A Seat at the Table
by Jenny Hebets MBA 16
Last night I had the privilege of sharing a meal with a special guest of the UC Davis Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Kat Taylor. Kat and her husband, Tom Steyer, are renowned philanthropists and social justice activists in California. In addition to founding the hugely successful venture capital firm Farallon Capital, they are avid entrepreneurs and funders of numerous socially motivated endeavors. Examples include the California Beneficial State Bank, One PacificCoast Bank, TomKat Ranch Educational Foundation and TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford. In addition, they have supported numerous state and national policies to combat climate change.
As I settled into an elegant meal of locally sourced, fresh ingredients, I took stock of the exceptional company seated around the table. One by one, each member of the intimate dinner party humbly introduced themselves. Not only was I in the presence of a legendary philanthropist and visionary like Kat, I was also joined by some of the top minds in the fields of agricultural sustainability, ecology, soil sciences, business innovation, entrepreneurship and energy efficiency.
The conversation spanned a fascinating spectrum of topics centered on how to build a sustainable, equitable future. Spurred by Kat’s passion and inquisitiveness, we discussed how to leverage big data to enhance cross-functional collaboration for scaled food and agriculture innovation. We touched on the challenges and benefits of marketing food to increasingly conscious yet misinformed consumers.
In the span of just one hour, a sense of shared curiosity and determination permeated the room. As experts in diverse fields contributed their perspectives, I began to appreciate how the web of interconnectedness between technology, physical sciences, social sciences, business and policy need to work together to shape a better world. While we knew that we would not solve any of the world’s greatest issues over the course of one meal, it is clear that the challenges to sustainability are massive and complex. Solutions will require radical inclusiveness and uncomfortable, uncommon collaborations.
UC Davis is a unique haven for exactly such collaboration. In my two years here I’ve been around numerous tables like the one last night, where scientists on the cutting edge of research meet market-minded business leaders, each sharing the goal of launching radical change at transformational scales. I am deeply grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here to bear witness to such unique moments where great minds come together and the sparks of innovation ignite.
As I look toward graduating in June and as I prepare to launch into a new world with a major food company, I too am ready to take my seat at the table.