Skip to main content
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Opinion: We Need Silicon Valley Leadership, Now More Than Ever

student wearing face mask sitting in empty classroom

student wearing face mask sitting in empty classroom

Ann Skeet

Maximilian Scheffler/Unsplash

This article was originally published in The Mercury News on July 24, 2020. Ann Skeet is the senior director of  at the Markkula Center of Applied Ethics. Views are her own.


We’re a month from the Silicon Valley public school year start and several things are clear. We don’t have a school plan that works. And help is not on the way.

For the past 30 years, we have understood that ours is a regional ethos. County lines and city centers have not defined Silicon Valley. It has been mapped out as a state of mind, a belief in creativity and a celebration of diversity of all types. We were the first plurality in our nation, the first place where every child could receive free health care. But we’re not caring for our children now.

Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody has done her part in the head start she gave Silicon Valley and her collaboration with neighboring counties to create a regional buffer against this virus, buying us time and credibility.

Now we need some good old-fashioned civic leadership, because if we don’t get schools open in a format that works for children of all backgrounds, we will not get Silicon Valley open for business.

If schools open online or partially in person now, student learning will be far from optimal, not just because it is not fully in person, but because a number of children will not have tech tools, internet connections, supervision at home or food to eat.

In the pandemic’s earlier days, I spoke at length with a public company board director. I asked her what her company was doing to get schools opened, and she countered it was not her domain.

Public schools that work well are indeed the domain of business. The closer we get to a non-school year, the clearer this becomes, even before we consider the impact on the future workforce. The impact on today’s workforce is reason enough.

It is time to heed the calls being made for local think tanks, and even more important, for collaboration between business leaders and civic leaders to set up our children for success. It is within Silicon Valley’s means and responsibility.

There are some distractions. San Jose is debating a strong-mayor model. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has been looking for its next leader. But there is nothing more important than caring for our children, here where we work and live.

This is the chance for the elders, the people who made this place innovation central, to help the current business leaders focus, strategize and execute; things most tech CEOs and VCs believe they do better than anyone. With leadership, we can deliver a viable, workable, pandemic learning experience for all Silicon Valley students.

Regionally, we have some gems, like American Leadership Forum (full disclosure, I am ALF’s former CEO and a senior fellow), PACT and Joint Venture. We have enlightened municipal leaders with regional networks and people who get businesses to run races and fill food banks and pass transportation measures. They can also get businesses to provide technology and money, maybe even space and daycare, so children can learn and parents can get back to work without worrying about their children’s present and future.

I’m looking at you, the men who started the venture capital industry, the people who built personal computing, ALF’s Senior Fellows. And I’m definitely looking at you, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, Jack Dorsey and plenty more. You’ve showed some promise: kind hearts, generous philanthropy, humility when you’ve stumbled. You state your desire to do some good all the time. You know how to work with government when it suits you. You want to demonstrate that you’re anti-racist, that #MeToo really changed your views on women in the workplace? Here’s your chance.

Aug 4, 2020

Subscribe to Our Blogs

* indicates required
Subscribe me to the following blogs: