As a consultant who creates economic analyses and development strategies for complex infill and mixed-income projects for the public and private sectors, Elizabeth “Libby” Seifel has been keenly focused on helping her clients achieve a triple bottom line, where sustainability and social equity are pursued in equal measure alongside strong financial returns. One of the very first projects she worked on as the founding executive director of the Tent City Corporation in Boston was a 270-unit mixed-income, transit-oriented development in the South End that won a ULI Award for Excellence in 1990.
Seifel, who opened Seifel Consulting that same year, has brought similar passion for inclusion in her role as cochair of the program committee for the 2015 ULI Fall Meeting, which will be held October 5–8 in San Francisco.
“A key question I’ve grappled with my whole career is: how do you create communities that house a broad spectrum of people with different incomes, backgrounds, and professions?” Seifel says. “Over time, ULI has evolved into being more of a ‘big tent’ organization where diverse viewpoints and sectors find a home. My goal for the meeting has been to try to tap into the inclusivity and diversity within ULI so that people from many different backgrounds feel welcomed and are encouraged to contribute.”
Seifel was asked to cochair the programs committee by longtime friend and former client Amy Neches, partner at TMG Partners and cochair of the Fall Meeting host committee. Seifel and Neches first worked together when the latter managed major redevelopment projects at the San Francisco Redevelopment Authority (now known as the Office of Investment and Infrastructure).
“I’ve worked with Libby for many years and know her well, so I was really excited about her enthusiasm for taking on the program committee cochair role for the Fall Meeting,” Neches says. “Libby has worked on complex development issues in the Bay Area throughout her career, so she has a broad understanding of the market, the projects, and the people we want to showcase at the Fall Meeting—she really knows everybody.”
One way that the local host committee, Seifel, and her cochair, Alan Billingsley, have sought to bring diversity and a sense of inclusion to the Fall Meeting program is to ensure that public and nonprofit sector leaders are strongly represented as panelists and attendees. Eighty individuals from nonprofit and public agencies—several of whom have never been to a Fall Meeting before—will be attending the meeting on scholarships. In addition, ULI San Francisco sponsored ten scholarships for Bay Area women leaders through its local ULI Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI).
As the former national WLI planning committee chair, Seifel feels strongly that gender inclusion and diversity need to be top of mind for industry leaders as they contemplate the future of their organizations. “We have the opportunity to grow the industry and ULI’s membership, to make it more welcoming to young people, and particularly to young women and people of color,” Seifel says.
As the program committee cochair, Seifel estimates that she has put at least 250 hours into enlisting volunteers, participating in planning meetings, crafting compelling programs, organizing panels, and communicating with dozens of ULI staff and volunteers for the Fall Meeting. The work began in December and won’t wrap up until Fall Meeting is over—mid-October in this case.
“It’s constant,” Seifel says of the task. “But it’s very gratifying, as I’ve met so many incredible thought leaders, worked with talented volunteers, and had a unique opportunity to think through what trends and innovations are most impactful for real estate today.”
Alongside ULI’s staff, volunteer coordinators (themselves ULI members) make contact with panelists, vet them, and ensure that their piece of the presentation fits within the topic of an individual panel. Seifel’s and Billingsley’s job is to support coordinators as they secure commitments from each panelist and as the program congeals. “We help them refine the program content, find and select panelists, and make sure everyone has what he or she needs to create a great program,” she says.
According to Neches, Seifel’s tremendous people skills meant she was just the person to coordinate a team of volunteers while pursuing a shared vision for Fall Meeting’s program. “Libby has the perfect mix of personal qualities for this role: she’s smart, creative, organized, determined, and very persistent in the nicest way possible,” Neches says. “She’s been able to generate excitement and participation from a broad range of volunteers, and I think we’ve got a great lineup of programs and speakers to share with the ULI membership as a result of her commitment.”
One innovation that Seifel wants Fall Meeting attendees to know about is the extended speaker series on Tuesday, which will feature global thought leaders sharing insights on four key themes for real estate—disruptive technology; global demographic trends; arts and culture; and sustainability, resilience, and health. They will first address a broad audience before convening with breakout groups for a more intimate Q-and-A session. Seifel hopes the speaker series will inspire attendees with big ideas and broad calls to action.
“We have such a tremendous program this year, full of provocative and inspiring trailblazers and seasoned professionals who will share practical, real-life examples of what is driving success in their corner of the world,” Seifel says. “Our goal is to get attendees to think differently after they leave. If they take home three powerful ideas that they can use in their professional lives, then the Fall Meeting will have been a success for me and all of the incredible volunteers.”