Harvard prof, former Bush advisor Stephen Goldsmith speaks to ICL students

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Stephen Goldsmith

Reducing regulation barriers to innovative ideas; performance-based funding; and governing through a network of for-profit, not-for-profit, faith-based and government organizations; were among the many recommendations made by Stephen Goldsmith, a former city mayor and  presidential policy advisor, Monday to Lipscomb University civic leadership master’s students.

Goldsmith is a Harvard professor, former domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush and two-term mayor of Indianapolis who is recognized as an expert on innovative ideas in government and its relationship with community organizations.

Goldsmith was visiting Nashville at the request of the City of Nashville’s Chief Service Officer Laurel Creech. As a member of the Cities of Service coalition since 2009, Nashville has worked to enact many of Goldsmith’s ideas, advocated through the Innovations in American Government Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Goldsmith spoke to the Nelson and Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership master’s students and leadership council members in a luncheon roundtable on Monday, Jan. 30.

“Nashville’s sense of volunteerism is better than any city I know of…. except Indianapolis,” joked Goldsmith, a former two-term mayor of Indianapolis, where he worked through various organizations to restore urban neighborhoods, establish the Front Porch alliance involving hundreds of faith-based organizations, and use analytics to better predict what structures were fire hazards in the city.

The author of the 2010 book The Power of Social Innovation, Goldsmith urged the civic leadership students to work to reduce regulation barriers to innovation, to re-formulate the relationship between government and non-profit organizations and to focus on the strengths of both government and non-profits to build more successful programs.

“Even well-intentioned leaders can’t build a thriving community by simply managing their public bureaucracies well,” Goldsmith said. “It takes a network of for-profit, non-profit, faith-based and government assets.”

Laurel Creech, Nashvile City Service Offiicer

Goldsmith suggested that governments should not focus so much on creating a program, but instead devote resources to allow existing non-profit programs to recruit more volunteers and carry out existing successful programs on a larger scale. In addition, government needs to fund programs based on what it wants to achieve in that program, and leave the process of achieving that up to other organizations, he said.

Goldsmith also told the students that the key to effective civic leadership is to “stick to a clear-cut mission,” to “have confidence in those you are trying to help,” and to understand your strengths and weaknesses in both service and business skills.

Goldsmith is the chair of the Corporation for National and Community Service, and professor of the practice of government at the Kennedy School.  He is the author of several books on cities and social innovation, including The Power of Social Innovation, to be used in the civic leadership master’s program in February.