Tag Archives: BNMC

CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges

Last week I travelled to London where I joined thought leaders and elected officials from around the globe for the third annual CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges.   The purpose of the CityLab conference was “to bring together over 300 global city leaders — mayors, plus urban theorists, city planners, scholars, architects, and artists — for a series of conversations about urban ideas that are shaping the world’s metro centers”.

What I found unique about this conference was that while the diverse group of speakers and attendees had substantial conversations about such standard urban issues as transportation, public safety and infrastructure, it also considered perhaps less obvious urban concerns such as food access policy and what younger generations are looking for in order to succeed in cities today and in the future. It was exciting to hear these conversations in London because many of them lined up with our MutualCity philosophy at the BNMC. Our MutualCity methodology encourages addressing economic and social issues through a holistic approach that values collaboration. In London, I heard people take on urban issues from various perspectives in order to make the city and our planet better places.

Signs around London showcase proximity to local businesses. We are looking into installing something similar on the Medical Campus to encourage employees & visitors to explore our neighborhoods.

Signs around London showcase proximity to local businesses. We are looking into installing something similar on the Medical Campus to encourage employees and visitors to explore our neighborhoods.

One meeting I sat in on concerned food policy, and it included an eclectic group of about 25 people. Mayors from across the globe (Athens, Greece; Christchurch, New Zealand just to name a couple); leaders from large foundations (Bloomberg, Rockefeller); leaders of NGOs; and Jamie Oliver, a.k.a., the Naked Chef, were among the participants. Listening to these people was fascinating but what amazed me was the passion with which everyone addressed the issue of food policy. The message that became clear from this talk was that what we put in our bodies is not acceptable. (I recall the comment being made that even dog food has higher production standards than human food.) Everyone agreed that the key to refocusing the public’s attention on what we consume is to take bold action and to provide education about the issue in the most transparent way possible.  This conversation highlighted even more why a medical campus like ours along with others across the globe need to take the issue of access to healthy food more seriously. At the end of the day if we can be successful in this area, then there will be a triple bottom-line benefit: increased job creation, monetary savings, and most importantly, more people living healthier lives.

The topic of another talk I attended at CityLab concerned millennials and city life. For the first time in many years, Buffalo is witnessing a surge of young adults living in our city and for that generation and the ones behind it, access to technology is essential. Our children now live in a world where data and its analysis are more important than ever and people through enhanced technology have access to just about anything they want, anywhere they want. The physical places we create in our cities — whether they are where one lives, where one works, or where one plays — need to be addressed to meet these rapidly changing times.

The moment in this CityLab talk that was important to me was when Muriel Bowser, a member of Generation X and mayor of Washington D.C., addressed these issues. Her message wasn’t how the next generation needs to fall into line with how older generations have done things. Instead she considered how do we work together to build the right infrastructure to best accommodate people’s lifestyles in the cities today.

I thought this solar bench was neat technology that might be at home on the Medical Campus.

I thought this solar bench was cool technology that might be at home on the Medical Campus.

Technology is transforming our world in a way that it has made it easier to own fewer things, to work from virtually anywhere; to obtain a wide variety of things on demand, and to live with less. As a result, we need to continue to move forward on how we can build and modify our great cities to meet the changing needs of its citizens. It will take many methods and approaches, but it must be done.

The greatest impression the CityLab conference made on me was that at the core of the thought leaders’ decision making was empathy for their fellow citizens. This gathering to discuss solving global challenges with urban solutions never lost sight of the citizens it was trying to help and, in fact, put those citizens at the center of its focus. The focus was not on what should be done to get the next vote or sell more of their product but on how to improve the quality of life around the globe. If more of our leaders can act from this place they will not only win their elections and increase their bottom lines, but the world will be in a much better place.

Moneyball, Collaboration & Thinking Differently

beaneOakkland A’s General Manager Billy Beane had a problem at the beginning of the new millennium. As detailed in Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, Beane’s team was having trouble competing with the other 29 Major League Baseball teams because it couldn’t afford, acquire or keep its best players. This left the A’s doomed to mediocrity (or worse) if they tried to compete in a traditional manner. So Beane didn’t. He upended the accepted approach of evaluating players and went a different way. The A’s found affordable bargains in those who possessed skills that were undervalued by the rest of the league yet once utilized by the A’s would result in wins. Many wins, in fact. Under Beane, his teams have miraculously won six division titles and compiled the 5th best record in all of baseball during the last 16 years.

Ever since the creation of the BNMC, Inc. in 2002, like Billy Beane, we have been willing to think unconventionally to try to achieve success. Looking at things differently has allowed us to partner with and bring together a wide range of people and organizations and has resulted in the medical campus contributing to the growth of our community.

The origin of the BNMC’s commitment to the uncommon approach all started with Mayor asking the obvious yet unspoken question: Why don’t we have a medical campus in Buffalo? Once we addressed his question and moved forward with the BNMC, he was one of our biggest supporters and promoted our growth when needed. Together our community has forged achievements that have established a great foundation for outstanding community and economic redevelopment.

