San Francisco’s Secret Sauce – Innovation Drives Livability and Sustainability

Sep 10, 2012

Mayor Lee joins us to discuss the initiatives the City has launched to drive San Francisco’s sustainability and livability. Through the Mayor’s Innovation Office, Mayor Lee has created a special team of innovators who are working to break down the silos in city government and partner with the private sector to create jobs, create innovation zones, and enhance the livability of the city.

  • Edwin Lee, Mayor, City and County of San Francisco


Edwin Lee, Mayor of San Francisco

Good afternoon, everyone! Well, I hope before I end my remarks −which will be very brief− that we’ll have another thing to cheer about because if we’re talking about innovation, there’s innovation going on in the field in Cincinnati right now 6-3. Anyway, it’s my pleasure to join you here and thank you, Gordon and Jessie, for your wonderful leadership on the Meeting of the Minds conference. Thank you. I understand we have visitors as far away as Amsterdam, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Seattle −where I was born, by the way, and visited Vancouver a lot on the weekends. They’re all here to give comments and respond to the big question “Can innovation drive economies, help us sustain living environments, help us be a greater city and a smarter city?”

Certainly, I think we can. I’ve been embracing innovation for quite some time. In fact, I sat down with this company called Twitter two years ago and they expressed to us that they wanted to stay in the city. That got me going as the interim mayor of the city and started me dialoguing and connecting up with that Gavin Newsome was doing in Mission Bay and all the other wonderful things that we were setting up from an infrastructure side to try to help in the biotech field, the life science field and create an innovative spirit in the city. I think mayors across this country now understand, know and are dialoguing with each other about how innovation can help all of us as a country. It’s no longer just a city but I think and I will get a chance to confirm this in the months to come as the chair of the US conference of mayors task force on technology and innovation to confirm that technology and use of data and opening that data up and being freer about the way we run government and make it more collaborative, this innovative spirit is going to really impress upon all the mayors in all the great urban settings around the country to innovate their way out of this economic doldrums that we still continue to have.

In San Francisco, I embraced innovation in a big way. I made job creation innovation a part of my 17-point economic plan for the city when I first began. As I ran as mayor and started articulating, everyone was saying, “17 points? You got that many things to do?” Well, I’ve got thousands of things to do because when you make job creation your centerpiece, you’ve got to take a look at what job creation is. In San Francisco, 1,600 technology companies are located here, 225 clean tech companies, over 100 biotech companies are located here. This is why we call ourselves the innovation capital of the world. But we’re not just going to rest on those numbers. They’re here and they’re here for a purpose. They’re here because they felt San Francisco has an environment, has a calling, if you will, has a philosophical embracement of character that supports innovation. We have never considered innovation to be simply technology by itself. We’ve learned through those years that technology alone doesn’t just walk into the room and take over everything. It has to be combined with a spirit, a spirit of collaboration, of willingness and an understanding that people from all different skill sets can come in and solve problems that government has for many years done in silos.

I met with over 200 community-based organizations this morning who are part of our grantees to provide better services for our youth in San Francisco, to engage families and deal with education challenges and after-school programs, all the things that somehow in the past years, our state has abandoned and our national dialogue has abandoned. Right here in San Francisco, the community-based programs are telling me they want to embrace technology as well. They are really on the ground with our challenged youth in all the schools and after-school settings and they need technology. They need a government. They know that I’ve been with them to not only give them support by grants. We had a great conversation about capacity building in our communities, having the capacity to deliver services at a higher volume, at a greater depth and more quality. The only way you can really do it with less resources is to use technology in a collaborative way.

In many ways, we have been practicing this. You heard in the last 3 days here already, you heard from our director of the environment Melanie Nutter issues of sustainability. You heard from Jon Walton and his work in the department of technology. You heard from Jay Nath, my chief innovation officer that I put right into the mayor’s office to help me connect with all the technology companies and really identify their skill sets to help all of our 60 different departments deliver better services and to engage them in everything that we do. You heard from Liquid Space. You heard from Alexa Arena from the 5M Project. These are wonderful, wonderful examples of how we’re dialoguing. It’s not just the talk that’s doing it. We are actually finding very practical innovation, practical applications that go along with it. As Jon Walton mentioned earlier, we’ve been one of the first cities to open up our data not just to one or two companies but to the public. I think we have to have that spirit of openness to anybody who would want to use that data in any way that they can in a convenient way. The open data project for us has been, I think, one of the most important things we’ve done to encourage entrepreneurship, carry this shared economy and allow people to create from that.

We also have other programs that we’ve created as part of innovation and we’re displaying a lot of those for this month. I declared the month of the October not only as orange month because of the play on the field, but we took the opportunity to declare it as innovation month to expose a lot of our technology and a lot of our tech-savvy companies out there to help us create an atmosphere where there are open houses and they’re inviting people in to identify all the diverse things that we’re doing. At the same time, with job creation being the center part of our theme, we created platforms such as ImproveSF – an online social media platform that allows and engages crowd solutions to a lot of our government challenges that we haven’t been able to do in a single way for many, many years. We’ve opened up that dialogue online. People who are working at home or in their companies can actually spend time online through Improve SF helping us identify those things that we’re not doing well, whether it’s getting MUNI on time, finding parking spaces easier, or just having apps that allow hundreds of thousands of tourists that were here this past weekend navigate where the best restaurants, bakeries, hotels, views of Blue Angels and everybody else. Where are they best viewed from? These are wonderful applications that help our city become even more successful.

