Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tech group announces effort to tackle San Francisco problems

Dec 20, 2013, 5:47pm PST Silicon Valley Business Journal,

Patrick Hoge
Reporter-San Francisco Business Times

Mayor Ed Lee in 2011 with supporter Ron Conway, the famed early stage technology investor who subsequently launched San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology and Innovation. Known as, the group is an association mostly of tech companies that has been actively working to address longstanding problems in the city.

Following a call by Mayor Ed Lee for tech companies to give back to the city,, the new and influential association of San Francisco technology companies led by investor Ron Conway, announced several initiatives Thursday night aimed at tackling city problems, including the need for affordable housing, education and jobs.

Formally called "San Francisco Citizens for Technology and Innovation," the non-profit organization said in a press release that it will form and spearhead three committees in collaboration with the urban planning group SPUR, the Salesforce.comFoundation, the San Francisco Unified School District, Mayor Lee and members of the Board of Supervisors. The committees are set to begin meeting in early January.

The move comes after a Monday meeting organized by with Lee's support that was hosted by Salesforce (NYSE: CRM), a gathering at which Lee urged officials from numerous technology companies to step up their philanthropic and civic engagement efforts. That gathering came amid increasing resentment against San Francisco's tech boom and recent publicity over one entrepreneur's harsh commentary on Facebook about homeless and poor people in the central city.

"More than ever, the industry as a whole is ready to roll up its sleeves and work together on

issues impacting all San Franciscans and to make sure our city’s economic success reaches all of our residents and neighborhoods," Conway was quoted saying in the press release.

The new committees announced will seek to advocate for affordable housing development, increased philanthropic efforts and social responsibility within the tech community, and the building of a local jobs pipeline that will expand technical education programs for San Francisco students.

SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf has agreed to lead the affordable housing committee, and plans to invite housing advocates, real estate and housing development interests to join as well.

"As someone who participated in Monday's meeting, I was not only impressed but inspired to see that the tech community understands the opportunity we have in front of us,” Metcalf said in a prepared statement. "I am honored to help play a role in bringing together interests from multiple sectors to help craft tangible solutions to the housing predicament in San Francisco.” Foundation President Suzanne DiBianca, meanwhile, will lead the philanthropy committee, which will seek to help tech companies establish foundations and engage their employees in local volunteer efforts.

Salesforce's foundation is powered by the company's model of integrated philanthropy, which commits 1 percent of the corporation's profits, employee time and products to nonprofit community benefit programs. Other companies, including Yelp (NYSE: YELP) and Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA), have emulated Salesforce's model to varying degrees.

Since Salesforce's founding in 1999, its foundation has channeled 500,000 hours of volunteer time, distributed some $53 million in grants, and given roughly 20,000 non-profits use of Salesforce services to manage their organizations.

Finally, Laura Moran, who is chief of staff to city schools Superintendent Richard Carranza, will lead the education committee, which will aim to a local jobs pipeline, particularly for under-served populations. The pipeline as envisioned would have three stages: promoting early exposure to coding for elementary and middle school students, expanding high school information technology curricula, and creating internship and job opportunities for students at San Francisco State University.

Conway, a famously prolific and successful early stage technology investor, launched in January of 2012 in a ceremony with Mayor Lee, whom he had backed heavily in the election months earlier and for whom he rallied significant tech support.

The organization now counts 728 organizations as members, including most of the prominent technology companies headquartered in San Francisco or with satellite operations in the city such as Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), respectively. Also involved are non-tech companies, notably commercial real estate firms that have a significant interest in the city's thriving tech economy.

Prior to Thursday's announcement about its new initiatives, had already been very active in some of the same areas and others.

Last year, the organization led the campaign to pass Proposition E, which authorized a new business tax based on gross receipts rather than payroll costs, which critics said was hostile to the growth of startups and small businesses.

Among other things, it has also helped tech companies to donate used computers to community organizations that aim to spread digital skills; promoted science and technology education in schools, notably for girls; donated $50,000 to pay for internships at local technology companies for local youths; sponsored wireless Internet service in city parks; and sponsored technology initiatives to improve police and public transit services.

Patrick Hoge covers technology for the San Francisco Business Times.

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