Progressive Business Leaders Meet for “Davos on The Charles” Policy Summit

11/24/09

The annual World Economic Forum confab in Davos, Switzerland is famous for gathering business and policy leaders to discuss the big issues of the day. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and private equity professionals, big company CEOs and world leaders gather in a unique environment for mingling, collaboration, and idea sharing.

In a similar but more local fashion, the Progressive Business Leaders Network (PBLN) summit convened last Friday at the JFK Presidential Library represented a unique blend of over 200 leaders engaged in the thorniest of policy issues that are facing the Commonwealth and the nation. PBLN is a network of over 150 Massachusetts CEOs and top corporate officers who are interested in engaging and helping solve the most important problems of the day with data-driven, progressive policy solutions. The panels and round tables throughout the day were chock full of wonky issues, such as health reform and cost containment, education reform, climate change, tax policy, and housing. Participants dug into the data to analyze the impact various reform options might hold, with business leaders and public officials debating and discussing in an open, collaborative environment.

Among the more than 200 attendees at the annual summit were some of the Commonwealth’s most influential CEOs, such as Paul Levy of Beth Israel Hospital, Martin Madaus of Millipore, and James Roosevelt of Tufts Health Plan, alongside prominent venture capitalists like Bain Capital’s Jeff Glass and Flagship’s Jim Matheson. Also in attendance were the state’s most senior policy leaders, such as Education Secretary Paul Reville, Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. JudyAnn Bigby and the House Chairman of the Revenue and Tax Committee Representative Jay Kaufman (D-Lexington).

The public officials—including Governor Deval Patrick, who led a spirited dialog reviewing his administration’s agenda—practically begged the business community to stay personally engaged with the issues facing the Commonwealth and the nation. Governor Patrick pointed out that it is no accident that the blueprint for the landmark health reform being debated in Congress came from Massachusetts. And, as Boston Foundation CEO Paul Grogan pointed out, the education reform currently in front of the Massachusetts legislature (passed by the Senate and to be taken up by the House in January) will also have a powerful, national impact.

A unique element of this year’s summit was the willingness for policy combatants to appear together. Anne Wass, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, was brave enough to sit on a panel with charter school advocates like Akamai CEO Paul Sagan and venture capitalist and Massachusetts2020 CEO Chris Gabrielli. Ms. Wass was pointed in articulating the groundwork required for reform: objective data combined with mutual respect and trust. She observed that the skyrocketing cost of public education shouldn’t be a surprise. “If Milton costs $40,000 per year to provide an outstanding education to kids from the best homes with the most support and advantages, imagine how much it would cost to provide a similar quality education for a kid who comes from the most broken homes with no support.”

The day ended with a debate of four of the six major senate candidates, putting forward their rationale for why business leaders and the public at large should support their candidacy, a decision all the more poignant as the candidates stood in the shadow of the Kennedy family at the JFK Library. At the end of the debate, Senate candidate Alan Khazei exhorted the group, “Step it up. Pick your issue and get involved. There should be twice as many of you here next year.” You could see numerous members of the audience lean forward and straighten up, as the wheels began to turn on what issue they will try to make their own.

What will be your issue and how will you get involved? To learn more about the PBLN, follow them at www.twitter.com/pbln or go to www.pbln.org.

Jeffrey Bussgang is a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners and co-chair of the PBLN. You can follow his blog at www.seeingbothsides.com or on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bussgang. Follow @

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