How we must use what we’ve learned to make our companies
and community better

Kendall Square Association’s 13th Annual Meeting The New Kendall Challenge was a powerful moment for our innovation ecosystem – bringing our community together and celebrating our successes amidst global crises, and looking with optimism to the path ahead.

Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui thanked the Kendall community for everything that is being done to fight COVID-19 in Cambridge. From raising philanthropic dollars for the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund to providing bulk regional testing and COVID-19 vaccine trials, our entire neighborhood has been hard at work building solutions to the global pandemic. 

She called on the Kendall community to apply the same tenacious spirit and determination that we gave toward the pandemic to meeting the challenges of systematic racism that also plague our community. This means ensuring people in marginalized communities have equitable access to opportunities within our Cambridge landscape.

“As we come out the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have time to reflect on the challenges, opportunities, and tender moments of the past year,” said Mayor Siddiqui over Zoom. “The City of Cambridge quickly began working with community partners to address the impact the public health crisis was having on our most vulnerable residents: our seniors, our Black and brown community members, and our low-income families.”

Mayor Siddiqui’s recount of collective action from citizens and companies alike during such a turbulent time was a theme explored by other speakers throughout the Annual Meeting. MIT President Reif reflected on how he has seen Kendall Square, MIT, and Cambridge transform since his arrival in the 1980’s.

“In the ‘80s, MIT was also looking outward – but it was skipping over Cambridge,” President Reif explained. “I do not need to tell you that times have changed!” 

Reif then issued a call to action for Cantabrigians: “I would like Kendall Square to be a place that never forgets the source of its strength: a great system of mutual inspiration, support and collaboration…a system that embraces absolutely everyone in this room today.” 

The need for involvement among citizens, leaders and companies can amount to collective change in our society. With a variety of brainpower – from STEM to visual arts, and education to small business – Cambridge can create a new path for itself: one of connection and inclusion. As President Reif closed out his speech, the true New Kendall Challenge became clear: how can we do our part to embrace, connect, and bolster everyone in Cambridge?

KSA Board Chair and Broad Institute’s Chief of Communications Lee McGuire echoed President Reif’s sentiment on coming together for collaboration. He recalled a joint effort between multiple Cambridge entities during the onset of the pandemic. 

“I remember this time last year the Cambridge Health Alliance along with the Cambridge Public Health Department, ProEMS, and folks here at the Broad mobilized to spend a weekend performing door by door testing in all city nursing homes,” said McGuire, “making us the first city in the nation to take that level of commitment to public service.”

Local collaboration and philanthropic efforts that happened in 2020 is still ricocheting now in the new year. As McGuire welcomed KSA’s seven newest board members, the need for continued teamwork was amplified in their respective introductions.

“We cannot be satisfied with being the most innovative square mile on the planet, but expanding that to six square miles,” emphasized Michael Dawson. 

As the founder of Innovators for Purpose, a nonprofit that gives teens the opportunity to be leaders in their local community, Dawson understands that Kendall Square must work to be a place of creativity and opportunity beyond its sidewalks. It must give access that stretches into all corners of Cambridge and into the homes of every resident. 

How do we do this? How does Kendall Square, the biotech mecca, expand itself to be more than that and bring others along for the ride? It starts at work and then we bring it home to uplift the next generation. Now.

“I think it is important to acknowledge that we are making progress,” said Attorney Tanisha Sullivan, President of Boston’s NAACP and Executive Advisor to the President of Sanofi Genzyme. “In the last year we have not been afraid to ask “why” and it has led to a deeper understanding of the racial inequalities in our country. But I would be remiss to not mention that we wake up again where in Minnesota the streets are hot and burning with anger.”

Sullivan referenced the unnecessary killing of Duante Wright in Minneapolis and that, as a country, we are still navigating the issues of policing accountability and transparency, while also dealing with more limitations to voting rights.

Long story short, there is still so much work to be done.

In a conversation about solving racial inequities at workplaces with Bill Sibold, Head of Sanofi Genzyme, Sullivan went on to explain how those in the biotech industry have inspired her; taking on life’s most complex problems and showing up everyday determined to make change.

It is time we took that perseverance we have for public health issues like cancer, Alzheimer’s and viruses and apply it to all frontiers in the wellness arena. 

Sullivan then posed a question to Sibold who has been part of the CEO Action for Racial Equity, the first business-led coalition of its kind with a mission to advance racial equity through public policy, about the role of the business community when it comes to address systematic racism.

“There are many ways to influence, and the next point of influence is economic,” Sibold explained the importance of CEOs having a collective voice. “When you put a group of business leaders around the table and they begin to align on an opinion, that is one that cannot be ignored.

“We can all do our best as a single person, but the impact can be so much greater when a large group comes together and has a similar goal, that is how we can truly create change.” 

In 2020, KSA invited business leaders to pivotal programs: Future of Work – a monthly meeting on how our individual workspaces are evolving,and Inclusion Drives Innovation, a 10-week professional development program that helps build actively anti-racist workplaces. Having space for C-suite executives and those with community influence to come together is just the beginning of overcoming this New Kendall Challenge.

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Like Bill Sibold said, “it’s about both personal and collective action.” From those donating to the Mayor’s Disaster Relief Fund, educators reinventing MIT’s place in the Kendall community to how we think about this one square mile of innovation, it will take all of us. We generate space in our personal lives for new empathetic ways of thinking and then work as collaborative units at work to create executive action towards total inclusion and understanding.

At the KSA, we look forward to those moments where we are at the table together – in person or virtually – to continue creating. As we digest all the dynamic conversations from this year’s Annual Meeting, our team hopes to continue collaborating with you. As we know all too well, it will take action from everyone to create equality for all.