Social Innovation & Design Thinking – Recapping the Bay Area Learning Journey

Over the course of a 3-day learning journey to the San Francisco Bay Area in December, 2013, New Leadership Network members explored Social Innovation in a variety of contexts and with a number of prominent innovators across the private, public and nonprofit/philanthropic sectors. The core goal of the Learning Journey (a 3-day trip to a new community occurring between each NLN cohort’s first and third weekend convenings) was to expose our Network of cross-sector San Joaquin Valley leaders to innovative people, ideas and social change models that they will be able to adapt and apply to their organizations and community. Topics included innovation at the intersection of sectors, innovation in government, housing & food, design thinking, and the future of philanthropy.

Below follows a photo essay to recap our trip:


The James Irvine Foundation: Our trip began with a meeting at the James Irvine Foundation offices in San Francisco, to meet with the Foundation’s CEO and VP and the New Leadership Network’s program officer, and explore how funding efforts can continue to make a difference in the San Joaquin Valley.

IMG_1377Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation: Bill Draper, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture capitalists and Christy Chin of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation generously met with our Network to discuss the future of philanthropy.


Stanford Design School: A visit to one of the premier design incubators in the world, the Stanford Design School, opened our eyes to the power of design thinking and empathy – putting yourself into someone else’s shoes – to develop innovative products and solutions that can have real impact around the world. This recent article from the New York Times expands on the potential for design thinking to solve problems for the real world.


In particular, we were struck by the Design Cycle (right), a simple yet profound process that can be applied an nearly any sense-making and solution-making process to tackle wicked problems: 1. Begin with empathy, 2. Define the problem, 3. Ideate (brainstorm) possible options, 4. Prototype the best options, 5. Test the prototypes with real customers/consumers, 6. Take the information you’ve gathered and repeat the cycle.

Social Venture Partners Silicon Valley: Meeting with Lance Fors, Board Chair of Social Venture Partners, and Nancy Heinen, Social Venture Partners Silicon Valley Board Chair, was one of the highlights of our trip. Our minds were buzzing about how to bring a culture of philanthropy and potentially an SVP chapter to Fresno.


Fuse Corps and the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation: Within a conference room of San Francisco’s beautiful City Hall, we had a panel discussion with Lenny, Fuse Corps Board Chair and Co-Founder of McKinsey’s Public Sector Practice, Jennifer Anastasoff, CEO of Fuse Corps, Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Francisco, and three amazing Fuse Corps Fellows. Over lunch, we explored interesting new ways that governments can collaborate with other sectors and innovate while operating in a bureaucratic environment.


Smallify Innovation Workshop: With the insights we gathered to this point in the Learning Journey, we were led through an innovation workshop with Smallify to define the core systemic issues that pervade the San Joaquin Valley, and ideate possible prototypes to bring back to the community.


Delancey Street: We were blessed with a long visit over dinner from Mimi Silbert, Founder of Delancey Street, the country’s leading residential self-help organization for substance abusers and non-violent ex-convicts. She reminded us of the importance of community in the truest sense of the word – “The only way to live is in unity.”


Tenderloin Supportive Housing Tour: The next morning, we were guided on a walking tour of the Tenderloin Supportive Housing network by James Tracy of Community Housing Partnership. This experience helped us descend from our bird’s eye view and become re-rooted to the great work and great challenges evident each and every day on the ground of major cities across the country.


San Francisco Federal ReserveA panel discussion with key members of the Community Affairs Department of the San Francisco Federal Reserve allowed us to dive deep into “What Works for America’s Communities” and this case study on the Las Vegas Healthy Communities Coalition (LVHCC), a collective impact network that is struggling to move forward after launching nearly 2 years ago.

As an aside, my estimation is that the LVHCC network’s key downfall is a lack of trust between members – the network organizers likely didn’t spend nearly enough time up-front building the relationships and a shared understanding of each others’ internal context (why they do what they do, who they are as a real person, etc.) before moving into goals & actions. In short, they didn’t take the time up front to build a true community of relationships and go slow to go fast – now they seem to be paying the consequences.

IMG_1436 To see human-centered design-thinking in action, we were taken on a tour of global design firm This conversation with IDEO founder David Kelley sheds light on how design-thinking applies to virtually everything, and how everyone is creative at their core.

IMG_1445Revolution Foods: We wrapped up our Learning Journey with a tour of Revolution Foods, an organization that creates healthy, fresh, real food for schools and families across the country, to dive into the business model of a B-Corp that is seeking to make a profit and a positive impact simultaneously.

A sincere thank you to all of our wonderful hosts who took time out of their busy schedules to meet with our Network of civic leaders. We are buzzing with ideas to bring back to the community, and cannot wait to reconvene in late January to continue moving emerging innovations and collaborations forward for the positive evolution of Fresno County and the San Joaquin Valley.

by David Ehrlichman, Systems Director of the New Leadership Network, with contributions by Heather McLeod Grant and David Sawyer

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