This marks the fourth year of the Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators Speaker Series, which provides a forum for Silicon Valley leaders to hear from prominent innovators from many sectors of society. It is part of the Leadership Network's variety of enrichment and networking offerings. The Series has previously presented speakers such as Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis of Georgia, Amy Dean, the founder of Working Partnerships, Betty Yee of the California Board of Equalization and Columbia University political scientist Dorian Warren. The series is generously sponsored by PG&E and individual event sponsors. For more information about sponsorships, email

2013 Series Speakers

Nov. 20
Dr. Gerard Sasges, Southeast Asia expert

Dr. Gerard Sasges' book about the lives of workers in a Vietnam undergoing historic changes in the 21st Century -- It's a living: work and life in Vietnam today -- has been praised as "beguiling in simplicity, but epic in scope."

Working Partnerships and South Bay First Thursdays, a monthly event series for those interested in Asian American and Pacific Islander issues, will host the author for a reading and discussion at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20 in the Santa Clara Valley Labor Center's Hall A, 2102 Almaden Road in San Jose (map). RSVP here.

Sasges, who was born in Canada and received his Ph.D. in history at UC Berkeley, lived in Vietnam for 10 years and based his book on more than 150 in-depth interviews with "the tea ladies, market vendors, and motorcycle taxi drivers who were a part of my every day." He is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore.

Earlier in 2013

August 29
Bobby Seale, social activist

Speed quoting documents ranging from California's gun laws to the Declaration of Independence, Bobby Seale recounted his role in America's Civil Rights Era before a crowd of more than 400 at San Jose State University on Aug. 29. The nation's central civil rights issue -- protecting the right to vote -- has remained the same since he founded the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, Seale said.

Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to internal security of the country" after it began a free breakfast program for school children.

The crowd was the largest in the four-year history of the Working Partnerships Social Innovators Speaker Series, which features prominent thinkers and doers from many sectors of society. The university's MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center partnered with Working Partnerships in hosting the event. See a slideshow of the event here. We will have video up soon.

June 27
William B. Gould IV, former NLRB chair

The United States is approaching its first Labor Day since 1935 without a functioning National Labor Relations Board to enforce its labor laws.

As regrettable as that is, said former NLRB Chair William Gould -- now a Stanford law professor -- speaking to the Working Partnerships Social Innovators Speaker Series on June 27, it's also regrettable that the labor movement is not doing all it could to stand up for the welfare of working Americans (watch a one-hour video of his talk and Q&A here).

"The labor movement is such a vital element of democracy," said Gould, appointed to the board by President Bill Clinton. "There are a number of things labor is not doing -- or should do more of."

Among them is taking advantage of his board's 1996 ruling that allows unions to provide free legal assistance to non-union workers in the midst of organizing campaigns.

"Why aren't the unions diving in there?" Gould asked. "Next time a guy has a problem at the plant -- we'll represent you in arbitration. This will drive the employers crazy. Unions haven't made use of our 1996 ruling. It's amazing. Unions should be doing this."

He also suggested following the example of the Service Employees International Union in assisting employee groups at non-union companies like Walmart to "be a listening post and perhaps -- the verdict is not yet in -- be a building block for more full-fledged organizing."

The five-member NLRB is currently not functioning because of a federal court ruling that President Barack Obama's three recess appointments to the board last year were unconstitutional, meaning there is not a quorum to do business. The U.S. Supreme Court announced earlier in June that it would hear the Obama Administration's appeal.

June 19
Energy efficiency and equity panel discussion

Working Partnerships and the American Leadership Forum -- Silicon Valley (ALF), co-chairs of the Green Pays Collaborative, hosted a panel discussion on local opportunities and challenges in California's multi-billion-dollar energy efficiency sector covering two key questions:

  • How can local communities, contractors and workers participate in the new energy efficiency programs?
  • How can we continue to advance the goals of social equity and quality job creation to ensure that all communities reap the benefits of energy efficiency investments?
The panelists included Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, Jessica Halpern-Finnerty of the Donald Vial Center on Employment in the Green Economy at UC Berkeley, Barry Cinnamon of Cinnamon Solar and an ALF senior fellow, Louise Auerhahn, associate policy director at Working Partnerships USA, and Chris Block of ALF.

Feb. 6
Author Saul Singer

American-Israeli journalist Saul Singer opened the fifth year of the Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators Speaker Series today by bemoaning the United States' reluctance to welcome immigration.

"Every other country in the world envies the United States' status as a magnet for immigrants and what that does for its economy," Singer told a luncheon audience at Working Partnerships' offices (see a slideshow of the event here).

Currently an adjunct senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem and a columnist and editorial board member of The Times of Israel, Singer is co-author of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle. The book credits Israel's welcoming immigration policies and willingness to support the assimilation of newcomers, in part, to its success in fostering more start-up companies than nations like Japan, China, India, South Korea, Canada and Great Britain.

Along with immigration, Singer credits mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces, in which junior officers call superiors by their first names and in which unit leaders can be ousted by a vote of the troops, for fostering the necessary risk-taking and entrepreneurialism necessary for the small country's high-tech success.