We also created another program called HireSF. That’s a platform we co-created with our partners in technology. as you know is our tech chamber of commerce. They came up with the idea after we asked them “We want to create more jobs. How do we do that?” Hire SF because a program where they merged all of their hiring onto a website that’s shared with the city of San Francisco so we can direct people to that website and get job responsibilities and job positions centralized in one place.

TechSF is another program that we created through our collaboration with the city is about training our workforce, utilizing an $8M grant from the Department of Labor as the initial source, creating education programs that are reflective of the criteria by which technology companies will hire in the next 5 years. They provided us with the kind of talent, the kind of skill sets they want and we’re turning that into curriculum with SF State and with our city colleges, to turn those into curriculum that people can use, whether they’re returning veterans or people in their mid-careers or youth going to their local colleges. The promise is they go through that curriculum through TechSF and then at the end, we have companies that have committed to hire them directly, whether they’re designers or people in marketing or customer service. So this is a wonderful collaboration.

We’re not afraid of stealing ideas as well, or borrowing ideas −that’s a better word. When the White House announced that they were going to do White House Innovation Fellows, we decided within 48 hours the mayor’s office will also do that, too. San Francisco now has innovation fellows program where we’re looking at academia −whether it’s SF State or University of Berkeley or University of San Francisco and all the other Bay Area schools around here− can then come in as innovation fellows and join me at city hall to tackle −whether it’s one year or shorter time program− to help us innovate solutions to our challenges. It’s not just the academia. We’ve actually expanded that program to include companies in San Francisco who will lend us their top staff and get paid sabbaticals to work with the mayor and/or our departments for a period of time so that they can help us use their creative juices not just when they’re at their companies but to take some time off and help us tackle some of our problems that we have yet to solve.

All of these initiatives combined together is what I wanted to let you know as our real secret sauce, besides the Giants winning. It’s our secret sauce to making sure that innovation is a key driver to the way we run government, the way we improve government, and the way we collaborate. I think one of the most important things that I want to address to all of you is that we have to have government let go of the way that they’ve been doing things. I’ve been letting go for some period of time when I realized that the government wasn’t the creator of the best ideas. They usually were the ones that created bureaucracy, had you check off and run you through the mill before we got any services done. It’s such a bureaucracy and I’ve been part of that. I’ve been quite unsatisfied with it in my 22 years of working in government. Coming to this age where we realize there is a lot of interest from our technology companies to be good citizens to help and, at the same time, to create businesses and entrepreneurial spirit as part of that open data and sharing information. We have a lot higher levels of collaboration going on in our private sector. We have a lot more collaboration with our nonprofits. I think that the role of government now is really more of a convener for all of these great relationships to be established. As we do more convening and as we understand the creative spirit that we’re trying to engage with our private sector, our academic sector, and our science sector, we realize we’re really on the way to creating a wonderful gem of San Francisco.

It’s not just happening here. It’s happening in all the other cities you’re hearing about. It’s happening in our Bay Area small cities like Fremont and Campbell. They’re picking up on this spirit and working on it at the same time. I think that our cities, because of innovation, are now being on our way to being co-creators as well as collaborators in this effort for solutions to long-standing government problems. I know that the spirit of innovation is going to be reflected in some brilliant, brilliant ideas that we get to share with all of you. Ideas and accomplishments like the ones we heard just this past week: UC San Francisco and Gladstone Institute in Mission Bay had one of our senior investigators awarded a Nobel Prize in medicine. That’s the kind of world-class ideas and innovation that’s going on. This is a wonderful time to be in San Francisco. It’s a wonderful time to not only be a great sports fan but also be a fan of innovation, of the linkages, of the understanding that innovation is a good platform, a good spirit to drive economy, drive job creation, drive more innovation out there that people can really feel that they don’t have to be in government to recreate government, that you can be in collaboration with us. I’m going to be the mayor that’s going to invite that to happen because I know at the end of it, our youth, people that work here are going to enjoy their lives more. They’re going to see a lot more sustainability. The interaction with reducing our footprint in the environment is going to be that much more solidified if we have the private sector engaged with us. I’ve always believed that government cannot be the solution-finder; it’s got to be that collaboration going on. We’ve got to just be able to open up even more and engage our public in a very creative way. This Meeting of the Minds conference is wonderful. I want to thank all of you for sharing information. We’re going to continue sharing and we’re going to continue building economy that shares with a lot more people from all classes and cultures. We’re going to re-establish and continue to re-establish our city not just as a great city in California; it’s an international city. We’ve got great contributions for the rest of the world to see. Some cities will suggest to you that what happens in their cities should stay in their cities. In San Francisco, what happens here we want the whole world to know it’s happening here. Thank you very much and congratulations!


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