Jonathan Silver: “In the classroom you learn how to learn; outside of the classroom, you learn how to live.”
Jonathan Silver is an executive with a history of success investing in the clean economy, a senior advisor to multiple large firms in clean economy sector, and an alum of Science Po’s Certificat d’Etudes Politiques (CEP) program. After graduating from Harvard with a major in government, Silver was awarded a MacArthur Rotary Graduate Fellowship to study in France. “I chose Sciences Po because the school specialized in the areas of study I was interested in,” he says.
At Sciences Po, Silver’s classes were both lectures and small discussion groups—some fully integrated with French students and others just for CEP program students, who came from all over the world. Outside the classroom, Silver played rugby and moonlighted as a speechwriter for members of the international diplomatic community. Through the Rotary Graduate Fellowship, he had the opportunity to travel to visit other awardees scattered across the country. “Other than that, I spent my evenings and weekends roaming Paris with the friends I made at Sciences Po. It was tremendous,” he adds.
After completing his studies at Sciences Po, Silver returned to the United States and worked for a think tank before being awarded a Fulbright Award to enroll in a doctoral program at the Graduate Institute for International Studies at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. He ultimately decided not to become a professional academic and took a job in management consulting at McKinsey & Co. Over time, Silver found his way to finance and eventually became a Managing Director, and the Chief Operating Officer, of the hedge fund Tiger Management. Silver always had an interest in “both public and private sector work,” and took time out to serve as a political appointee in the Clinton administration in both the Department of Commerce and the Department of Interior. When he returned to the private sector, he launched and ran a venture capital firm for a number of years and then returned to government service, heading the U.S. government’s $40 billion Clean Energy Investment Fund during the Obama administration.
For the last ten years, Silver has been working in clean energy and sustainability finance. He sits on a number of boards, including National Grid, Plug Power as well as several private companies and nonprofits. He is also a senior advisor at Guggenheim Partners, a large asset manager and investment bank, where his work focuses on assisting clean energy and sustainability clients.
Having devoted so many years to the fields of clean energy and sustainability, Silver is buoyed by rising professional and public interest in the sector. “I've been involved in the clean energy and sustainability space for so long that the thing that surprises me now is how many people are involved,” he says. “When I started a dozen years ago or so, it was a very small industry, with not many people involved, and even fewer interested. What has been particularly gratifying is to see how important a topic it has become, and how many people are devoting their time and professional talents to it.”
Silver especially enjoys the impact of the work he does, stating “I feel like I’m making a difference every day.” “But it’s is a daunting undertaking,” he adds. “There is a lot that has to happen for us to succeed in this effort. We need even more people involved, and then we need to rededicate ourselves to making sure that we can manage climate change.”
Silver believes his experience at Sciences Po “was hugely important in understanding the public policy challenges faced in other countries and understanding how other people in other cultures assess risk, analyze behaviors, and try to implement social change.” Sciences Po “gave me a better, more nuanced and more sophisticated understanding of how the world actually works,” he adds. Silver thought both his academic experience and time outside of the classroom with friends from France and from around the world were equally important. “In the classroom you learn how to learn; outside of the classroom, you learn how to live.”