What do Bruce Corwin, chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Theatres Corporation, Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State, and Gene Siskel, former film critic of the popular duo Siskel and Ebert have in common?
While each notable individual went on to enjoy successful careers in their respective fields, all were graduates of Los Angeles’ elite Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs.
Coro, a national nonprofit with an office in Los Angeles, was built on a unique curriculum of core leadership skill-building paired with real-world experiences that rely on the “city as the classroom.”
“In many ways, Coro may seem like a secret society,” said Tu-Han Phan, director of outreach for Coro’s Southern California program. “But we are very connected, and we work closely with the mayor, local businesses, and leaders throughout the LA community to solve problems and innovate.”
Coro originated in San Francisco in 1942 to train young veterans in the leadership skills necessary to assure the democratic system of government could more effectively meet the needs of its citizens. Since then, Coro has grown to include centers in six cities, including Los Angeles, which formed in 1957.
Coro program participants learn about the “real world in the real world” – by actively questioning, interacting with diverse constituents, challenging assumptions, and coming up with innovative solutions to the problems faced by their communities.
At least 10,000 program alumni are currently serving as leaders in local, regional and national/global businesses, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies and elected public office. A healthy base of those alumni spent their fellowship year serving and learning within Los Angeles County.
“This year, fellows have looked at various topics like transportation and water conservation,” said Phan. “The key with Coro, however, is that we try to bring together a very diverse group of individuals to talk about the issues to see if we can come up with holistic solutions that have never been considered.”
In the case of the drought, Coro has helped orchestrate a water conference for the past six years, convening people from different spaces to talk about water.
“We’ve brought opposing views together on the Peripheral Canal, on whether or not to take water from the Delta, and most recently we’ve been working to congregate people who are not even directly related to water to come talk about water,” said Phan. “We had people from local corporations like Boeing and Anheuser-Busch share how they are handling water conservation within their own respective environments to see if we can glean any insights.”
Coro’s role is to help facilitate those discussions and interactions.
“We’re like a third-party connector to different silos, bringing a wide array of voices and perspectives to an issue,” said Phan.
Only 12 Southern California fellows are selected to go through the program each year, and they typically spend 80 hours per week learning and working in the community through workshops, focus groups and meetings.
The Coro Fellowship program in Los Angeles selects from a nationwide pool, with regional applications from individuals in Arizona, Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. A bachelor’s degree is really the only pre-requisite, but the competition for a spot is intense, and the review panel aims to create a fellow team comprised of diverse individuals from all backgrounds.
Each class of fellows goes out seeking to assist in the community, engaging in civic projects. Occasionally, local government and businesses call upon the organization when they are looking for some guidance to solve a problem.
“Los Angeles County and in particular, my office, has had a strong relationship with Coro for many years,” said Supervisor Don Knabe. “We’ve been proud to hire Coro fellows to work on local policy issues that really impact residents living in the community.”
“Our region faces serious challenges. To meet these challenges head on, Coro training builds bridges across sectors by working with differing points of view in the spirit of problem solving,” said Wesley Farrow, Executive Director of Coro Southern California and alumnus of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs. “Our inquiry-based experiential training is demanding and even life changing.”
Fellows for the 2015-16 program will be announced soon. Application deadlines for each year are typically in January.
To learn more about Coro, visit www.coroLA.org.