Building Capacity During a Crisis: The CODVID-19 Education Partnership Pro Bono Initiative

Genentech is working alongside Taproot Foundation and a collective of Bay Area companies—Blue Shield of California, Cruise, Salesforce, and others—to connect schools with pro bono support
Jun 25, 2020 11:00 AM ET

The COVID-19 pandemic has had major repercussions for communities across the country. Education systems have been hit especially hard through school closures, resulting in disruptions to the health and well-being of students and their families. 

In April, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation announced the launch of the COVID-19 Education Partnership, a fund supported in part by Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, and in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, San Mateo County and Santa Clara County Offices of Education. Through this extraordinary initiative, schools and school districts will receive funds to address immediate needs and capacity-building support to expand services that students and families need now.

And Genentech is taking their commitment a step further. As part of their investment,  the company is launching the COVID-19 Education Partnership Pro Bono Initiative  with Taproot Foundation and a collective of Bay Area companies—Blue Shield of California, Cruise,  and Salesforce—to connect schools, districts, and County Offices of Education with pro bono support. “Genentech knows that we can’t address these needs alone,” said Eileen Yang, lead for K-12 education philanthropy at Genentech. “That’s why we convened a group of passionate companies that want to support our education system together.” 

Taproot Foundation’s President & CEO Lindsay Firestone Gruber spoke with leaders from several of these prominent companies to dig into why they’re each lending the time and talents of their employees during this crisis.

Investing Human Capital for the Greater Good

“Since California schools closed in early March, we knew our education system would need funding to address the student, family, and community needs,” said Yang, “but at the same time, teachers and staff are stretched beyond capacity.” School leaders shared a number of capacity and organizational needs with the company—from communications support to project management. “We believe that access to pro bono volunteerism is such a powerful opportunity for schools to tap into our employees.”

For Cheryl Timoney, Senior Director of Salesforce’s Tech for Social Impact team, this work is personal. “As a parent of young, school-age children, I’ve witnessed firsthand how educators and administrators have moved quickly to respond. These institutions are facing enormous challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, from rapidly deploying distance learning and moving special education services online to getting food assistance to families in need.” Timoney noted the inequities prevalent across the local education system as a driver in Salesforce’s decision to be involved. “We are committed to investing in quality education so all students can reach their full potential.

Blue Shield of California has long been committed to working with local schools and was eager to expand the reach of their pro bono initiatives. “Giving back to the community has always been a priority for us and has only become more significant due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jenny Braunlin, Program Manager, Employee Volunteerism & Giving. “Though we may not be able to support through in-person volunteerism like we planned, our employees are motivated to step up.”

Cruise’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Robert Grant, shared that the company has been focused on how best to deploy their resources in support of those most affected during the pandemic. “When we heard about Genentech and Taproot Foundation’s pro bono initiative to support schools across California, we were happy to join in. At Cruise, working together is one of our core values, and we appreciate how this initiative is bringing us together across industries and sectors to ensure the needs of our students and educators are met.”

Game-Changing Resource, Long-Term Impact

Pro bono support can be a game-changer for organizations and schools looking to build out the core infrastructure they need in order to operate through and after times of crisis. “Genentech and so many other companies have expertise that can be impactful to schools right now,” noted Yang. “Using real-time data to make informed decisions, planning proactive communications to audiences, managing complex projects with multiple work streams and stakeholders—these are all ways our employees can contribute.”

And part of offering that service is listening to the needs. Braunlin called out the fact that “educators are facing a number of barriers in this crisis,” and that Blue Shield hopes that their employees can offer support to ease some of the burden felt by schools. “This opportunity will allow our employees to use their unique skill sets to provide tools and resources to educators.”

By investing their human capital in the Partnership, Salesforce is looking to drive long-term impact, helping public schools “build their capacity and embrace technology and innovation to provide all students access to quality, equitable education during tough times like these, and beyond,” said Timoney.

For Cruise, this collaborative is a way to provide tangible solutions that strengthen schools across California. Grant shared that “our employees value opportunities to lend their experience to make a difference for students. Whether we can help in big or small ways, we’re happy to join this important initiative to strengthen our education ecosystem during this unprecedented time.”

When asked what long-term impact Genentech wants to see from this initiative, Yang was thoughtful: “We hope that providing these resources to school districts and counties will not only support immediate challenges, but will also have a lasting impact on unforeseen future needs, especially those that address the widening equity gap for underserved students and their families.”

To learn more about these and other initiatives leveraging pro bono during the current crisis, visit Taproot’s COVID-19 resources page.

Looking for ways to drive impact through your company? Get in touch.