How can technology bring us hope in our often disconnected world?
An excerpt from Beyond Good: How Technology is Leading a Purpose-driven Business Revolution
How can technology bring us hope in our often disconnected world?
By Theodora Lau and Bradley Leimer of Unconventional Ventures
(An excerpt from Beyond Good: How Technology is Leading a Purpose-driven Business Revolution)
We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in the global business environment. Large technology platforms now control much of our everyday lives. They encompass everything from the bundling of everyday activities embedded into superapps (from ordering food to booking a trip) to payments to social networks to the devices themselves. With that in mind, we must examine what these business models and their immense levels of profitability mean to our society. While regulators are focused on necessary checks of power around consumer privacy and securing trade secrets, as users of these systems we should also be concerned about how our personal data, preferences, and daily activities are now empowering profit flywheels of these companies.
In the thought provoking book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, Anand Giridharadas questions the current power structure of today’s global stage, including that of the large technological firms like those mentioned above, as well as the global elite that empower them. More interestingly, he questions the opportunity cost of a society controlled by the actions of fewer and fewer companies and more and more billionaires (many of whom seem more interested in reaching other planets than protecting our only home). What do these companies do with our data, what does this mean for competition of ideas, or the opportunity cost of competition lost to these large networks?
What does this mean for the future of society?
We live in a time of transformative economic conditions — which combines the power of technological solutions led by algorithms and increasingly empathy-led decision- making capabilities. Will technology lead to better outcomes in the long run? Could the current monopolistic scale of these technology platforms improve the common good? What are we missing that could have been built instead?
We should all care about what our most talented engineers and coders are up to and what large technology firms are focused on because it will eventually impact all of us. We should scrutinize the business models of these companies and the investments of venture capitalists just as we would the actions of owners of the local corner store — because what these firms do impact our lives and our communities, our work and consumption trends, and the distribution of profit back into our society. In every way possible, we should challenge growing profit margins, consolidation of businesses, and executive pay, and the existing system that lauds the success of valuation over the success of our communities.
We should support the efforts of entrepreneurs that are fundamentally addressing underlying systemic problems like wage inequality, expanded job training, education inequality, broadband access, and other means to smooth out the impact of luck on those who have the opportunity to succeed. We must help these efforts move beyond thoughts to actions, move empathy from customer research in order to exploit for profit to understand the root cause of the very problems systemic to the business model, of that of our communities and stakeholders we are fortunate to serve. Revolutions are ongoing evolutions of thoughts and broad strokes of actions that start on a tiny three-inch screen of glass and the glowing screens in cafes and newsrooms.
The impact of technological change is here to stay, and we should expect no less than a more equitable distribution of profit from these platforms for our society, for ourselves. This means as users of these systems and consumers of their output, we collectively have a way to influence what is built — through our actions and activities within these networks. If we can’t rally people to acknowledge their privilege and unite together to improve the lives of others, then what kind of society have we become? The principles of Beyond Good forces us to think beyond ourselves and beyond limitations by addressing the underlying issues that impact our communities, and technology is no exception. We have the power to drive change, both through individual actions and through our influence as leaders.
Moving forward with an empathy model
What if we moved the economics of capitalism and other economic models from taking care of shareholders first to taking care of stakeholders always? What would that look like in practice, specifically in financial services, in technology, and other industries we’ve discussed? Across the globe today, more companies are recognizing that doing well by doing good simply means acknowledging that their primary function is doing everything they can to meet the increasingly complex needs of the communities they serve. Empathy can be at the centre of a business model because it has heart and humanity as its guide.
We must be intentional in pursuing innovations that address the social challenges that we face as a civilization. The onus is on all of us to ensure that we are building an equitable future that will deliver positive outcomes for everyone. At the heart of our new book, Beyond Good, is this optimism. It comes from our conversations with people across the world doing amazing things within their companies and communities to help others. They offer us hope.
But we know change and progress do not come easy. Change requires work, perseverance, and commitment. Progress also requires us to confront a more honest truth. This may start with questions around profitability and purpose, but it quickly becomes more personal.
We must understand our value to society, the roles that we personally play and the ways our business models impact our communities. To be critical is not to be cynical. It is to probe and not pretend things cannot be better. It is to do more than hope — but to provide a path toward action. It is not to just talk about the common good — but to draw a map toward it.
The pursuit of purpose for the greater good is the purest form of action we can aspire to, to take the steps necessary to inspire change and be a voice toward a greater equality.
Our only hope is that you can find ways to incorporate them into your own actions, to find the hope that you need to keep going and make the world just that much better for someone else.
One Vision Podcast (links to all players)
The twenty-first century is going to be the most disruptive, contentious period humanity has ever lived through. It will challenge our most sacred ideologies around politics, economics and social constructs. It will force humanity to adapt in ways we can't yet imagine. We are now living in a different world than a century ago, where algorithms and robots can take people’s jobs, where unemployment increases and social unrest is fueled by divisive social networks and a lack of economic opportunity, and where the impact of climate change is undeniable. In this episode of One Vision, Theo and Bradley speak with our good friend, Brett King, founder of Moven and author of a new book, The Rise of Technosocialism: How Inequality, AI and Climate will Usher in a New World. We discuss the context of what is happening in society, the technology behind these changes, and where we are headed next.
This is the third in a new series on the changing nature of consumption and technology and how it impacts the financial services business model and the future of the only home we have. Our first installment discusses the complex web of supply chains and features our conversation with Wall Street Journal tech reporter Christopher Mims speaking about his new book, Arriving Today: From Factory to Front Door -- Why Everything Has Changed About How and What We Buy. Our second installment was with Sunjay Pandey, founder of Woven Money, about their goals of helping consumers achieve long term financial security.
Beyond Good is a call to arms for business leaders to recognize how they can do well by doing good. Business for good, which is the philosophy that you can pursue profits while delivering on sustainable and societal development goals, is already delivering big changes.
With exclusive interviews with experts from the B-Corp world, policy makers and executives, this book showcases how companies like Microsoft, Flourish Ventures, Ant Financial, Sunrise Banks and PayPal are doing their bit to make our world better.
Unconventional Ventures helps drive innovation to improve systematic financial wellness. We connect founders to funders, provide mentorship to entrepreneurs, strategic advisory services to a broad set of corporates, and broaden opportunities for diversity within the ecosystem. Our belief is that anyone with great ideas should have a chance to succeed and every voice should be heard. Visit unconventionalventures.com to learn how you can partner with us.