This month, the CEO Leadership Alliance Orange County welcomes Jasmine Pachnanda as Senior Vice President to lead CLA-OC’s SoCal AI Initiative. This is a critical role for our organization, as artificial intelligence (AI) is a shared capability and accelerator across the flywheel of our CLA-OC strategy.
CLA-OC President Mark Percy talked with Jasmine about her experience and plans for building an AI tech innovation hub in Orange County.
Mark Percy: We are thrilled to have you join the CLA-OC team. You bring such strength of experience. What excited you about this role, and what opportunities and potential do you see in Orange County?
Jasmine Pachnanda: What excited me first was that it was Orange County. I grew up right here in Irvine, and I am delighted to come back to the area. So much has changed. When I was growing up here, there were still orange trees everywhere!
It is amazing to see what an economic powerhouse Orange County has become, now the 16th largest region by GDP in the U.S. There is so much potential for us to create a thriving OC for all and to be a leader in the world. Given its strong economic base, OC really can do this, not only with GDP and economic variables but with the good we can do. It’s inspiring to me to see business leaders come together to use this influence, capital, and power to have a broader impact on society.
I think Orange County does get a bad rap sometimes. Some people think of OC as dominated by white communities, but when you are here, you see it’s not like that at all. We have much more diversity in people and more diversity of thinking here than people realize. I am excited to help change the perception.
MP: You have a deep understanding of education and the early talent pipeline from your previous roles with Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and The Broad Center. You also did business strategy work as a consultant for Boston Consulting Group. How will the experience you bring influence your approach here?
JP: Most recently I was leading a K-12 school system in Los Angeles. Through our work, I was welcomed into communities where students would be the first in their families to attend college or even to graduate high school. These families all wanted to do their best for their kids, but they faced so many barriers– from immigration to housing and food insecurity. To find solutions to challenges like these takes a systems approach, and that’s where my experience comes into play.
CLA-OC already has that systems approach embedded in its strategy, working across talent, education, innovation, and branding. I want to be sure as we collaborate across all these areas — with business leaders or with education leaders — that we are keeping youth at the center, particularly those who have the least access to opportunities.
I also want to ensure that we keep at the center of our work the idea of “for good.” So, we have to continuously ask ourselves, what does that mean? How are we moving toward that? Is this the right definition? And who else needs to be engaged as we work toward that definition?
MP: What are your plans for your first 100 days?
JP: I am starting by working with you and Doug Wilson to deeply understand the relationships and foundations that are already established. What does everyone bring and what are we working toward?
I am a very action-oriented person, so I will set specific, measurable goals for the next 12-24 months. I want to show success with tangible progress.
Part of the narrative we need to change is making Southern California known as an AI superpower or SuperHub. We need to refine and execute the plan to get us there.
MP: What is top of mind in terms of AI as an accelerator for our work?
JP: Our vision is to build a top-tier innovation economy with connected deep talent pools, mentors, and world-class support services, fueled by abundant local capital. Central to that is reaching back to K-12 students to stimulate curiosity in AI and digital literacy. One way we’ll do that this year is to design and test AI/emerging tech and digital literacy open-source modules with early learners. Building this kind of comfort and capability early on will strengthen our talent pipeline for all industries.
AI is going to happen. We want to be able to speed the process of applying it and benefiting from it while being intentional in our approach to avoid bias. We need to be sure we don’t let the technology run ahead of ethics.
MP: How do you think about attracting AI and tech talent and companies that have previously gravitated to Silicon Valley?
JP: There are a lot of great things about the Bay Area, but there are also advantages that Orange County has. We need to consider what innovative tech businesses need and value out of their talent. It used to be an engineering degree from a top tech university, but as we dig deeper, we are seeing a much broader set of factors for success.
COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to remote work. Many professionals now could live anywhere. There is a desire for change, and we are already seeing an exodus from the Bay Area. Plus, we have amazing talent right here. How can we change the system to create a cycle of talent that stays in Orange County?
MP: Any final thoughts?
JP: In all we do, we will keep the idea of the greater good at the center and work toward that. I am proud to be a member of the CLA-OC team, and I look forward to getting to know our business, education, and community leaders as we collaborate on the opportunities ahead.