City Year co-founder: ‘Action Tanks’ needed to bridge public policy, service

2 min read

After Monday’s tragic events at the Boston Marathon, the Kennedy School’s annual Public Service Week began on a somber note. Yet as the Shorenstein Center welcomed Alan Khazei, founder and chief executive officer of Be the Change Inc., co-founder of City Year, and HKS adjunct lecturer, the focus on service and policy seemed timely. Shorenstein Center Director Alex S. Jones introduced Khazei as a “genuine catalyst for positive change, and an inspiring leader of the effort to create social entrepreneurial ventures that benefit the common good.”

Reflecting on the recent tragedy, Khazei noted that in spite of the horrific events, “we also saw the best of America.” In the stories of first responders who rushed toward the scene to help others, the nurses and doctors who worked tirelessly, the people who opened their homes and donated blood – “the innate spirit of people comes through…and takes over.” When tragedy strikes, people want to take action, and “we have to recognize that spirit,” Khazei said.

City Year was founded out of the idea of an “action tank,” Khazei explained, a way to combine public policy with public service. Along with his friend Michael Brown, Khazei developed a theory that plenty of research had been done in think tanks about national service, but had never been tested. There were also programs emerging with a focus on service, but with no government support.