Why be civically engaged if you're in tech?

Tomorrow, Ron Conway and I are going to kick off Disrupt NY 2015, with a fireside chat with Kim-Mai Cutler. We plan to discuss philanthropy and civic involvement. I’m looking forward to this talk. I think folks in the tech sector need to embrace philanthropy and civic involvement and I look forward to making the case for that.

I’ve been working in the VC business since the mid 80s. And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.

But we know that the things we make and the companies we build have great impact on those outside of the tech sector. It can be for the good, like building cars that don’t use carbon fuels and showing the auto industry that it can be a good business to do that. It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.

It feels to me that our economy and our society is now deeply entwined with technology and being significantly impacted by it. If that is true, I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward. I think one way or another the tech sector is going to get pulled into these debates. It will be one thing if that happens thoughtfully and positively and another if the tech sector is pulled into them kicking and screaming.

Regular readers of this blog know that my partners and I have been involved in these discussions since we started USV over a decade ago. We spend our time, energy, and capital in areas like policy debates, philanthropy, and civic engagement. There are others in the tech sector who do the same. Ron Conway comes to mind as someone who has spent a similar amount of time, energy, and capital on this stuff. And I am thrilled to share the stage with him tomorrow as we discuss these issues.

We go on stage at 9:05am eastern tomorrow. I’m hoping the talk will be livestreamed and you can watch it live. If it is, it will be somewhere like here.

#hacking government#hacking philanthropy#NYC#policy#Politics#Uncategorized

Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    “It can be for the bad, like automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle.”Read this 15 times to make sure I read it correctly. Kinda Speechless.

    1. Dan Lewis

      Why are you speechless? That’s a bad result for a lot of people. Even if you think it’s a net positive to automate functions, there’s still some/many who are net negatively affected.

    2. fredwilson

      speechless because?

      1. LIAD

        Backing a company which disrupts a major industry is the holy grail of VC. Its the raison de etre.To do so whilst thinking the results are potentially negative causes cognitive dissonance.

        1. LE

          The news is that the person “disrupting” or investing in “the disputer” is well removed from the people that are losing their jobs.If they, for example, worked with these people and had to actually not only give them the bad news, but knew of the exact consequences of the bad news, they would have a harder time doing that disrupting. There is nothing wrong at all though with this lack of empathy. Empathy can be bad as it prevents you from making decisions (business or otherwise) that are necessary for the survival of your business and possibly yourself. To much empathy is probably just as bad as to little empathy.Empathy on the part of a business owner will often prevent that owner from laying off people or cutting off vendors that the company needs to in order to remain profitable. That is why buying an existing business is sometimes an opportunity. The new owner has no ties to either party and will find it quite easy to do the dirty work needed (to become profitable) without suffering any of the negative psychological consequences. At least according the my theory and observation.

          1. Matt A. Myers

            This is the nature of money. Before with bartering there would have been direct interaction – your eggs for my milk – which leads to responsibility because if you don’t give me eggs (I’m allergic so maybe a bad example) you owe then I’m going to knock on your door. Now the majority of all transactions have no responsibility attached between parties – and then an illegal/and unwarranted war can be started by a person who made money from selling candies bars at your local convenience store.

          2. LE

            Exactly. And my similar principle talks about how easy it is for a large company to have shitty front line people who deal with the complaints of inferior products as well as late deliveries. In a small business where “mr/mrs owner” answer the phone, or is at the front counter, you can’t escape the unhappiness and complaints (you are front line) so you are almost forced to give people a better experience or you suffer personally. Maybe you can’t even sleep at night.Oddly though I’ve observed small businesses who get big by having owners who have little empathy and are able to grow by that early stage. I know of one guy who would book several service appointments that he knew he couldn’t complete on the same day. A competitor with more conscience or empathy could never do that. The overbooker would simply reschedule (after hooking the customer) those appointments in the future and made more money.This actually happens a fair amount on the Internet with an entire culture of “free” there is certainly much less accountability to the product actually working and not aggravating.

          3. Matt A. Myers

            I think part of the solution is the governance layer, the next level of competitiveness, doing things transparently and properly.

        2. Matt A. Myers

          Not for the one capturing the value gained..

        3. Rob Underwood

          I think it’s refreshing that our host acknowledges, on the eve of a conference itself called “Disrupt”, that it’s not just some set of companies in the abstract that are disrupted by technology but actual real people’s lives, often middle class workers. I grew up in Maine and watched first hand what happened to small cities there when the shoe making industry was shuttered and the paper making industry downsized and automated. It wasn’t a pretty picture for families whose livelihood depended on those employers.I am no Luddite, and I am certain Fred is not either. But it’s true that “automating away jobs that once paid the way for a middle class lifestyle” causes real people real pain and it’s healthy to keep that in mind.To his credit, Fred not only acknowledges this reality but engages in philanthropy, most notably CS in schools initiatives, that will help our society respond to these changes and give some folks the skills to do better in a quickly changing economy. He also has shared on this blog provocative ideas like a basic income guarantee. I’m glad some of the folks fueling the disruptors are thinking about the fuller set of effects to our society. I think Fred’s overall point is that everyone in tech needs to be thinking about the effects more.

