"Last Man in America who knew what the [*(&^] he was doing dies," read the Onion's tribute to Steve Jobs last week. And on Saturday, Tom Friedman lamented the lack of Jobs-ian leadership traits shown by our current political establishment -- on any side of the aisle. Tom and I (unbeknownst to him) shared a moment of hope when looking at America's entrepreneurs -- "There are still thousands of U.S. innovators who embody Steve Jobs's most important attribute: They didn't get the word. They didn't get the word that we're down and out. They didn't get the word that we're in a recession. They didn't get the word that Germany is going to eat our breakfast and that China is going to eat our lunch, so they just go out and invent stuff and make stuff and export stuff. Like Jobs, they just didn't get the word -- and thank God."
Thankfully, there are innovators in the public sector who didn't get the word either. There are mayors and governors around the country who are pushing past financial and political obstacles to turn around cities and to strengthen education in their states. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu is striving to lower a homicide rate that is 10x the national average. In Delaware, Governor Jack Markell is working to bring together public, private and nonprofit sector players to turn the state's win of Race to the Top funds into a long term win for the state. Innovators in the public sector are forging ahead and making change by being entrepreneurial with the resources they have. Even as budgets are being cut. They are reaching out to leaders around the country, seeking top talent from business, universities and the local communities. And like private sector innovators, we are not supporting them enough. While we act out a national cycle of rhetoric and blame, innovators and leaders on the ground look for resources that will allow them to turn the tide of low high school graduation rates, high unemployment and struggling businesses.
Ultimately, Steve Jobs pushed to create what we didn't know we needed and took big risks to get it to us. As consumers we respect and willingly pay for the fruits of his vision, as citizens we fear the risks and the learning that our government needs to go through to create successful educational, healthcare and economic development programs. What if our government took a risk and did fail at closing the achievement gap? Or supporting business? Candidly, we are already there in many places around the country. We are already consistently failing families and children and small businesses. Rather than accepting the status quo, let's expect our leaders to push us towards a success we didn't know we could have.
The great thing is that we, as citizens, can create an atmosphere of innovation and entrepreneurship in the public sector. We can expect our leaders to innovate, to try new approaches and to learn from failure. We can support those that creatively consider how to bring in the people and the resources needed to solve local problems. We can create the space for our leaders to... well... lead.
Jennifer Anastasoff is CEO and co-founder of Fuse Corps, a national social enterprise dedicated to bringing White House Fellow caliber talent to local and regional leaders. Applications for the 2012 Fellowship open October 1-31, 2011 at www.fusecorps.org http://www.fusecorps.org