Beginning in 2013, Harvard Law School’s new Public Service Venture Fund will provide $1 million per year in grants to support new and recent graduates who will be working for public service employers, and also to support those who want to start their own organizations.
As a first in a series of workshops and panels designed to foster an entrepreneurial spirit, the Dean’s Office and the Bernard Koteen Office of Public Interest Advising sponsored a November “Conversation Between Social Entrepreneurs” with Alan Khazei ’87, co-founder of City Year, and Brooke Richie ’04, founder and executive director of the Resilience Advocacy Project.
Dean Martha Minow, who introduced the panelists, said the fund was inspired by alumni such as Khazei and Richie. “People come to Harvard Law School with dreams about how the world could be different,” said Minow. “We are committed to making it possible for students to pursue those dreams.”
Khazei praised HLS for starting the fund and said he hoped other schools would follow its example. Reflecting on his own experience starting City Year with Michael Brown ’88, he said their HLS educations opened many doors. Intellectually, they were strongly influenced by HLS Professor Frank Michelman ’60, Professor David Rosenberg’s course on core theory, and the idea of civic republicanism as promulgated by then Visiting Professor Cass Sunstein ’78.
Richie’s program, located in New York City, is working to fight intergenerational poverty, by training low-income teens to serve as advocates for other low-income youth. Richie came to HLS knowing she wanted to start an organization that would connect the law to the idea of resilience.
It was HLS Professor Lani Guinier’s Community Lawyering class that helped her take the next step. Among other things, the class taught her to rethink the role of the lawyer and see “a facilitator and a problem-solver, an advocate who empowers his or her clients, rather than [the attorney as] the sole expert in the room,” she said.
Although Khazei and Richie are at different stages in their careers—22 years after he founded City Year, Khazei now heads an advocacy organization called Be the Change—in many ways their advice to the room full of students was similar. Khazei advised finding a partner and building a team. Richie discussed the importance of networking and knowing where your organization fits into the existing world of nonprofits. Both stressed the importance of taking full advantage of Harvard’s resources, urging students to talk to as many people as possible about their ideas, to help develop them before they leave HLS, and to find mentors.
Three years after launching the Resilience Advocacy Project, Richie said the most difficult thing is “the balancing act I have to engage in on a daily basis: fundraising, managing staff, standardizing programs, building an institution.”
Khazei agreed. His advice for students who want to be social entrepreneurs was simple: “Go for it.” You’ve got to have a passion, he added. “But if you’re passionate about it, take the risk. It’s hard. But you get to be your own boss, and more important, you get to pursue your dream.”
HLS Public Service Venture Fund Advisory Board Members
|Josh Bedell ’07, associate, investment banking division, Goldman Sachs|
|Alan Jenkins ’89, executive director, The Opportunity Agenda|
|Alan Khazei ’87, founder, Be the Change|
|Brett Messing ’89, senior adviser, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa|
|Martha Minow, dean, Harvard Law School|
|Rebecca Onie ’03, co-founder, Project HEALTH|
|Earl Martin Phalen ’93, CEO, Reach Out and Read|
|Susan Butler Plum, director, Skadden Fellowship Foundation|
|Paul Rosenberg ’79, partner, The Bridgespan Group|
|Josh Rubenstein ’06, chief admissions officer, Harvard Law School|
|Alexa Shabecoff, assistant dean for public service, Harvard Law School|
|Carol Steiker ’86, professor, Harvard Law School|
|Kenneth Zimmerman ’88, member, Lowenstein Sandler|