Anyone who has been in San Francisco for more than a day knows that the City is rapidly changing. It is both a point of pride in terms of expansion and innovation for San Francisco as well as a hard pill to swallow for those having difficulty recognizing the City they call home. Within any given conversation, people are noticing, critiquing, even crafting false narratives about what is changing, how change is happening, and who are the proponents (or culprits) of change. These conversations—about the change, expansion, and identity of San Francisco—have become everyday occurrences among San Franciscans as they see their city grow more modern each day, yet, for some, a place they no longer recognize.
In my short time at sf.citi, I noticed my coworkers having those same conversations. They have grappled with identifying who their audience has grown into and how their members’ needs have changed. They face the challenge of how to best serve their membership and the broader San Francisco community. And they confront how they can be more adaptable to a changing view of the tech industry.
Similarly, sf.citi members are asking themselves: For what reasons are we based in San Francisco? At what cost? To whom? And how do we navigate the social and political crossroads that characterize San Francisco?
Through my Coro Fellowship, I have had access to various sectors in public affairs, such as city and state government, private philanthropy, and nonprofits. In these past four weeks at sf.citi, I have had an eye-opening experience learning about the equally complex situations going on in the tech sector, including the sometimes contentious relationship between San Francisco’s tech industry and its residents; the shifting of responsibility from City government to tech companies to resolve social challenges; and the varied sentiments among tech companies about how they will conduct business (and what they consider that to be) in the City.
However, I do not view those existential questions as an indication of the seemingly crushing pressure of uncertainty and an invitation to be nostalgic over what existed in the past. Instead, I think of this time of change for tech and San Francisco as an opportunity to think about what the future will be. Who will lead the future? For what reasons? With whom? About what issues and to what extent?
Thus, it is only right that discussions around these questions involve the tech industry—an industry that is known for questioning the status quo and pushing the needle forward. The acceptance of risk, trial and error, and innovation will be some of the many tools that help build a San Francisco that everyone can see themselves belonging to and call home.
I believe that many people in the tech industry have good intentions about the role they can play in shaping San Francisco. I have no doubt that the tech industry has the potential to be a force for good in our local communities, but knowing how to do that may be the biggest hurdle. To kickstart some ideas, tech companies have the tools, resources, and innovative mentality to:
- Provide and integrate communities with the technological infrastructure to equip people to succeed in the digital 21st century.
- Invest in underserved communities of color, social economic backgrounds, and overlooked areas of San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.
- Recruit and hire a more diverse workforce consisting of women, people of color, formerly incarcerated individuals, among others.
- Lead the business sector in institutionalizing gender and racial/ethnic pay equity across all departments.
Nevertheless, common wisdom tells us that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Let that saying be what holds tech companies accountable to the decisions they make, who it is they believe their products and presence are benefiting, and how they choose to engage with San Francisco and its residents. Don’t intend to be a force for good. Be it in all that you do.
Katherine Stubbs is a Fellow in Coro Northern California’s Fellowship in Public Affairs, a full-time graduate level fellowship for aspiring leaders in public affairs. Over the course of nine months, Fellows complete one-month placements in nonprofit, government, labor, political campaigns, and businesses—all with the goal of learning how each sector functions and interacts with the others.
In February 2020, Katherine came to sf.citi as a Research Consultant for her business placement and worked on projects related to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), sf.citi’s SF Politics 101 guide to San Francisco government, and sf.citi’s Lunch and Learn series. To conclude her learning at sf.citi, she wrote a blog to express her thoughts about the transition San Francisco is currently undergoing along with the opportunity it presents the City to determine its future through action and accountability.