David C. Bohnett to give keynote address for Ford School's spring 2018 graduating classes

January 30, 2018

He's a philanthropist, an activist, an entrepreneur, and a U-M alum. David C. Bohnett (MBA '80), founder and chairman of the David Bohnett Foundation and Baroda Ventures, will give the keynote address to the Ford School's spring 2018 graduating classes at commencement on April 28.

Bohnett, who grew up in suburban Chicago, earned his bachelor's in business administration at the University of Southern California and his master's in finance at the University of Michigan. At Michigan, Bohnett worked as a hotline counselor for the university's Lesbian and Gay Male Program Office, now the Spectrum Center, which was launched by Jim Toy in 1978.

Bohnett began his professional career at Accenture (then Anderson Consulting) in Los Angeles, where he also became involved with GLAAD and the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. In 1994, he co-founded GeoCities, which the Wall Street Journal would later describe as a Facebook prototype. GeoCities was purchased by Yahoo! in 1999. And in the late 1990s, Bohnett founded Baroda Ventures, a successful LA-based venture capital firm that focuses on early stage technology startups.

Bohnett's eponymous foundation has contributed more than $100 million to a wide variety of innovative social justice programs in major cities across the U.S., including arts, educational, and civic programs; gun violence research and prevention activities; voting rights and registration initiatives; LGBT related causes; and graduate school leadership programs at the University of California-Los Angeles, New York University, Harvard University, and the University of Michigan.

At U-M, the Bohnett Foundation supports leadership and public service fellowships for competitively selected Ford School graduate students who serve as interns in the City of Detroit’s mayor’s office--assisting with research, outreach, and other activities required to achieve mayoral priorities. Twenty of the Ford School's graduate students have received these fellowships since the program was launched in 2010, and many other students have been inspired by the program to explore the city's rich history, and to serve Detroit organizations as interns, volunteers, and professionals.

"Every elected and appointed leader I meet these days is an entrepreneur. They have to be," Bohnett told us in a 2012 interview for State & Hill magazine. "They are being asked to do more than ever—with fewer resources. Their ability to succeed—and by that I mean to deliver the goods and services of government to their constituents--demands that they be leaner, wiser, more experimental, and more willing to take calculated risks." 

Former Ford School Bohnett Fellows include Julie Schneider (MPP/MUP '12), now policy director for Detroit's Department of Housing and Revitalization; Betsy Palazzola (MPP '12), now general manager of green projects for Detroit's Department of Housing and Revitalization; Diana Flora (AB '09, MPP/MUP '13), now executive manager of crime intelligence for the Detroit Police Department; and Stephanie Chang (AB '05, MPP/MSW '14), now State Representative for House District 6, which includes Detroit, River Rouge, and Ecorse (in 2014, Chang became the first Asian American woman to hold a seat in the Michigan state legislature). 

"Rather than run from the challenges our cities face, these fellows have embraced them," says Bohnett. "That, to me, is a true mark of how successful this program has become." The Bohnett Foundation's social justice programs, he says, are based on ancient Roman proclamations addressed: “Urbi et Orbi,” or “to the city and to the world.” They're designed “to test programs in the city—the living, breathing, experimental hub of humanity—and then to bring those successes to the rest of the world.”

The Ford School's graduation ceremony will take place at 4:30 p.m. in Rackham Auditorium, and will be live-streamed for families and friends back home. 

David Bohnett serves as trustee of The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, vice chairman of the board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, trustee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the University of Southern California. His many awards and distinctions include Los Angeles Business Journal's Technology Leader of the Year, Time Digital's Top 50 Cyber Elite, and Entrepreneur of the Year for Southern California.