The Social Innovators Speaker Series is generously sponsored by PG&E, and Singer's appearance was supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

2012 Speakers

Nov. 28

The Healthy Communities Forum: Making 'mixed-use' development work

"Mixed-use" development projects -- those that combine residential and retail uses in one project -- are a key feature of the recently updated San Jose General Plan, the long-term guide for development of the city.

But what are the best strategies to facilitate successful mixed-use developments, which cluster jobs and residences within convenient reach of mass transit, so that San Jose's future growth is equitable, sustainable and healthy?

The Healthy Communities Forum on mixed-use development was a panel of developers discussing the challenges and opportunities that exist for creating successful developments and how we can make our communities economically, environmentally and socially healthier and more resilient.

Participants included Joe Head, president of SummerHill Land; Randol Mackley, senior vice president of SRS Real Estate Partners; Drew Hudacek, chief investment officer of development properties at SARES-REGIS Group; and Chris Neale, vice president of The Core Companies. A question-and-answer session followed.

The Healthy Communities Forum was organized by Working Partnerships and the Sierra Club Loma Prieta Chapter and generously supported by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

June 28:
Novelist Jody Meacham

Jody Meacham, Working Partnerships' communications coordinator, was interviewed by the Rev. Jeff Moore, president of the Silicon Valley-San Jose NAACP, about his first novel, Through the Heart of the South, a semi-autobiographical story about the first year of school integration in a small North Carolina town. They shared their common experiences of growing up in the pre-Civil Rights Era South and the issues around the end of racial segregation raised in the novel. Before joining Working Partnerships, Meacham was a journalist, including 15 years at the San Jose Mercury News. The Silicon Valley-San Jose NAACP and United Labor Bank were event sponsors.

April 22:
Author Van Jones

Comparing conservative opposition to progressive reforms that helped build a strong American middle class to greyhounds being forced to race at dog tracks, former White House adviser Van Jones told a San Jose audience April 21 that "It's time to stop chasing the bunny. You're never going to catch that bunny." Jones, author of the newly published New York Times bestseller Rebuild the Dream, told an invitation-only audience at the Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators' Speaker Series that challenging the constitutionality of federal health care reform's individual mandate is an example of conservatives running full circle around this metaphorical dog track to attack a concept they developed. The liberation of women, development of labor unions and the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s are what make America exceptional, Jones said, and it is the conservative attack on these societal changes during a recession that endanger to the prosperity of American society (see a slide show of the event). Jones' speech at the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 in downtown San Jose was the fourth event of the 2012 Social Innovators Speaker Series, which is generously sponsored by PG&E. Mike Fox Sr., the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Silicon Valley-San Jose NAACP were event sponsors.

April 3:
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo

Silicon Valley's economy is recovering strongly and leading the nation, but there needs to be more public investment in areas such as transportation infrastructure to keep the region internationally competitive, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo said April 3. Eshoo, who represents San Mateo and northern Santa Clara counties and serves as the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, spoke at the third event of the 2012 Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators Speaker Series (you can see a slideshow of the event at the United Food and Commercial Workers here). She criticized members of Congress who forced the United States to the brink of default last summer during the debate to raise the nation's debt ceiling and predicted economic and social decline if the national partisan divide can't be overcome.

Feb. 28:
Catherine Sandoval, Public Utilities Commissioner

Underspending on maintenance led to the September 2010 explosion of a natural gas pipeline in San Bruno that killed eight people, Catherine J.K. Sandoval -- the newest member of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) -- told a Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators Speakers' Series audience. CPUC rules do not require the companies it regulates to follow the budgets they submit in justifying their rate requests, Sandoval said, and PG&E had underspent the maintenance budget it filed by $140 million. "San Bruno was a game-changer for all of us," Sandoval said. "It was a signal of what could go wrong." She said that PG&E's decision to listen to and recognize union workers who warned of safety problems following a second explosion in Cupertino "hopefully shows a turnaround in the [company's] culture." Sandoval, a Los Angeles native, was a Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Stanford Law School and now is an associate professor at Santa Clara University Law School. She previously served as undersecretary and senior policy advisor for housing with the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and as director of the Office of Communications Business Opportunities for the Federal Communications Commission.

Jan. 12:
Police Chief Chris Moore

Staffing cuts and a rise in violent crime made 2011 "terrible year," San Jose Police Chief Chris Moore. But with an improved city budget situation in 2012, he believes his department will be able to hold its own in the battle to provide public safety in the nation's 10th largest city. "I need a stable police department to protect the city, and I think this year we finally get it," he told an audience at the first Working Partnerships USA Social Innovators Speaker Series event of the year. After a long run as the safest large city in the United States, San Jose has fallen in the rankings in the last two years as its police department has struggled with staffing cuts caused by large budget shortfalls. "All hell broke loose in 2011," Moore said, noting that the 41 homicides more than double the 2010 total of 21. Sixty-six police officers were laid off and the 2010-2011 department budget was cut by $30 million. Moore said he will be able to cover his department's projected budget shortfall of $2.5 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 without layoffs by simply not opening a police substation, which has been built but not staffed up. He also said the department will cut back on the use of its helicopter and its mounted horse patrols..

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