Presidio Alumni Blaze a Trail to Rio


By Cynthia Scott, PhD, MPH

Published 7.26.12

Last month, five recent Presidio grads, as part of the Bay2Rio+20 Strategy Team, attended Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Our mission was to build bridges between Brazil and the United States by promoting “city-scale leadership around green economies, sustainability, and social innovation.” After months of weekly planning meetings, we determined the best way to do this was to host one pre-trip launch event, two promotional events on the Bay2Rio+20 Innovation Bus and two simultaneous World Cafe events in Rio and San Francisco. Thanks in large part to funding we received from two Presidio Graduate School sources, the school’s Communications Department and the Inspiration Strikes Fund, founded by Presidio MPA student Karin Mayer, we were able to host these events without emptying our personal bank accounts.

The Planning

This experience enabled us to do what we were trained so well to do at Presidio: self-organize, take the initiative to get credentialed through the National Resources Defense Council (allowing us to attend conferences and events in Rio); collaborate with a diverse Bay Area-based team that included members from California College of the Arts and other formidable organizations; engage seamlessly in a productive stakeholder engagement process with our peers in Brazil; and leverage and build our vast network of social entrepreneurs worldwide.

As a team, we agreed that the best way to participate meaningfully in Rio+20 was to design an opportunity for a global dialogue on pressing environmental and social issues with members from San Francisco’s Sister City in Spirit, Rio de Janeiro! It was a huge bonus that participants came from all over the world!

The Execution

Basically, we started with the end in mind - attracting worthy participants for our June 23 World Cafe/Charrette events in Rio and San Francisco. The San Francisco pre-trip launch was an effective way to get participants to the local event. In Rio, we hired a Party Bus as a highly visible, attention-getting and fun mobile platform to start the conversation and to advertise and attract participants to our event there.

As a result, both events were well attended. In Rio, participants came from Sao Paulo, San Francisco, New York, London, Montreal, The Netherlands, South Africa, India, Rio and other cities. At both events, we shared examples of innovation, inhibitors to progress and solutions to overcome them. We have collected the data and are using the Crowdbrite platform to store it as well as to allow all participants to continue the conversation virtually.

The Highlights

In the midst of all of this activity, we managed to attend some engaging and inspirational Rio +20 Side Events and talks. We learned about the UN’s Higher Education Initiative to bring sustainable development training to the education system. At the Rio+20 Ethos talk, influential business people and government officials including Marina Silva, former Green Party Presidential Candidate for Brazil, shared their proposals for a green, inclusive and responsible economy. And last but not least, key leaders in all sectors discussed the perils of plastic along with innovative solutions at the day long Plasticity conference.

For more information on this experience, come hear us speak at the Presidio September Residency event in San Francisco and check out our video.

Cynthia Scott, PhD, MPH

Cynthia Scott PhD, MPH, is Core Faculty at Presidio Graduate School where she enjoys teaching and coaching students in their development of leadership capacity.

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