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How One Pioneering US Grad School is Plowing New Ground to Grow Strong Leaders

One of this year’s Meeting of the Minds themes is “reinventing public/private partnerships.” And one question on the table for discussion: what do the partnerships need to look like in order to succeed in fostering smarter, more connected communities? In fact, in a recent post on May 29th, one particular question was highlighted as a promising area for collective inquiry: how can collaborative partnerships speed the development of a new broadband-centric economy?

A key element to bringing citizens, private enterprise, and the public sector together, especially in public-private projects is the presence of forward-thinking leaders to rally the players. That’s one of the roles performed by the annual Meeting of the Minds. One way that the sponsors, including Cisco, Toyota, Schneider Electric, Phillips, and the Lincoln Institute, lead is by bringing together diverse groups of professionals from many sectors. We’re thrilled this year to also bring an influx of new leaders who come to the table with real multidisciplinary skills and a definitive cross-sector vision to contribute. This desire to keep the professional pipeline wide open for a new generation of practitioners and thought leaders is why Presidio Graduate School has such a strong presence as one of our sponsors. For those who aren’t familiar with this fast-growing institution, Presidio was founded in 2003 by noted ad executive and environmentalist Richard M. Gray as the first graduate school to offer MBAs with a tailored focus on sustainable management. In just nine years, the school has gone from 22 MBA students at its inception to now boasting more than 700 graduates of both MBA and MPA programs in Sustainable Management. Many of these graduates have started exciting new sustainability-oriented businesses or have taken challenging roles at some of our country’s most innovative firms. Presidio’s current president, author and environmental justice lawyer William Shutkin, will be on stage at the 2012 Meeting of the Minds.

Nowhere was the Presidio Graduate School philosophy on better display than at its recent Capstone Venture Showcase. Teams of soon-to-be graduates presented their final projects, several of which placed in major business school case study competitions and are now being implemented as businesses or policy projects after graduation, to an audience of more than 700 people. Presidio’s philosophy aligns directly with many of the ideas that drive the 2012 Meeting of the Minds; that to be successful systematically, we need to focus on the active convergence of disciplines such as business, urban development, social impact, sustainable product design, and finance that factors in system “externalities.” This is an integrated vision of success.

Leaders have been struggling for more than a few years with resilience challenges, especially as the economy has tightened. But enterprises aren’t the only ones looking for new leadership that’s well matched to the times. The public sector’s approach to resiliency is also being reinvented, in part due to the pressures of the marketplace, and in part due to the search for breakthroughs. One of the most interesting white papers from Cisco IBSG, Architecting Resilience: Perspectives from Public Sector Leaders, reported on the results of a round of interviews with local, state and national government officials, some of whom are appointed and some elected. The results were impressive. One conclusion I personally drew from the underlying interviews (a few of which I conducted) is related to the Presidio story:  we need to get serious about training next-gen leaders in ways that are quite different than the approaches taken when my generation were getting trained and schooled.

The scholar-practitioners who design and teach Presidio’s curriculum invest enormous time and energy in advancing approaches to business and public administration. Their focus is on breaking down traditional silos between sectors and disciplines. Presidio is helping their students become multi-lingual across these intellectual divides, often through intense collaborative exercises that allow students of diverse areas of expertise to work closely. Gee -- that sounds a lot like the Meeting of the Minds agenda!

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