Leveraging Social Capital for Collective Impact: Leading the Bay Area K-16 Collaborative

Leveraging Social Capital for Collective Impact: Leading the Bay Area K-16 Collaborative


June 2024

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Education Insights Center (EdInsights) or the California Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).

2023-24 CA EPFP fellow Agustin Cervantes

When the 2023-24 California Education Policy Fellowship Program (CA EPFP) began this past fall, I stood on the brink of an exciting professional transition. In January, I became the first Executive Director of the Bay Area K-16 Collaborative. My new role represents more than just a personal career shift; it is a thrilling leap toward helping California’s economy recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as an opportunity to address long-standing social and economic inequities plaguing higher education and workforce participation. In my new role, I aim to facilitate the transformation of public education through regional collaboration, leveraging relationships, shared knowledge, and mutual trust.

Leaving the California State University system after nearly a decade challenged me; however, I learned that courage comes not from the absence of fear but from the resolve to act despite uncertainty. Starting this new role has been both difficult and intriguing. As both a first-generation American and university graduate driven by my commitment to addressing socioeconomic inequities in education, I am fully embracing this opportunity to grow and contribute to my community with curiosity and excitement. 

In this role, I am able to deeply explore the concepts and real-world implications of social and cultural capital. I am identifying key players in the regional Bay Area education network to understand what effective collaboration looks like in developing initiatives, projects, and programs. Recognizing the power of collective impact has become crucial. The Bay Area K-16 Collaborative operates in five counties through three subregions, integrating regional programs and services into our intersegmental work. Trust, collaboration, and shared understanding among stakeholders drive systemic change.

Collaboration across public and private entities to achieve significant and lasting social change has always been my guiding principle while working in the education sector. I firmly believe that no single organization can solve complex social problems alone. Collective impact is harnessed through five core principles: Common Agenda; Shared Measurement; Mutually Reinforcing Activities; Continuous Communication; and Backbone Support. As Executive Director, I am intentionally crafting my job description and scope of work to align with these principles. 

My participation in CA EPFP further reinforced this commitment. While the initial job transition could have adversely affected my participation in CA EPFP, I found much needed support through it, particularly in the network.  There were layers of connective tissue with the fellows and guest speakers from different education segments, foundations, non-profit organizations, policy and advocacy entities. Active engagement with participants demonstrated the power of social capital in action, inspiring me to leverage my strengths and coordinate with diverse stakeholders toward common goals. As a professional microcosm, CA EPFP became, for me, social capital and collective impact in action.  

Strong, lasting relationships are built on trust. These relationships help address systemic barriers and create inclusive environments where all students can thrive. This involves targeted interventions, culturally responsive practices, and continuous monitoring to ensure equitable outcomes. We aim to create systems and structures that support ongoing collaboration and continuous improvement. This includes developing leadership capacity, securing diverse funding sources, and embedding collaborative practices into our educational institutions to advance underserved communities.

My time with CA EPFP has helped me understand the facilitative nature of my new role and to better foresee what I need to do to succeed in the complex regional partnership work. Knowledge gained during the opening weekend seminar, Using Strengths Finder to Strategically Improve Your Leadership Skills’ hosted by certified CliftonStrengths coach Polly Chandler, has proven increasingly relevant. My one-on-one leadership coaching session with Polly had this professional move as its focal point. During the session, we took time to assess my top leadership strengths using the Gallup CliftonStrengths inventory. Discovering that many of my strengths fell into the Relationship Building category, I recognized the importance of leveraging these strengths to arrive in the position and immediately assume a facilitative leadership role with the members of the Collaborative. Enhancing social capital would be essential for capacity building. 

My journey has just begun, and I am already finding strength in connecting with others and nurturing relationships. The vision of the Bay Area K-16 Collaborative is to forge a seamless, equitable, and effective education-to-employment pathway for all students in our region. By leveraging social capital and fostering collective impact, we are steadfast in our commitment to collaboration, innovation, and above all, equity and excellence in public education. These collective efforts have the potential to make a profound and lasting impact in the region and beyond, and I am eagerly anticipating the possibilities that lie ahead.