Working Forward: Gordon Feller, Co-Founder & Convenor at Meeting of the Minds

Last January, I predicted that individual career moves would accelerate civic innovation by promoting collaboration across sectors. Of course, many of the largest problems facing the Bay Area – housing, transportation, urban sustainability – require a cross-sector approach to create lasting positive change. This blog series will check in with members of the Bay Area civic ecosystem who have not only changed jobs in the last year, but also changed the sector in which they work. What does a former non-profit employee bring to a corporate role? What happens when a journalist joins the public sector?  How do these shifting roles and perspectives affect the largest civic issues facing the Bay Area – and how might they create innovative solutions? Let’s find out:

— Jessica Weare

I started with some benefits that came with the home territory: one parent an artist and the other an engineer. As a result, I grew up wearing multiple lenses, through which I could see the world’s many dimensions – and that’s certainly stood me in good standing, in all of my work.

My dream jobs shifted whenever I found on a new focus of fascination: space (emulate Robert Goddard); anthropology (emulate Louis Leakey and work in Olduvai Gorge); etc. Since it was way too hard to choose only one favorite from amongst all of my areas of focus, I realized that most of these were being addressed by international organizations within the UN system, and the headquarters was just across the bridge to Manhattan. One example: The UN arranged for nations to sign the 1979 Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Moon Treaty“). Coincidentally, the UN created the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in the year of my birth.

My first income-producing jobs, all in the pre-teen years, were created by me and for me. All of them were minor successes, insofar as I walked away with some good spending money. One of several winners: selling nearly-new golf balls back to the same golfers who’d hit them off course and out onto the public sidewalks, right there on my street, which was conveniently situated next to the golf course.

My first “real job” involved a role that I’d invented for an international NGO which, being based in Brussels, lacked a UN Representative in NYC to both the Security Council and the General Assembly.

Not being one to let obstacles stay standing, I found numerous ways to make my time at the UN as effective as possible, for a high-school student. When, in the mid-1970s, UNESCO proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child, to follow-up on the 1959 Declaration of the Rights of the Child, I took that as a signal: get involved! I became a member of a small team, operating as The UN Sect-General’s commission focused on corralling all of the UN agencies to work together, while simultaneously engaging national governments and NGOs. There were lots of successes that emerged from this, including the UN Sect-General signing a 1979 Proclamation to draw attention to problems that affected children throughout the world, including malnutrition and lack of access to education. Our work resulted in the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, a potent human rights treaty which, for signatory nations, carries the force of international law.

One key insight that became crystal clear to me: the key to the UN’s ineffectiveness, at that time, was the absence, inside the UN itself, of any technologies to connect disparate agencies and NGOs and national governments, all of whom wanted to make good things happen but couldn’t efficiently make it happen. It was a rude awakening to discover that – and thus my first taste of technology’s transformational powers, or in this case the lack of transformation resulting from the absence of technologies.

Fast-forward about 40 years; my many and varied roles during these decades have always straddled two worlds:

  • Through new public policies, enable smarter investments that transform how our shared values (representing our community’s highest goals) are expressed, especially in our cities;
  • Harness the immense power of digital technologies, and especially ones that help us to shift our behaviors and change of our institutions.

I’ve consulted for many C-suite executives running companies that needed help being successful with some truly exciting projects, including HP, IBM, Digital Equipment Corp., Lockheed. In 2010 I took on a fulltime role at Cisco’s HQ in Silicon Valley, and over nearly 6 six years served as Director of Urban Innovations, with a global portfolio. Now, as a member of the Cisco retiree community, I’ve dialed back to a half-time role at Cisco HQ. That’s left me lots of time to do some selected non-Cisco consultancy projects, AND to volunteer time with a bunch of truly promising for-profit start-ups and some very impressive NGOs. The biggest outcomes emerge daily from Meeting of the Minds, the San Francisco-based NGO which manages an extraordinary global leadership network via a unique global knowledge exchange platform. As a Co-Founder I have a special commitment there, serving on the Board and encouraging bold programming.

gordon-feller-photo1For more than 3 decades Gordon’s been pioneering the focus on public policy and civic commons intersecting with emerging tech. He wears multiple hats: Consultant – Cisco HQ in Silicon Valley; Founder – Meeting of the Minds in SF, a 20-year old non-profit (; Advisor / Board Member at numerous for-profit start-ups + NGOs; Member – US Dept of Enegy Advisory Committee; author – more than 400 magazine and journal articles; book editor; magazine editor.