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Creating a society where all people can flourish: Nils Behnke, McKinsey Alumni Voices

November 1, 2023

McKinsey & Company, the leading global management consulting company provides invaluable support to over 3,900 nonprofits through time, talent, and treasure, including St. Anthony’s.

McKinsey offered invaluable analysis and in-depth research on San Francisco’s homelessness crisis and proposed solutions, particularly in the area of women’s and children’s services, that directly help St. Anthony’s address the needs of the Bay Area.

According to McKinsey, in many cities around the world, growing levels of socioeconomic inequality are contributing to alarming levels of poverty and homelessness. In this McKinsey Alumni Voices video, Nils Behnke, CEO of St. Anthony’s, shares how St. Anthony’s is helping alleviate the crisis in the Tenderloin, one of the United States’ hardest-hit neighborhoods and how those practices can be used elsewhere.

We’re strong believers that change starts with us, and it starts one person at a time. We all need to find change in our own hearts so that we can make change happen more broadly. A lot of the people we are called to serve who experience homelessness, don’t just experience homelessness. There are a multitude of different things that are barriers in their life to make changes.

I think it starts with the realization that reason and compassion can go together very well. And so our ethos as an organization is to see every human being in their God-given dignity and their own personality and to address them in that way. So we never take an approach where we just look at people as a group. We look at every individual, and every individual has the right to be served with respect and dignity.

We have health services. We have a medical clinic and a recovery program. But we also are a bridge to opportunities for many in the workforce development and transitional employment and technology programs that we have, and I think that’s where it really comes together. First of all, at the very heart of what we do is to invite people in need to come and utilize our services, but also to change their lives. But that is a mutual experience. The people who are here to serve them, be it staff, be it volunteers, be it other people who are here helping us – they’re also invited to meet other people and to change their lives and reconsider how they think about their lives and what their journey is like.

We’re not just here to serve, but we’re here to make a change. One part of our mission is to serve those people most in need, and to lift up their spirits. The other one is to create a society in which everyone can flourish. A deeply held belief of our organization is that change happens person by person. The unit of change is one person. One person at a time finds change in themselves, in their heart, and then they can change things, and they serve as an example to others. If enough people do that, then we will change systems and we’ll change the city. But it starts one person at a time.

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