by Robb Davis
On May 7th I was invited to represent the City of Davis at the launch of the UC Davis/HM.CLAUSE Innovation Center. I am providing an annotated version of my brief remarks that day in order to share some of the factors that I considered during their preparation. I am also sharing it here to stimulate a conversation about the issue of “ends”—especially the question of how we create clarity about the “ends” we seek in discussing “economic development” in Davis. I would encourage you to read the entire set of remarks first, skipping over the italicized annotations, to get the flow of the remarks and then go back and consider the annotations. Finish by considering the “Final Thoughts” at the end.
As you read the text and then the annotations please consider the following questions:
- What is the City of Davis’ role in helping develop and nurture the innovations flowing from UC Davis?
- What are the “ends” of economic development in Davis?
- What are the appropriate means for achieving these ends?
May 7, 2015: 28605 Mace Blvd
Sachant que beaucoup de ceux qui sont avec nous aujourd’hui représentant HM Clause sont de la France, je voudrais offrir un accueil chaleureux et vous remercie de ce que vous enrichissez notre communauté . Nous nous réjouissons de la collaboration fructueuse à venir – une collaboration qui permettra d’améliorer le bien-être des populations à travers le monde.
It might seem strange to start the remarks in French, but I did so in honor of the numerous HM Clause employees who have come to our community from France. In particular I thanked them for the way that they enrich our community. I had met several of these employees previously and was reminded of how fortunate Davis is to be the home of many gifted people from around the world. Walking around our downtown on a typical evening, one is struck by its international flavor—a fact that unusual in a small town anywhere in the world. The cultural diversity we take as part of the landscape is offered by the fact that we host a major university and I believe that diversity enriches us in many ways. HM Clause is here in part (I assume) because of the University but its international employees tell me that they want to be here because our City is a great place for them and their families. This illustrates the mutual benefit that both entities—the City and University—derive from the presence of the other. My hope, expressed in my remarks, is that the collaboration afforded by this reality will grow and contribute to the well being of people around the world. This is one reason I have devoted significant time to exploring ways to deepen, at many levels, our City’s relationship with the University.
On behalf of my colleagues on the Davis City Council I want to thank the University and HM Clause for the development of this innovation center. We view it as another example of how our bioregion provides links in a chain that, together, help improve the health, nutritional status and well being of people everywhere. And while this center accommodates the broader life sciences, because of its connection to HM Clause and the University, this space is clearly a critical link in the chain that leads to increased food security across the planet.
The concept of “links in a chain” is an important way of thinking about our relationship with the University (and Davis-based companies). Another way of talking about it is to recognize that we all have gifts—both individually and institutionally. It is only by bringing to the table what we can uniquely offer that we help to complete the chain that enables ideas that start in the mind of young university student to blossom into ideas, approaches, tools, and products that can enrich people—locally and the world over. Identifying our unique contributions is key. I remarked in an aside that my entire career in international health had been enabled by being a link in a chain that took medicines, health products, and best practices from laboratories and research centers to thousands of communities around the world for the betterment of maternal and child health. I have “seen” the chain, even been part of it, and it is an amazing thing to see how myriad contributions come together to bring change.
This chain contains links from all the disciplines represented at this university, from the bench science conducted here, to farmer and field trials, to the environmental assessments to reduce natural resource waste, to the focus on behavioral changes that improve the nutritional status of the most vulnerable populations. All these disciplines, all these gifts, all these links, are critical to achieving the ends of sustainable food production—one of the critical ends to which all of today’s participants are committed. For we know that this chain of collaboration runs from this space to find its ultimate end in the local food and health production systems in thousands of communities throughout the world.
Here I expand on the idea of a chain of contribution to consider the issue of the ends we seek in creating such collaborations (intentional or not). My entire goal in sharing these thoughts was to challenge all the participants to think about the value of clarifying the ends we want to achieve. This concept runs through the rest of the remarks because it is important, I believe, for all of our efforts to clearly define the ends we want to achieve. The question should always be variations on: “Why do we want a deeper partnership with the University?” “What is the goal of economic development efforts in Davis?” “Why is it important for us to be the home of an HM Clause, or a Marrone Bioinnovations, or other?” These broader “ends” questions focus us on whether our partnership is founded on the solid ground of shared goals and intentions or whether our goals diverge in important ways. Mature relationships are grounded in a clear sense of shared ends we desire to achieve together.
