Civic Bridge Partner Spotlight: ZS Associates
The Civic Bridge program is designed to create collaborative spaces for creative problem-solving. By bringing together private-sector volunteers and City staff, the program helps empower, facilitate, and foster innovative solutions to critical civic challenges.
In this latest post in our Partner Spotlight blog series, we spoke with members of the ZS Associates volunteer team — who recently worked with SFMTA to develop dashboards that will help ensure equitable access to ride-hailing services for people using wheelchairs.
Read on to learn more about our Civic Bridge partner, ZS Associates, their program experience, and what drives them to give back to the community.
Follow ZS Associates on Twitter @ZSAssociates.
Corporate Social Responsibility lead: Darius Bhadha
ZS Associates has a strong culture of giving back to the community, and has corporate responsibility programs like ZS Cares to empower its employees to apply their knowledge, skills, and passions to causes they care about. As the ZS Cares San Francisco program lead, why do you believe it’s important for companies like yours to provide volunteering opportunities for employees?
One reason is to help employees get closer proximate to the communities they live in. ZS Associates, as a consulting firm, operates in a model that values proximity to our clients, location-wise. While we are privileged enough to be working from home during the pandemic, it also means we have a greater disconnect from the world outside our computer. By leaning into these volunteering opportunities, we are able to step out of the office space and get familiar and reconnected with our local community.
The act of volunteering and being of service is also incredibly fulfilling. The more you give back to others, the more you gain yourself through learning from others’ experiences and working in different spaces.
For example, many of our employees have used pro bono projects to step outside their comfort zone, apply and grow their skills, and bring learnings back to their work at ZS.
ZS Associates participated in their first Civic Bridge cohort last year — and you signed up the company again for this year’s cohort! What initially inspired you to participate in the program, and what about your experience in the program motivated you to continue your partnership this year and beyond?
ZS Cares has primarily worked with non-profits for our social impact work, so when we came across Civic Bridge, it was an exciting opportunity to interact directly with our local government. This was something we had never thought of or explored before, so we were curious to learn more and see what we could do.
We continue to partner with Civic Bridge because the Office of Civic Innovation (OCI) made the whole process so easy from our end. Typically, we do a lot of work to find and source the right projects for ZS Cares. Since OCI took on that sourcing work, all we needed to focus on was finding employees with the right skill sets to staff up and execute the Civic Bridge project.
Our employees also shared positive feedback about the Civic Bridge model — in which employees use a portion of their normal working hours to volunteer for the City project, so they’re still paid for their services and time through the company. This allows them to focus on and treat the project as if it was part of their normal workload, which translates to better project outcomes for all.
Civic Bridge project co-lead: Sarah Weng
You were the co-lead for last year’s Civic Bridge project with SFMTA. And I know from our time working together that civic volunteerism is important to you. Can you share more about your motivation and how it led you to Civic Bridge?
I’m excited about what can be achieved through government service. I am a health policy nerd and what interests me is how legislation is intended to work by design, how it actually works in the real world once it’s implemented, and how it can evolve over time.
With the SFMTA project, there was an Access for All legislation in place which called for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to create more equity in transportation for wheelchair users. To better understand the impact of this policy, our volunteer team worked closely with SFMTA and SFCTA to develop data dashboards that helped them more clearly understand the data they received from ride-hailing companies.
Civic Bridge was a great opportunity to take my passion for volunteering to the next level and implement change through a really well-built project that had a clear, tangible goal. I think public-private partnerships expand government capacity and help introduce new approaches from the private sector.
How was your Civic Bridge experience? What were some moments that stood out to you?
The project kickoff meeting was really powerful because I could see from the start how collaborative the government staff were and how the ZS team could naturally complement the SFMTA team — especially with the volunteers’ expertise in bringing data to life.
It was also exciting to share the first dashboard mock-ups with CPUC, who asked us thoughtful questions and gave us reinforcing feedback which let us know we were on the right track. As the governing body that oversees Access for All, CPUC can change the legislation and modify it to make it more relevant. So it’s incredible to know what we built can propel what future versions of this legislation might look like.
How would you sum up your Civic Bridge experience in one word?
Motivating. I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I went in, but the project was challenging, fun, and rewarding. So I feel motivated about a career in public service someday.
Civic Bridge project co-lead: Atul Choudhary
Along with Sarah, you led and managed the Civic Bridge project with SFMTA. What inspired you to volunteer to lead a group of your colleagues in this pro bono work?
I volunteered for Civic Bridge through ZS Cares. And I was excited about the opportunity Civic Bridge provided me to invest some of my regular client work time towards making an impact for the wider San Francisco community. This project especially aligned with the type of data work that I normally do day-to-day. It was inspiring to co-lead a team of ZS consultants from across the world (India to San Francisco!), who all understood how important this transportation project was and its impact on the community.
As someone who works in the private sector, how did you approach the collaborative work with the City agency? What were the key considerations that led to a successful public-private project outcome?
I had no experience working with any government agencies before Civic Bridge — and I guess I went into the project thinking that it might be a slower pace. To my pleasant surprise, I quickly learned this was not the case and the expectations were high — as high as with any of my corporate clients.
Working in a public-private project team, it was really important to make sure we had a clear project plan that included week-to-week activities. It was critical to have a comprehensive tracking tool for our project progress — and to know where we should be at week 4, 6, 12, etc. of the project.
Additionally, having an open feedback and communications system is also key as a team is evolving their work into a tangible deliverable. During our Civic Bridge project, we worked with multiple stakeholders — SFMTA, SFCTA, and CPUC. So it was important to manage diverse voices and make sure their insights were heard and integrated into the final dashboards.
How would you sum up your Civic Bridge experience in one word?
Amazing. It’s a simple word, but it truly was an amazing experience that beat our expectations, both in terms of the type of project and the project’s impact. It was wonderful to see the public-facing dashboard online a few months after our collaboration ended — and I’m excited to see how this dashboard will iterate and expand.
ZS is a global professional services firm that leverages deep industry expertise, leading-edge analytics, technology and strategy to create solutions for clients that work in the real world. Learn more at zs.com.