Two Bright Guys, One Vision
On a hot July night in 1969, 8-year-old Michael Brown was awakened by his parents and led sleepy-eyed in front of the television. Sitting in their pajamas, he and his four brothers and sisters watched as men walked on the moon for the first time. Other nights, Brown watched his favorite show, Star Trek, with the Russian, Chinese-American, Vulcan, and African-American crew all working together on the Starship Enterprise. "I really associated with the idealism and everything that was happening in the '60s," he recalls.
About an hour from Brown's home in Boston, Alan Khazei was in the same grade. His mother was a nurse, his father a surgeon who told stories about his native Iran but imbued his son with a fierce love for his adopted country. The boys, from middle-class homes, finally met when they were assigned the same dorm room as freshmen at Harvard. It was the beginning of a lasting friendship and a powerful partnership. "When people ask us for advice about how to found an organization, we always tell them the same thing,'' Khazei says. "First, find a partner. Then you immediately have a team."
Today, Brown and Khazei are leading social entrepreneurs. Their creation, City Year, is a national-service program enlisting youths between 17 and 24 to commit to a year of work helping their communities. With more than 1,000 members serving in 15 U.S. cities and in South Africa, City Year has outpaced even Khazei's and Brown's brash dreams for it. "We just said we're going to change the world," Khazei recalls, "and, damn it, people should just help us."
Tall, dark, and intense, Khazei says City Year looks for leaders in unlikely places, among "young people who might otherwise be dismissed." Smart and self-deprecating, Brown has incorporated leadership lessons from the military, business, and education. But the key to developing leaders among City Year volunteers, he says, is to give them opportunity-then get out of the way.
Brown and Khazei live by example. Brown is married to a doctor who treats kids with AIDS. Khazei's wife has established three philanthropic organizations. "They live and breathe this job," says 27-year-old Andrea Eaton, director of special projects who came to City Year three years ago after hearing Brown speak at Cornell University. "I don't think leaders are born," says Khazei. "Our belief is that anybody can be a leader. It's a skill set that people can learn and develop."
Brown and Khazei draw inspiration from Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi for the leadership skills they've taught the 9,500 current and former members of City Year. Brown first encountered the concept of national service when he took a year off from college to work for then Rep. Leon Panetta, the California Democrat who would go on to become President Clinton's chief of staff. Just 20, he saw how volunteering could "turn young people into active citizens." After graduation, Brown went to New York to work for the City Volunteer Corps founded by Mayor Ed Koch.