Private Leadership for Public Good

“This is Just What You Do in Chicago”

James Glerum, a board member of the Civic Consulting Alliance, said this early in the session called “Corporate Community Engagement in Chicago: Commitment and Results”, which talked about private sector contribution, and cross-sector collaboration in addressing pressing social issues.

The Alliance brings together pro-bono teams of consultants and experts from different sectors. The session focused on a case study of their partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago, transforming the colleges and reinventing them for the 21st century.

I have previously read about the Alliance, and have been very much looking forward to their participation in this session. Both a board member (Glerum) and a staff member (Brian Fabes, a project manager) spoke, in addition to representatives of Accenture and KPMG, who participate in the Alliance’s efforts.

The Alliance representatives spoke about how they tapped in to Chicago’s long-standing culture of giving back, corporate leadership, and the imperative of collaborating with the organizations you’re helping, not just imposing solutions from the top down. Michael Scimo of Accenture built on this, talking about the value to business beyond social good, of building human capital, the business environment, and helping their employees grow as well.

This session also touches on the evolving role of public sector leadership. Cheryl Hyman, the President of City Colleges of Chicago, is as innovative and entrepreneurial as any successful private sector CEO. Her approach, working with the Alliance, is a departure from how education reform has happened in the past.

Another comment that resonated with me, from Terry Mazany of the Chicago Community Trust, is that these problems are ‘bigger than any single organization can take on’. It speaks to the importance of involving everyone – the organizations directly involved, along with the private sector, government, and other leaders, in addressing social issues.

The question then becomes, how do you best foster, or harness, this culture and use it for the greater good? The Chicago model would seem to be:

1. Figure Out Your Corporate Culture
Do you have a culture of giving back? Who are your business leaders, and what do they like to engage in? What are companies looking for? Do they want to give money, time, or do they want to add value beyond that?

2. Build True Partnerships
The CCA and public organizations truly work hand-in-hand. It’s not about top-down solutions, or fixes imposed from outside. Consultants and public leaders engage in long-term collaborative processes to improve the public good.

3. Change Takes Time
The CCA projects are long-term, over a period of years. It’s easy to get distracted as there are always new issues commanding attention, but they recognize that you have to stay focused, and implement change in a long, continuous process.

Every city is different, but the lessons from Chicago will go a long way everywhere.

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