How Silicon Valley Talent Brokering Is Helping Local Cities

Spirit of America/

A major cross-sector collaboration that promotes public-private partnership projects in California’s Silicon Valley is getting $1 million in new funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to strengthen its abilities to tackle new challenges.

The Silicon Valley Talent Partnership, launched in 2012 as a joint initiative by the office of San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, is preparing to scale up and boost its visibility in the community.

“Many local governments are faced with the pressure of declining resources and increased demands for effective and responsive services for citizens,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said in Thursday’s announcement of the Knight Foundation 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 success of the partnership’s collaborations is the ability to tap the deep pool of private-sector professional talent in Silicon Valley and apply that to projects that benefit local cities. The partnership recruits companies and individuals with specific skills to volunteer their time to work on not just civic-minded projects but collaborations that also help strengthen the local business community.

GovExec State & Local spoke with Executive Director Lea King, a 30-year private-sector veteran who has worked at Cisco, AT&T and General Electric, about some of the projects the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership is working on and how the new funding from the Knight Foundation will help her organization continue to thrive.

Silicon Valley Talent Partnership Executive Director Lea King (Photo by Nathan Ngo)

GovExec State & Local: How will the new funding from the Knight Foundation help develop and enhance the partnership?

King: We have been awarded a $1 million, three-year grant. The grant is very specific. We have to fundraise as well. So within the first 12 months we have to match the first year’s grant. And the grant is also very strategic. It allows us to hire staff. And it allows us to move into our own independent space. Right now, I’m very much, as the executive director, running [the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership] as a startup. Some people run [startups] out of their garages, I’ve been given pro bono space by [San Jose] Mayor Reed’s office in city hall. So that’s a temporary arrangement.

With the funding, I will also be hiring professional staff . . . Right now the organization is just myself with some help from interns. And with that, we’ve been able to accomplish a lot. I’ve been supported by a very wonderful and very active board of directors as well as a senior advisory council. It’s a 20-person council of city leaders from the city of San Jose, the city of Santa Clara and also the city of Fremont, as well as business leaders across Silicon Valley.

And with support from these 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. Once I’m able to find organizations who are willing to help out. . . . The interesting thing is that companies see this as a way to engage their employees. Companies typically around the fall, they think about the homeless, they think about doing something together … or clean up a park. I consider those labor-based volunteer opportunities. We’re not about that.

We are about getting employees to reach their fullest potential to use their professional talent. So we have programmers, we have CFOs in fact, heads of finance, heads of accounting [who are] volunteering.

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, a gentleman by the name of Paul DuCharme, who was actually was the expert in succession planning because he’s done it for IBM, he’s done it for Cisco, he’s done it for Lockheed Martin.

WATCH: Paul DuCharme discusses his experience with the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership

So it’s this type of talent that we’re actually brokering. We’re much more about brokering or matchmaking. At Silicon Valley Talent Partnership, we actually provide project management. So in all the projects that we create or partnerships we create, we product-manage from beginning to end so that projects are delivered on time and expectations are met. At the end it has to be a win-win. The volunteers have to feel satisfied that their talent is being used. We believe that talent has a shelf life. It’s just like milk and eggs. If someone says “I can only volunteer in the summer when I don’t have to transport my children.” We want to be able to harvest that and put that to use for the cities they care about.

For some folks and some companies, they’re in San Jose and they would prefer to work on projects in San Jose. For others, they don’t mind as long as it’s in Silicon Valley. For others, they want projects that they’re passionate about, like local parks. They want to work for parks and recreation. So we are able to match the need with the talent and literally create partnerships.

GovExec State & Local: It seems like the 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 very focused on the talent aspect.

King: Correct. These projects really span beyond innovation projects. I can point to completely different projects. One of the projects we went into a deep-dive on today is the San Jose summer reading program. Historically, that was a program was completely paper based. It’s been a program that’s been in existence for 40 years … where young mothers would bring their children into the library and they’d get something like a Bingo card. And when a kid reads for 20 mins a day, the next time they go into library they get a sticker. It’s a program that children and parents love.

