Private Sector Placement
On Tuesday, February 16th, the Coro Southern California Fellows started their Private Sector Placements, working at a host of corporations, commissions, and offices throughout the city. After the electoral politics, nonprofit, and government placements, the private sector placement offered the cohort an opportunity to synthesize its learnings by directly observing how the private sector addressed previously identified challenges in affordable housing, energy production, communication, and event planning. The Fellows previously observed how the public sector often engages in private partnerships to bridge the gaps between sectors and create innovative solutions to existing problems. During the private sector placement, the Fellows were able to identify how those partnerships translate into an expanded capacity for change-making, achieving feats the public sector cannot do alone.
The Fellows worked for a diverse array of companies, from SoCalGas to Flixbus to GreenWealth Energy Partners. The range in focus, breadth, and strategic priorities of these companies taught the Fellows how the private sector operates and adapts in times of uncertainty. During this past year of lockdown, companies have had to leverage this virtual environment as an opportunity to shift their strategic plans to fit the current moment. Many companies have had to downsize as they aren’t receiving the same cash flow as they did pre-pandemic. As a result, they often do the same amount of work, if not more, with a smaller staff capacity. Fellows were a welcome addition to these companies as they added to each organization’s capacity. Moreover, the Fellows got to experience companies of varying sizes and reach first-hand, from California’s first woman and minority-owned EV charging company, GreenWealth Energy Partners, to international social impact company, Tala.
Fittingly, a number of Fellows reflected on how their placement organizations had responded to the pandemic, and how the private sector as a whole had changed due to the pandemic. One Fellow, Alden Lundy noted that “during the pandemic, the survival of a number of companies hinged on being able to shutter effectively without burning too much cash during the months of lockdown. The next phase is going to be decided by the plans that take the appropriate amount of risk in capturing the reopening market.” Another Fellow, Jenna Karic, who was placed at a tech startup, observed that “when working at a company that reaches emerging markets on an international scale, the pandemic actually served as a jumping off point for transcontinental communication.” Using the virtual environment to its advantage, Jenna’s placement kept employees accountable, reached further distances, and accessed markets that may otherwise have been out of reach due to sheer distance.
Another important learning the Fellows took away from this placement rotation was the importance of relationships in negotiating public-private partnerships (which proved an effective learning for the subsequent Transportation Focus Week), and the role of investors in driving market priorities. Fellow James Crisafulli reflected that “in government affairs work in particular, my placement confirmed the importance of personal relationships in getting things done. Public-private partnerships and even interactions with the nonprofit sector were largely determined by individual contacts, and that allowed for more adaptability and responsiveness when dealing with much larger institutions.” Fellow Philine Qian shared that from her placement, she learned how “investors play a huge role in determining how a business makes strategic decisions. We are currently seeing an uptick in investor interest in environmental sustainability. Though still not overwhelming, this interest is influencing a number of companies, particularly fossil fuel companies, to re-imagine their long-term business goals and strategies to be more in line with environmental goals, lest they risk losing competitiveness in the investor market.”
A stronger understanding of the private sector was crucial to the cohort’s successful learning and synthesis of the transportation landscape in the LA Region, which was the topic of the cohort’s fifth focus week of the fellowship. Because private companies play an important role in shaping transportation policy and supplying the resources and tools for those policies, the private sector rotation was an ideal plate-setter for this focus week. As the Fellows begin their last placement rotation in labor, the cohort will surely begin to draw connections between where and how unions work together and against business interests, and have the opportunity to observe, first-hand, the influence of organized labor in the Los Angeles political ecosystem.