The ubiquitous mobile web and devices and digital technologies are leading to a significant impact on society at a speed of change never seen before. We are witnessing remarkable advancements in healthcare, communication, transportation, agriculture, learning, robotics, space exploration, nanotechnology, and genomics. This environment of rapid innovation is a fertile ground for impactful social entrepreneurship, and it represents a unique opportunity where the current generation of innovators can get inspired to co-create ventures that result both in economic and societal growth.
A career in technology allowed me to have a first-row seat to watch its profound impact on society. With Microsoft, I participated in the Personal Computing revolution in the 90’s and later in the online productivity revolution. I was able to take part in the social and the mobile revolutions with GMI and Yahoo. More recently, I co-founded and led Jobaline during its first years, where we participated in the reinvention of Human Capital Technologies, bridging the gap between corporate America and the 77 million hourly workers  that are mobile first, but are neglected by outdated systems and processes in place.
“Having the opportunity to help, through tech innovation, close to one million people going back to work, was a pivotal period that took me through a soul-searching journey. The joy of contributing to improving the lives of others was quite addictive; generosity is a powerful feeling.”
My family, this beautiful country that we now proudly call home, and technology are the three big loves in my life. Thanks to my work in technology, we were able to move to the U.S. and escape from a totalitarian regime. We had the opportunity to make our version of the American Dream a reality, and the desire to pay it forward, the feeling of gratitude, run deep in our blood.
Gratitude and generosity are everywhere, just in the U.S. we contributed 373 billion in 2015 to causes close to our heart; and while large foundations, corporations, and philanthropists gave 29 percent of this total, individuals contributed to the larger 71 percent size of the pie .
“We can be generous with much more than money; we can also give our time and our talent. As tech entrepreneurs, our skills and the advances in technology empowers us to be agents of change, addressing the many challenges we are facing today and will face tomorrow.”
We have made tremendous contributions to society for the past one hundred years as summarized in this amazing video created by the Rockefeller Foundation where Dr. Judith Rodin, their CEO, ends it with a powerful call to action :
“…Our capacity to create transformative change has never been greater. We have more resources, more connections, more possibilities than ever before. And by leveraging the explosive capabilities of new technology, we have the power to ensure that diverse voices are included in solving the problems that humanity will face over the next 100 years. This is our opportunity, our obligation, our moment…”
Generosity comes in many shapes and forms, and we can contribute to society through for-profit or nonprofit ventures. Many excellent foundations are contributing to the greater good, and Nonprofit organizations and governments play critical roles in society. However, with so much talent and so many systemic inefficiencies where technology can be an agent of change, the private sector also plays a role. Therefore it is crucial to nurture the current generation of entrepreneurs, creating awareness of the many areas where they can have a positive social impact.
Sometimes the examples of social impact are at our fingertips 24/7, and we do not even think about it. Some people might think of Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat as vanity networks for trivialities, gossip, and entertainment, but in many countries, those channels represent the only viable communication mechanisms in the absence of freedom of speech under totalitarian regimes controlling media and communications. As I have experienced personally, these social networks are fantastic channels for democracy, human rights, and social justice in many countries. In the U.S., we have seen many times how these technologies amplify, in real-time, the voices that previously struggled to be heard.
In the beginning, it was not clear that Facebook could be an agent of change for democracies. By addressing the way people share and communicate within a circle of trust, Facebook enabled societal change by “giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
But these shifts in society require patience; a critical aspect of social entrepreneurship is having a long-term view. In some cases, a myopic pressure from reaching return on investment as quickly as possible gets in the middle of long-lasting systemic changes.
“People always overestimate the short-term impact of any action and underestimate the consequences in the long term. We can particularly observe this behavior in some sources of capital and entrepreneurs.”
We measure social change in years or decades, rather than days or months, and the results are often a couple of degrees removed. Hence we have to be able to see and connect the dots to properly measure results. For example, you can create technologies that improve enterprise productivity, which is a valuable impact, but the aggregated savings could also lead to the creation of more jobs or an increase in wages and benefits thanks to those savings, ultimately having a macroeconomic impact in society.
As we discussed at the 2016 JEGI Media & Technology Conference in New York, in the private equity, corporate development, and venture capital industries, there are close to a trillion dollars ready for investment. 2015 marked another strong year for private capital fundraising, as 1,061 funds closed securing a combined $550 billion in investor commitments. The number of funds in the market rose to over 2,600 in 2016, and these funds are targeting an aggregate +940 billion .
“Which are the areas where we can deploy this money for positive social impact? A core theme for social entrepreneurship could be answering one fundamental question, in the context of many different sectors: How can we leverage mobile technologies to better use the idle installed capacity of any particular area and efficiently match supply and demand with minimal waste while improving the way we live?”
Can we innovate how people get access to food and housing? Cost effective ways to produce food? The way we communicate? How do we define currency? Redefine employment as we move to a matching economy? How we access transportation or delivery of goods and services? How can we reinvent education and continuous training in a way that we can create productive members of society who adapt to the speed of change in technology and fight the Phantom of labor substitution? How can technology exponentially increase the positive effect of our generosity and the way we give?
Answering these questions present us with unique opportunities where entrepreneurship can continue to have a profound impact on society for the next hundred years. Embracing the challenge now, using our talents and leveraging the rapid pace of innovation, represent our opportunity and our moment.
- “Characteristics of Minimum Wage Workers, 2015 : BLS Reports: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, n.d. Web. 17 July 2016.
- Giving USA: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2015 is © 2016 Giving USA Foundation TM and is researched and written at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
- “A World Changed: 100 Years of Philanthropy – The Rockefeller Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jul. 2016 <https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/blog/world-changed-100-years-philanthropy/>.
- VW Staff. “Private Capital Fundraising Exceeds Half A Trillion Dollars For Third Consecutive Year – ValueWalk.” ValueWalk. N.p., 2016. Web. 17 July 2016.