading voices in bringing the USS Midway aircraft carrier to San Diego and developing it into a museum. As of 2015, the USS Midway was the most popular naval warship museum in the United States, welcoming over 1 million annual visitors since 2022 and generating an estimated economic impact of $54.5M to the San Diego region. In 2013, Malin was recognized with the Midway American Patriot Award for exemplifying the finest of American ideals through his community involvement and achievements.

Malin has been a consistent supporter of our region’s higher education institutions. His donations and service to the California State University at San Marcos, the University of San Diego, San Diego State University, and UC San Diego have contributed to the development of each institution's education, research, and community engagement missions. In 2019, Malin and his wife Roberta announced a $2.3 million leadership gift to The Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate within the University of San Diego School of Business to support scholarship students, faculty, and the general mission of the center. Most recently, in 2022, Malin and Roberta committed a $3 million gift to support UC San Diego's first downtown campus building at Park & Market. 

Malin has served on boards and committees across sectors in San Diego for decades, co-founding over a dozen organizations that benefit the community. Organizations include the Downtown San Diego Partnership, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, United Way of San Diego County, San Diego Taxpayers Association, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation, YMCA, The San Diego Foundation, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Research Institute, Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, Kyoto Prize Symposium Organization, San Diego International Sports Council, San Diego Hall of Champions, UC San Diego's Rady School of Management, and the Institute of the Americas. For his continuous civic and philanthropic efforts, Malin has been awarded many honors, such as the Junior Achievement/San Diego Business Hall of Fame, Philanthropist of the Year, National Society of Fund-Raising Executives, Civic Entrepreneur of the Year, Mr. San Diego, and Rotary Club of San Diego.

Beyond his many accomplishments and accolades, Malin views the development of the next generation of civic leaders as among his most important work. His mentorship of countless business and community leaders over the years will pay dividends in the San Diego region for decades to come.

Since our founding, Malin’s vision of turning ideas into action has come true. Through the application of transformative and future-focused ideas stemming from an array of community members, BCCA is upholding the ideals of collaboration, community partnership, diversity, and innovative thinking as we work towards a thriving, better San Diego. Our efforts represent a long-term investment in promoting future-focused ideas through evidence-based solutions and community discourse. We are honored to carry on Malin’s tradition of tireless dedication and commitment towards our San Diego region. Community Forward. Together.