The tech industry is growing at an exponential rate. While technology start ups have been booming, there has also been a question of how tech companies can make a social impact at the same rate.
Small start ups often have trouble finding time or equity to put toward social good because of pressure from venture capitalists. In order to mitigate the challenges that start ups face for more community involvement, accelerators or incubators may be another option for support. Theresa Preston-Werner, founder and CEO of Codestarter, says it would be great to see more accelerators incorporate social impact, pointing to Angel List as a possible example.
In the current environment, tech companies have been making small improvements in community involvement. TechTable participant Tony Lai, CEO and Co-Founder of Law Gives says, “Technology is not a democratizing force unless we make it so.” Some tech companies have participated in volunteering and education initiatives in order to integrate more of the local community into their work. Joe Garafoli, a political reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, suggests that modifying some of these ideas slightly could make a bigger impact. He elaborates that companies should stray from the one day model composed of descending upon a school campus for photo-ops and feel-good investments. As an alternative, company employees can focus on working on long-term projects with individual schools and catering to their specialized needs.
As more companies move into Silicon Valley and many low income workers are displaced, cities like San Francisco and Palo Alto are suffering from tensions arising from gentrification. Big picture issues have also surfaced in keeping housing affordable and bridging the gaps of inequality and education.
Facing these problems, tech companies can try to create a housing fund or include the people left out of the technological age by increasing education opportunities in computer science both early on for children and adults. They can also focus on specific groups such as minorities to help decrease inequality. Ideas such as donations to philanthropic funds for scholarships and holiday parties that incorporate a social cause are other examples of what more companies could do to contribute to the communities around them.
Implementing solutions to these problems with numerous agents (tech industry, local community, and government) requires a willingness to listen to the needs of individuals. Our group of TechTable participants all agree that the first action step is gaining humility in order for the tech industry to willfully make changes and create social impact.
Check out all the videos from the episode here: