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At BSR, San Jose Mayor Praises Corporate Focus on the Homeless in Wealthy Silicon Valley

Dave Armon headshotWords by Dave Armon
Community Engagement
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Many of the world’s largest tech giants call Silicon Valley home, but more than 9,000 people find themselves homeless in Santa Clara County each night.   

“At a time of such prosperity, that’s a point of shame for all of us,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told 700 business leaders Wednesday at the annual conference for the nonprofit Business of Social Responsibility (BSR).

The two-term Democrat lauded San Jose as a center of innovation that expands beyond tech to include fruit cocktail and Eggo frozen waffles.

The BSR audience erupted into applause when Liccardo called out Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins for starting a trend when the San Jose-based networking giant committed $50 million to end homelessness in Santa Clara County in five years.

“I’m grateful that he really started what has been an incredible wave of corporate commitments since,” said Liccardo, adding that Silicon Valley Housing Trust is putting the funding to work.

Other companies that have donated tens of millions of dollars to affordable-housing initiatives in the notoriously pricey Bay Area include Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Salesforce. 

While acknowledging “there’s no app to solve homelessness,” the mayor gave an enthusiastic review to several technology platforms leveraging their ability to reach an at-risk urban population:

  • Mastercard’s “Cash for Trash” platform gives people who tidy up city homeless encampments a card loaded with money to buy food and living necessities. “We’re grateful to Mastercard for stepping up,” said Liccardo.
  • IBM worked with the city of San Jose’s housing department to develop an online rent registry to track whether rental prices are compliant with city rent control policies. 
  • eBay is helping high school students make smart decisions to increase the likelihood they will attend college.  A pilot project, San Jose Promise, deposits virtual scholarship dollars that can convert to actual college scholarships. Incentives work better than lectures, said the mayor.
  • Airbnb’s “Open Homes” disaster response program was launched in San Jose, allowing those displaced by flooding in San Jose to stay in vacant rental units.  Similar work is under way to address the growing issue of college homelessness, said Liccardo.

Also at BSR, a new survey revealing a dramatic rise in companies that cite climate change as a “very significant” sustainability focus, 52 percent in 2019 versus 14 percent last year.  Beyond climate change top focus areas are ethics and integrity, and diversity and inclusion, according to the State of Sustainable Business in 2019, produced by BSR and GlobeScan.

In her commentary about the research, BSR Chief Operating Officer Laura Gitman said CSR has matured significantly since the inaugural research study in 2008. 

“It would have been inconceivable (in 2008) for influential corporate leaders and major investors to engage in a very public, candid, and existential conversation questioning the future viability of capitalism, the foundation of our economic and social systems for the past three centuries,” Gitman said. 

“We see influential CEOs declaring that ‘capitalism as we know it is dead’ and calling for a new capitalism that values purpose alongside profit. The CEOs of the Business Roundtable have essentially called for a redefinition of the purpose of a corporation, embracing a form of ‘conscious capitalism’ in which the need to deliver value to all stakeholders has surpassed the previously unchallenged primacy of shareholders,” she continued.

Photo credit of San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo: Dave Armon

Dave Armon headshotDave Armon

Dave Armon is the Chief Executive Officer of 3BL Media, which publishes CR Magazine, produces the 3BL Forum, ranks the 100 Best Corporate Citizens and runs 3BL Association. A former journalist, Dave spent 20 years in management at PR Newswire, where he was president and COO.  

Read more stories by Dave Armon

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