Why Impact Matters for the SFPUC’s Social Impact Partnership Program

Last week, two common themes emerged from a convening at the SFPUC’s headquarters – how numbers matter and measuring impact.

On February 7, over 40 participants from engineering companies, construction management companies, environmental management firms, energy providers, and other professional services firms came together at the Annual Social Impact Partnership Firm Convening. The event was an opportunity to share best practices and lessons learned on how to make the most meaningful social impact.

“Our social impact partnership efforts bring together the public sector, the private sector, and community partners to deliver measurable impact in the community,” said Tracy Zhu, SFPUC Social Impact Partnerships (SIP) Program Manager.

SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. (right) welcomes firms to the Annual Social Impact Partnership Firm Convening with Deputy Director of Communications Kesinee Yip (back left), Deputy Assistant General Manager of External Affairs Yolanda Manzone (back center), and Social Impact Partnerships Program Manager Tracy Zhu (back right).

Since 2011, the SFPUC has partnered with contractors who have a strong commitment to community benefits and corporate social responsibility by embedding community benefits criteria into the agency’s request for proposals (RFP) of $5 million and above.

To date, the SFPUC has had over 76 professional services, alternative delivery, and power procurement contracts that have community benefit commitments. Over 60 firms and joint ventures and countless sub-consultants have partnered with the SFPUC on its community benefits initiatives, including launching Bayview Bistro, expanding CityWorks summer internships, graduating its very first Neurodiversity Internship cohort in 2019, and developing a construction pre-apprenticeship training program in Tuolumne County. The SFPUC has leveraged nearly $34 million in community benefits commitments to local and regional schools and nonprofits over the life of the contracts in the form of financial contributions, in-kind contributions, and volunteer hours.

SFPUC staff with social impact partner firms.

“I’m honored to be standing on the shoulders of public sector leaders,” said Zhu. “This great work of our leaders continues to hold utilities and private sector partners to a higher standard when we do business in the communities that we serve and impact. I’m lucky to work with partners at Avila Associates, Brown and Caldwell, McMillen Jacobs Associates, Parsons, Wood and many other firms who are on the cutting edge of the corporate social responsibility field.”

During the Annual Social Impact Partnership Firm Convening, the social impart partner firms were welcomed by SFPUC General Manager Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. and listened to an overview of the SFPUC’s Community Benefits Program from Juliet Ellis, SFPUC Chief Strategy Officer and Assistant General Manager of External Affairs. Attendees also celebrated highlights and accomplishments from the Social Impact Partnership Program in the past year. Attendees broke out into smaller groups based on geographic and program areas to discuss best practices and lessons learned.

Some of the key highlights from the SIP program in the past year included:

  • Kinder to Career: the SFPUC’s education strategy fosters the next generation of environmental stewards and invests in a diverse and inclusive workforce to take care of our aging utilities. This includes the SFPUC and firms’ partnership with John O’Connell High School in its curriculum around careers in the water sector.
  • Workforce Development: the SFPUC provides disadvantaged San Francisco and Tuolumne County residents with training and support services to prepare and place them in careers in construction and professional services fields. Firms have supported efforts to remove barriers for job-ready residents, referrals to childcare services, on-the-job training for residents on the autism spectrum through a neurodiversity program, and career exposure to the trades for women.
  • Economic development: San Francisco has awarded billions of dollars in contracts in just these past two years. Local and small businesses have been prepared with the tools and resources to adequately get access to, compete for, and perform on these contracting opportunities. Additionally, local food entrepreneurs receive technical assistance to increase customer growth and sales resulting from the influx of SFPUC staff and contractors near the SFPUC’s capital projects.
  • Neighborhood stabilization: this area focuses on homeownership, ensuring that long-term Bayview-Hunter Point residents can remain in their community, build wealth, and benefit from collective investments in San Francisco’s District 10. Firms supported programs which includes free financial and housing counseling, free legal assistance for estate planning to keep properties within the family, and financial assistance to help homeworkers to address back debt and get back on track.

“We have powerful, passionate colleagues from the Community Benefits and Workforce and Economic Program Services teams who make this work successful,” said Zhu. “This work shows us the importance of putting community needs first and focusing on community outcomes. When the public and private sectors develop strategies for their social investments, it is critical that we can see and feel how individual lives are changed as a result of our collective investments.”

The SFPUC’s first neurodiversity cohort.