I had the privilege of attending what Van Jones called his “last unvetted speech” last night. Van spoke to a crowd of friends of the Presidio School of Management at a private event attended by about 200 people. He had to leave the venue early to go home and pack – he’s got a red eye Sunday night and he reports for duty Monday morning at the White House in his new role as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. This is a crowd that that regards him as a hero – he received a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth.
On the one hand, his message is something those of us that are in the sustainability movement have heard a million times before: there is an enormous challenge ahead, we need systemic change, and we have the tools to make it happen. It’s a speech I could give in my sleep if I were that charismatic, but alas, charm like that seems to come along once or twice in a generation. At one point in the speech, hallway chatter filtered into the venue and with a snap of his wrist and a wave of his finger, Jones sent an audience member to quiet them down. When the person left, I assumed that it was a member of his staff, and only upon the gentleman’s return from his duty did I realize it was my Capital Markets TA. When Van Jones speaks, people listen, gladly. He told us his best hope was that the “green MBA” would become obsolete because there won’t be any MBA programs that teach people to do things that are mean and stupid – and of course we lapped it up.
Jones has the ability to craft a sound bite that puts it all together for you – even if you’ve heard it all before. He challenged the audience to remember that we needed to pursue systematic societal changes because if we didn’t we’d end up with biofuel bombers and solar tanks. The planet would be all dead, but at least it would be temperate! We need systematic changes.
When asked to describe his first hundred days on the job in the white house, he reminded us that for the first time since 1993 he’d have a boss. “You don’t get to go into the white house and tell them you’ve got a plan. My first 2 weeks are orientation to learn about the plans that are already in motion and then we start talking about a work plan, because, as they tell me, any ideas I might have right now are either redundant or illegal.”
I left the venue feeling as if the stars had aligned and this time in our lives, this desperate life changing challenge, could only be met with these courageous, brilliant, charismatic leaders, Obama and Jones. I felt so proud to have them on my team – to have them working for the causes that I also fight for. I have hope and faith that we can create change, and really save the world. That’s the brilliance of this speaker – he really believes it and he has the passion and the love to make his audience believe they have the keys to change.