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Channeling Business Leadership into Civic Impact: HBS Alumni and the City of San Francisco

By: Elaine MacDonald 11 Aug 2017

For 30 years, HBS Association of Northern California’s Community Partners has mobilized more than 800 Bay Area alumni to help over 300 non-profit organizations through pro bono consulting engagements and brainstorming sessions. – from the Exploratorium, to #YesWeCode, to the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.  Recently, HBS Community Partners has witnessed 

HBS Association of Northern California Community Partners has recently witnessed widespread alumni interest in volunteering their business skills and expertise not just to non-profits, but also to local government.

Notably, an outpouring of Bay Area alumni have been eager to volunteer recently their time and talent for the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation.   San Francisco was the first city to establish a Chief Innovation Officer with the objective to champion new ideas, tools, and approaches in city government through leveraging the enormous innovation talent of the private sector.  San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath, upon hearing of HBS Community Partners contributing alumni consulting teams to the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks and the San Francisco Department of Environment in recent years, asked for help in refining his own agency’s mission, values, and framework for delivering action.  A six-person HBS alumni team mobilized into action, working collaboratively with City departments and resulted in a well-received presentation to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and a framework that is being used today.

Nath remarked, “We are so proud of our strategic partnership with HBS Community Partners. Working with them was transformational for our team. They are trusted advisors and helped us craft a coherent strategic plan that charted us on a more focused, impactful and accountable course.”  

This relationship spawned further engagements with the city of San Francisco in 2016.  An alumni team is currently helping the San Francisco Public Library envision the future role of the library given the increasing digitization of assets.  Another team is partnering with the San Francisco Department of Public Works to define processes and metrics to improve the quality of life one neighborhood at a time.  Yet another team brainstormed with the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation on how to best address the city’s growing digital divide.  Furthermore, John Peters, HBS ’87, was asked to speak last November at a City-sponsored fireside chat forum on best practices for public private partnerships, alongside Google and Bloomberg representatives, based on the work he had contributed through Community Partners.

A total of almost 50 Bay Area alumni from 2013-2016 have offered their business talent to San Francisco local government agencies through Community Partners consulting and brainstorming pro bono engagements.  And more alumni will have the chance to engage with City of San Francisco in the future, with additional projects slated for the remainder of 2017 and 2018. 

Elaine MacDonald, MBA 1998, is the Executive Director of Community Partners of the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California.