With the passing of Warren Hellman last month, a classic generation of San Francisco philanthropic business leaders came to an end, leaving a major void.
Those who worked with those philanthropists understood they did it all because they loved San Francisco’s unique atmosphere; were grateful for what The City contributed to their success; and took immense satisfaction in putting together ongoing projects that emerged as much-appreciated parts of local life.
Mayor Ed Lee has done a remarkable job of cultivating a new generation of local benefactors to carry on the tradition. Today, with venture capitalist Ron Conway and tech industry leaders, Lee is announcing the formation of a new civic organization focused on improving The City, creating jobs and engaging all citizens to improve San Francisco.
It is a hopeful sign that Lee is willing to put out the welcome mat for high-tech philanthropists who are creative, visionary, driven and fiscally sophisticated. In an interview with The San Francisco Examiner last week, Lee listed Conway, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and CEO Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com as a few leaders of a new generation of
Lee said he would reach out to locally based tech industry leaders and make a case for their civic generosity. More importantly, he made it clear that he sees this as a two-way process, with The City actively helping San Francisco-based companies to successfully grow without needing to leave town to save money or stay afloat.
Lee specifically pledged to pursue wider reforms to The City’s payroll tax, so local businesses will no longer be at a disadvantage against competitors in neighboring cities. Any city policy that puts San Francisco businesses at a competitive disadvantage should now be getting a hard second look.
Cultivating businesses that are willing participants in civic life is often frowned upon in this city. But as we have learned, these businesses save programs, initiate new ones and come to the aid of struggling nonprofits.
Lee was often criticized during his mayoral campaign for not having a long-term vision for San Francisco.
However, in a year, he has created an environment that has given rise to a new crop of benefactors with innovative ideas to tackle government inefficiencies and quality-of-life issues, as well as simply plugging the hole of lost dollars as we face cuts from the federal and state government.
The mayor has tough budget decisions in the year ahead, and if he can save programs and services with these philanthropic partnerships, San Francisco will be a better city.