A focus on these ultimate ends of food production and security, and well being is critical. As French sociologist Jacques Ellul noted in the years after the Second World War: “The first enormous truth flowing from our civilization is that, today, everything has become “means.” There are no longer “ends.” We no longer know towards what we are headed. We have lost our collective goals. We dispose of enormous means, and we put into action prodigious machines to reach nowhere…”
Now you may say, Robb, why such somber words on a day of celebration?
It is because days such as today, a day full of emotion, of hope and of vision for a better tomorrow, are ones not soon forgotten. It is, therefore, in my view, right and fitting that we add to them solemn reminders of the ends we seek to achieve.
The ends are not in the awards, in the successful transfer of technology, in academic advancement flowing from this research space, or even in the seeds and other food- and health-related technologies that this space will foster. Rather, the ends are in a world in which the innovations born and nurtured here flow to improve the health and wellbeing of the vulnerable populations wherever they are found.
Ellul was a French jurist, sociologist, environmental activist and writer who had seen, first hand, the results of technical innovations that had been developed without reference to clear ends. He (and others like him such as Albert Schweizer and Ivan Illich) had seen the incredible technical accomplishment of “splitting the atom” turned to the end of destroying tens of thousands of innocent lives and they were horrified. Ellul wrote about the problem of “technique” the idea of having the most efficient “means” to solve problems without reference to the clear “ends” to which they should be turned—presciently warning about the world in which an inattention to systems approaches to problem solving creates “black-swan-prone collapses.” The issues we face as a city and region are complex and interrelated. They require careful analysis and a consideration of unintended consequences. They require a constant return to the “ends” we seek. On the day of my remarks I applied this concept to the innovations flowing from the research space we were inaugurating—to remind the scientists, venture capitalists, investors, local business leaders and university employees that in all we do we must not lose sight of the ends; to not become enamored by the prodigious means at our disposal; to stay fixed on the collective outcomes that led us to seek out a fruitful partnership in the first place.
And this really gets at our—the City of Davis’—interest in, and support for, this collaboration: we know that the outcomes (the ends) of the innovations realized here will resound to the benefit of our local community here in Davis, in Yolo County, and beyond.
The City of Davis is proud to be part of the home to this collaboration to share the wealth of this location, of this nearby, of this bioregion, with our brothers and sisters around the world. Tell us what we can do to fully play our role, to add our gift, to add our link in the chain that will enable us to, together, achieve the ends we seek. Thank you.
The clear message that I wanted to leave with those in attendance was that, as someone who aspires to provide leadership in Davis, I am keen to discover how we can be the effective partner—the faithful “link” in the chain—that will enable innovations to flow from the campus, through our community and to our region and the world. After the event—both that day and since— I have had the chance to talk in more depth with the scientists whose ideas have the potential to help us solve significant challenges in our world. I do not believe that science and technology (or “technique” as Ellul spoke of it) can save us. But I do believe that with a clear focus on “ends”, the ideas that start at the University can be useful means to achieving them. And this is one way I think our “economic development” efforts in Davis: can we find ways to encourage and enable these means, always carefully considered within the context of critical ends, to grow, thrive and development for the betterment of our community, our region and, perhaps, our world.
A friend of mine writes “there is no community without economy.” He borrows from the summary of interview with the venerable Wendell Berry, which notes:
(F)or (Berry), economy is not finances or GNP or means of production or supply and demand. He harkens back to the old Greek notion that economy (oikos) is housekeeping and homecoming. It’s living harmoniously on the land in concert with others while keeping faith with generations past and generations future.
I want Davis to thrive not just today but into the future. The “end” that I seek for Davis is that it be a socially, environmentally and economically healthy place—a place that continues to draw on and provide a home for many people, with great gifts, who come to or because of UC Davis. I want our discussions about the “economy” of Davis to focus on what that healthy place looks like.
An economically healthy place has a diversified economy and provides jobs for its residents of all skill levels and gifts. In economic terms, that is the end I seek.
To achieve these ends I believe we must examine the important means that might help us achieve them: a strong and trusting relationship with the University; provision of space to entrepreneurs and companies of various sizes whose ideas emerge from the university or seek to come here to be near it; a focus on finding ways to allow the wealth created locally to circulate within our community (rather than simply leak away to distant investors); and building a municipal budget that takes a long view on planning to pay for the wonderful amenities that help our community be that thriving social space that attracts so much human giftedness to Davis.