The other key early occurrence was a $50,000 grant from the John R. Oishei Foundation. This grant was made to examine the idea of creating a collaborative medical campus that would leverage its assets for the benefit of the community at large. This investment by the Oishei Foundation has resulted in roughly $1.5 billion of economic development on the campus. We are creating the new generation of anchor institution strategy as we begin to implement our mutual city philosophy.

The Oishei Foundation investment allowed the BNMC to build some early momentum but (we wanted to see if we could have a greater impact. We wanted to see if there were other ways to invest capital in to our projects. This is when we were fortunate to connect with the gurus  of impact investing and leaders of where the world of philanthropy is going, the F.B. Heron Foundation. (Take a look at their vision from their CEO Clara Miller). About 6 years ago Tony Martino, the vice chair of our board of directors, and I went to New York City to meet with leaders of the foundation to educate ourselves on impact investment. This day was revelatory as we became better versed in a visionary way of thinking. A direct outcome from this trip was the BNMC and Oishei Foundation creating the first project related investment (PRI) in our community. A PRI is a low cost loan or equity investment that involves the potential return of capital within an established time range. This PRI was a financial turning point for our organization, and we couldn’t have done it without the trust and strong partnership of the Oishei Foundation. We have done two PRIs to date and have completely paid Oishei back.

Most recently the Heron Foundation has been working very closely with us to become a lead investor in the implementation of our vision to be a robust, self-sustaining social enterprise that generates revenues to fulfill our mission. We believe that with the right capacity, we can have stronger, faster, and more widespread impact in the community.  Through this partnership with Heron, we have been able to increase our in-house expertise in key areas; work with leaders in sustainability, housing & workforce to develop impact plans; and gain access to other foundation thought leaders who are very supportive of what is being done in Buffalo.

Our collaboration with the Heron Foundation presents an extraordinary opportunity because we have a partner who is a leader on a global level in the impact investing space, and together, I believe we will be able to construct a model that can be replicated. The BNMC, along with the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Heron Foundation, is bringing together national foundations to learn about all of the great work and to show all of the forward thinking initiatives we are developing to change our community for the better.  Over the last two years the Heron Foundation has been a true partner and we thank them for that. Hopefully our initiative will be able to show how their vision of impact investing can be implemented on a large scale to benefit the lives of people.

In the next few weeks we will have a guest blog post from Dana Pancrazi of the F. B. Heron Foundation, whose sage advice and guidance over the last few years has convinced us of the need to “think differently” about how best to fund, scale and replicate our model for urban transformation.

Finding a Home at the BNMC

bnmcWhen the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus was getting off the ground I was man without a country. That’s not true. I had a country, but I just didn’t have an office. Oh wait, strike that, too. I had two offices. And that was the problem that led me to a better understanding of some of the problems of an entrepreneur. Confused? Let me explain.

DIG-ICIn the early days of the BNMC, I split my time between two offices: sometimes I worked out of an office in the basement of Roswell Park and sometimes at the office of the chair of the BNMC board.  While my wife and kids appreciated that I had a place to go to and wouldn’t be using the kitchen table as my desk, I was not as thrilled with the arrangement. Sure, the people I met there were great, but moving around from isolated office space to isolated office space made it difficult to establish sturdy relationships. To be more specific I lacked a consistent group of people to bounce ideas off of and people who would push me to do better through their shining examples.

Digg4To find the inspiration I was lacking in that environment, this man without a country, er, permanent office space left the fledgling medical campus and traveled around the country. I wanted to learn what others were doing on medical campuses like ours and to find evidence that we were on to something substantial for our community. These trips worked splendidly. In Louisville, for example, it became clear to me that we had all of the pieces in place to succeed, but we just needed to have them work more harmoniously. Similar lessons were learned in Boston, Houston, and Cleveland (just to name a few) I learned similar lessons that I otherwise wouldn’t have done if I had stayed in my isolation in the nether regions of Roswell.

EP-140319550.jpg&maxW=960Pat Whalen, the COO of the medical campus, is a very successful entrepreneur who has committed a great deal of his time to growing private sector jobs for our community and mentoring enthusiastic dreamers to help them become successful businesspeople.  He often stresses to me how lonely it is as an entrepreneur because there are not many people you can talk with when going through the ups and downs of building a business. Pat’s lessons really struck a chord with me after my experience bouncing between buildings as the Wandering CEO with no one to commiserate with and share ideas.

Inspired by Pat’s ideas and through his leadership, the BNMC is building out space on the campus so like-minded leaders can have the emotional support and physical infrastructure they need. The truth is that budding entrepreneurs require assistance such as this to excel and we at the BNMC want to lend a hand that helps them thrive.

Digg9One of our major initiatives we have developed to do this is d!g, our design innovation garage. Read Pat’s blog post to learn more.