High-Tech Firms Help Silicon Valley Meet Community Needs

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Silicon Valley High-Tech firms

August 8, 2014; Government Executive, “State & Local”

Government Executive reports on a classic public-private partnership—a cross-sector collaboration in Silicon Valley that is getting $1 million in new funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Silicon Valley Talent Partnership was launched in 2012 as a joint initiative by San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. It is now preparing to scale up and boost its visibility. The idea is to harness the formidable power of the tech industry to help the public sector succeed.

“Many local governments are faced with the pressure of declining resources and increased demands for effective and responsive services for citizens,” Mayor Reed said in announcing the funding. “The vision of the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership is to leverage Silicon Valley’s talent to assist public-sector agencies and enhance their capacity to innovate.”

The article reports that the partnership aims to tap the pool of private-sector professional talent in Silicon Valley and apply that to projects that benefit local cities. It recruits companies and individuals with specific skills to volunteer their time to work on civic-minded projects.

Government Executive’s State & Local section interviewed Executive Director Lea King about some of the projects the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership is working on and how the new funding helps. Some excerpts:

“Within the first 12 months we have to match the first year’s grant. And the grant is also very strategic…. Right now, I’m running [the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership] as a startup. With the funding, I will also be hiring professional staff…with support from [various civic] organizations, I work with them to discuss their challenges, what are some of the projects that they absolutely need or either don’t have the talent or funding to do.

“They give me their wish list and I will work with the private sector to shop for talent…. Companies see this as a way to engage their employees. We are about getting employees to reach their fullest potential to use their professional talent. For one particular project we’re in the city of San Jose. They needed advisors in building a succession plan for the city. They needed HR experts who know about succession planning. So I was able to recruit the head of HR from a company called Apigee…”

GovExec’s State & Local points out that “talent brokering is the key element in this partnership. There are other cross-sector collaborations that are focused on innovation in different parts of the country but this seems very focused on the talent aspect.”

King gave the publication another example: the San Jose summer reading program—historically paper-based for 40 years—where young mothers would bring their children into the library. Three apps were developed to bring the program current, which also encouraged kids and young adults to read. A team of volunteers donated 400 pro bono hours to develop the program. She said that the Knight Foundation funding gives her the opportunity to go to other cities.

The publication asked about the challenges confronting innovation-centric cross-sector collaborations, where local partners are sometimes hesitant to embrace them. King says the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership took a strategic approach to building its board, which includes the mayor as chairman and the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which is a consortium of the biggest tech companies:

“I believe Silicon Valley is unique because companies compete, but at the same time they also collaborate. Corporate social responsibility is really top of mind for many CEOs in Silicon Valley. So you can package this as an opportunity for teams of engineers, teams of marketing folks to come together for three months at a time to help parks and recreation to create a fundraising event or something.”

Homelessness is the next big challenge the Partnership has set its sights on, looking at such ideas as a food app for food donators and creating job opportunities for the employable homeless. Another goal is to help small businesses succeed with training and mentoring; they recruited HootSuite to provide social-media training.—Larry Kaplan