Arming Boston’s next wave of civic leaders
One of the most enduring criticisms of Boston’s business community is a simple one: It’s still largely controlled by older white men.
Well, to change that dynamic, along comes . . . three older white men.
Longtime compatriots Steve Crosby, George Bachrach, and Ira Jackson are launching a nonprofit, dubbed Civic Action Project, to tutor the next generation of Boston civic leaders. Veterans of five decades of political and business campaigns, the trio now want to pass on their battle strategies. It’s time to share the secrets behind the levers of power in this town, to shift from being operators to mentors.
These Three Amigos are in their 60s or 70s, at the tail end of their careers. Crosby resigned from the state Gaming Commission last fall, retiring a bit earlier than anticipated, but not by much. Bachrach passed the baton to Elizabeth Turnbull Henry two years ago, to run the Environmental League of Massachusetts. Jackson recently left an administrative job at Brandeis and is now preparing a leadership course at Harvard.
The Civic Action Project kicks off early next month with a fellowship series, designed for graduate students in University of Massachusetts public policy programs. The project will give $5,000 stipends to at least eight students this summer; they’ll work in internships in government and private sector jobs. On Wednesdays, the project will host themed sessions to introduce the interns to local civic leaders. (Most will take place at the UMass Club, though one is scheduled at The Boston Globe, and another at the Suffolk County House of Correction.)
Perhaps more ambitious is the project’s second phase, still in development: a boot camp for promising young executives. The founders hope to get this going in the fall. Eventually, the interns and the executives will mingle, part of a gradually expanding alumni network.
For Bachrach, Crosby, and Jackson, it’s a volunteer effort, a way to give back and pay it forward. Their hope is to raise enough money for a $250,000 annual budget, potentially through a lead corporate sponsorship. So far, they’ve received nearly $100,000, in part from Eastern Bank and the Boston Foundation. (A 501(c)3 designation is in the works.) They have one staff person – administrator Judi Young – but no office yet. Much of the planning in the past three months has happened over cups of coffee in diners.
They want to build on other successful civic efforts. Two that come to mind: Eastern Bank chief executive Bob Rivers’ rallying of the troops last year to kill a ballot question that would have undone the state’s 2016 transgender rights law, and Massport’s initiative to ensure minority investors and contractors benefit from its Seaport real estate projects.
The project is an outgrowth of their work with the Commonwealth Summit, an annual event that draws civic leaders to a wooded retreat in Ashland every winter to brainstorm about the state’s big issues. When they helped start it roughly a decade ago, they knew just about everyone in the room. Now, they notice many newcomers in the mix – younger, more diverse faces.
At this point in their lives, these guys couldn’t be blamed if they moved someplace warm. So why are they roaming around Boston, cashing in their chits to line up speakers and internships instead? Younger players, they say, expend too much effort figuring out how to break into Boston’s power structure. The next generation is eager for change, armed with bold ideas. But turning those ideas into reality? That’s another story. The trio wants to give these rising leaders the strategies they need.
Knowing when to finally step off the stage can be difficult. Tougher still: grooming the right people who can replace you in the limelight.