But come on, we’re in Silicon Valley. Give me an app, right? How about give me three apps, right? An iPhone one, an Android one, a web interface. And why limit it to children? Why not encourage young adults or adults to read?

So we brought together a team of volunteers from eBay. One of the lead volunteers, his daughter actually uses the library’s summer reading program so he was personally passionate about it and they worked on it for four months. They donated 400 pro bono hours and they developed the most amazing program.

They signed up more than 1,000 people on the apps. That’s just unheard of.

When you talk about scaling, [the Knight Foundation funding] gives us the opportunity to go to other cities. I took this example, created a case study and I went to talk to the city librarian in the city of Santa Clara. She said “I want it. If you can help us find that talent, whether it’s this team or another team, that would be a dream come true.”

In fact, they want to inject additional components. They want the children to consider doing a good deed a day during the summer. They want to incorporate healthy eating.

So as you can see, it’s not all innovation based although because we’re in Silicon Valley, it should be. We should incorporate innovation components.

We have projects that are completely marketing and branding related. We have lawyers who are able to contribute their time. We have financial experts who are able to create financial dashboards for parks and recreation.

GovExec State & Local: In some parts of the country, innovation-centric cross-sector collaborations are very new and some local partners are sometimes hesitant to embrace them at first. That doesn’t seems like a huge problem in San Jose and Silicon Valley. How has this partnership been received thus far?

King: I think when you look at our board composition, it has been completely strategic. We have five board members. The mayor is the chairman of the board. And Carl Guardino, who is the CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which is a consortium of the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley at the CEO level. He is our founding board member and also the president of Silicon Valley Talent Partnership. He is able to activate on the company side, basically what I call the supply-side of talent. He’s able to convince the companies.

It doesn’t take too much convincing. 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.

I’m not experience pushback. The only thing I need really is what the Knight Foundation is coming up with. I need to be able to scale myself. I need to be able to hire people.

GovExec State & Local: Do you have any specific new projects scoped out yet? What are some of your priorities?

King: One of the my biggest priorities is helping the region, not only the city of San Jose, solving the problem of the homeless. … Basically we’re helping on two fronts.

One is we rallying the private sector to help us with technical talent. We want to create a food app. There are a lot of good Samaritans who are cooking and bringing food to the parks to feed the homeless. There are a lot of nonprofits who do just that. But just as how the summer library reading program was a paper-based program, it’s the same thing. All of their services are on paper-based directories. We want to be able to use an app to literally bring together the entire ecosystem . . . on hygiene, how they can find jobs, how they get get mentors, how they can get food, how they can get shelter.

A second one which I believe in is helping them to help themselves and actually trying to work on the employment front for the homeless.

A segment of the homeless population is employable. They need training, they need job-readiness training. And if they were a laid-off worker who wants to get into a new trade, once they’re trained, they need to be assured that they’ll get a job.

This is where Carl Guardino from the Silicon Valley Leadership Group … his entire membership plays a critical role. He’s personally very passionate about supporting the homeless. He’s convinced the entire leadership group of companies to say “This is going to be a top priority for us.”

Not a single company will stand up and say “We’ll own it.” But as a community, if someone would rally and create programs, I know they will support it.

There’s a very interesting project called Small Business Ignite. Basically, San Jose wants to help small businesses succeed. Small businesses need training. They need mentoring. They don’t have time, they don’t have the resources. And basically, we were able to rally Ernst & Young to come together to not only provide a one-time training. Ernst & Young has agreed to participate in a one-year program where they provide tech planning, legal planning, business planning.

We recruited HootSuite to provide social-media training. So small companies can learn how to use Twitter to improve customer service, to create demand, to use social media for business reasons.

We’re planning on pairing the small businesses so that a Stage 1 company—meaning they have a concept, they’ve got a beta product—they can be mentored by another small business who’s more stable and more successful. In exchange, the more mature small-business client would then get mentoring from the larger companies. So truly, it’s train the trainer and we’re allowing this type of collaboration and mentoring to thrive in Silicon Valley.

WATCH: San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed discusses the Silicon Valley Talent Partnership

Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

(Image via Spirit of America/


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