The Bay Area is getting a rough rap lately. As tech entrepreneurs assume an ever larger role in the social heartbeat of the most expensive city in the country, much has been written about the widening gap between the rich and everyone else. Recklessly insensitive comments by some of these tech leaders have been highly unhelpful, casting a cold, arrogant image on San Francisco’s tech elite and creating distrust and resentment between the haves and have nots.
For example, if you’ve got a few moments, read this blog detailing some atrocious poppycock from the mouths of CEOs. If you don’t have a few moments, here’s a quick lowlight, thanks to one CEO with either a severely damaged ego or a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease:
"The difference is in other cosmopolitan cities, the lower part of society keep to themselves. They sell small trinkets, beg coyly, stay quiet, and generally stay out of your way. They realize it's a privilege to be in the civilized part of town and view themselves as guests. And that's okay.
In downtown SF the degenerates gather like hyenas, spit, urinate, taunt you, sell drugs, get rowdy, they act like they own the center of the city. Like it's their place of leisure... In actuality it's the business district for one of the wealthiest cities in the USA. It is a disgrace. I don't even feel safe walking down the sidewalk without planning out my walking path.
You can preach compassion, equality, and be the biggest lover in the world, but there is an area of town for degenerates and an area of town for the working class. There is nothing positive gained from having them so close to us. It's a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I'd consider thinking different, but the crazy toothless lady who kicks everyone that gets too close to her cardboard box hasn't made anyone's life better in a while."
Another leading light called for those in technology to "build an opt-in society, outside the US, run by technology." He believes that "We need to run the experiment, to show what a society run by Silicon Valley looks like without affecting anyone who wants to live under the Paper Belt (i.e., government.)”
Let me just add this note to the discussion about San Francisco’s civic dissension: it doesn’t have to be this way.
Many if not most of the companies headquartered in the Bay Area have heart to spare. Corporate philanthropy is an important priority for the leading businesses in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. But, if you’re listening, tech giants and leaders in the Bay Area, now’s the time to get public about your good works. Otherwise, your community impact isn’t going to be the positive kind you obviously have in mind.
Forget about checkbook philanthropy. And I’m not talking about cause marketing, either. My prescription is to beef up your employee volunteer and giving programs and make sure they’re an efficient and well organized part of your business.
They say that employees are your company’s best brand ambassadors. Right now, according to Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer Survey, CEOs are less trusted than employees. I’m just guessing that this is probably nowhere more true than in the Bay Area. So now’s the time to make personal connections with your community, and you do that by getting your employees to glance up from their phones for a few hours and put them out into the world as emissaries of good will through public acts of giving back.
And for those commanders who are waging a fierce war for talent in that city on a bay, keep in mind that robust corporate giving and philanthropy programs are not distractions; they’re critical enhancements for attracting the best and the brightest. If you want to lure Millennials, in particular, you’d better win their hearts as well as their minds. And you’ve got to have heart to win hearts.
Beyond the corporate benefits of smart CSR, let’s talk about thinking big when it comes to giving back. I don’t mean to minimize the complexities of entrenched social issues, but don’t you think that with all the intellectual horsepower contained in such a small geographical area, at least some of San Francisco’s problems could be nuked into oblivion if there was more focus, coordination and creativity? For starters, tech leaders, how about applying dedicated, state of the art technology to your civic good works to magnify your impact? You of all people should understand the critical advantage that the right technology brings, so stop relying on in-house workaround solutions, or worse yet, disparate solutions, or - gasp - even low-tech spreadsheets to manage your volunteer and giving programs. You’re not taking your potential seriously if you’re not investing in the right tools to accomplish any serious victories.
Imagine the possibilities. With the immense financial resources, sophisticated and caring human capital, and future-forward cultures of the many global giants in the Bay Area, leading companies (and even smaller but determined companies) could push themselves to actually own a cause and - dare I say - solve it. Or at least make a serious dent. It sounds pie in the sky, but, then, once upon a time so did most of the business plans that made their way to Sand Hill Road.
Sure, there’s lots of amazing individual philanthropy that goes on, often quietly, by a large and growing group of the tech elite. The city really does have heart. But why wait until you cash out before you give back? Think about it: the biggest asset you have at your disposal is not your individual dollars, it’s the compassion and creativity of your employees. And that's a benefit that, if applied smartly, will not only help the community in which you and your family live, it will also improve your company.
So, my dear tech friends, just remember that it’s not enough to steer corporate social responsibility from your gleaming offices in the C-Suite. Get your employees engaged in service and out in front of the folks in your community. Forge connections, cement relationships and change the discussion from elitism to engagement. Give your program administrators and employees the kind of modern tools that shows them you mean business and the sky’s the limit when it comes to changing the world, starting with your own backyard. Your employees will feel more inspired, your community will feel appreciative instead of abused, and your company will position itself as a part of a new San Francisco solution, not just part the problem.