          1. Prokofy

            The real question is whether the middle and lower classes “automated away” like this should sit still and just take handouts from the more enlightened tech class philanthropists or fight back and get the government to regulate them more so that they stop killing industries and jobs. Issues like “Net Neutrality” are in fact controversial and do contain industry-killing aspects that Google and its related tech companies are happy to see but that doesn’t mean it’s right. Having broadband everywhere is about getting the last mile for Google’s ads, and we as a society are not required to subsidize Google’s business interests.And as can be seen from this discussion, many techs think that “civic engagement” is just pushing through their radical political agenda under the guise of do-gooding.

        4. Prokofy

          Fred at least has a conscience about this — and even admits that disruption is not an unalloyed good. So few do.

    3. William Mougayar

      If information is usurping automation with higher value, that’s progress, no?

      1. LIAD

        Sorry. Come again?

        1. William Mougayar

          i’m saying that having more information-based businesses is a good thing, and that’s not always the same as simple automation. automation is becoming more commoditized. but information-based businesses offer high-value.

          1. LIAD

            Sure. So why would Fred feel bad about helping facilitate it.

      2. Twain Twain

        Not if the information is wrongly automated which is what happened when Machine Intelligent automation happened on Wall Street => global financial crisis:* http://www.nytimes.com/2008…The concern being that the wrong models from Wall St are now being exported to SV under a different guise / branding:* http://techcrunch.com/2015/…My contribution to civic engagement is to build a system that’s different from those flawed Wall St-SV models for Human+Machine Intelligence.Because I care about the positive functioning of the global economy. So I factored in human calibration (“wisdom of crowds”) to constantly and consistently set the machines on the right path rather than one that might lead to another global financial crisis.Machines capable of consideration (THINKING WITH CARE) rather than Turing’s version of thinking (logic, probability, AB optimization etc which underpin Wall St and SV’s approach).

        1. William Mougayar

          1/ This reminds me of this article:“Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,”http://www.japantimes.co.jp…2/ But why are we still saying “automation” which is an industrial age nomenclature? We are now in the Information age. I’ve been wondering if there’s a better word than automation.

    4. Matt A. Myers

      I think (hope) what is meant is that if there’s nothing in place to take care of those people, so they can survive (literally), then it’s bad – not that automation itself is bad, however as you say below – that is how VCs made a profit, capturing value for themselves from new efficiencies.

    5. pointsnfigures

      Agree. I don’t think framing tech that was is helpful or healthy. When jobs get displaced, new ones get created-although they might take different skills. Or, new jobs that we never thought of might be created. Did we think we would need a social media manager in 2000? What if Tesla is so successful it displaces the entire oil and power industry? I am optimistic enough to think humans will innovate and figure it out.

      1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        No danger there – He is offering storage of 7kWh energy (about a dollars worth) in a device that costs thousands. A few silly people will buy them.

        1. pointsnfigures

          first iteration.

          1. James Ferguson @kWIQly

            NY imports more than 250 times this capacity all the way from Canada per second. ( peak loads of 1000MW ).Not an iteration – not even an aspiration

  2. Maurice

    I live in SF, so have been following with some interest Mr. Conway’s fairly robust involvement in SF government matters and civic life. But I have to say, I haven’t seen a clear vision from him. He’s very closely aligned with the Mayor (and the mayor’s allies), and he’s very subtly pro-development, but beyond that I don’t see any big overarching visions. Nor an old fashioned civic spiritedness.It’s not a perfect comparison, but from Michael Bloomberg I saw the big vision.So my question for you guys tomorrow is: who are the big hearted visionaries emerging out of tech and into civic life? And I want to push this question hard: not tinkering with social media activism, but real civic transformation on the ground.

    1. fredwilson

      i’m not going to speak about Ron’s work. he can do that. but my work is pretty well known and i’ve blogged about it so much here that most people are probably tired of hearing about it

      1. Maurice

        Fair enough. Indeed I think of you as one of the more thoughtful guys in the biz. But I’d be interested in hearing you uncover the folks who are generous minded, and perhaps poke at some of the public voices that are a bit more self-serving on this topic.Name no names, but push the aspirations higher!

    2. Brandon Ballinger

      I’m not Fred, but here are a few people who have real vision and impact:Jen Pahlka, who started Code for America, the Peace Corps for geeks, and helped start 18F, the government’s new internal engineering team: https://www.codeforamerica.org 18f.gsa.govMikey Dickerson, the Google engineer who helped saved healthcare.gov and went on to start the US Digital Service: https://medium.com/@USDigit…Todd Park, former CTO of the US and founder of AthenaHealth and Castlight Health, is *the* gold standard of what it means to be an entrepreneur who goes on to serve his country. The week that Castlight IPOd, Todd was sleeping on the floor of the healthcare.gov control room because the team had been pulling all-nighters to get the site working again. That is dedication.

      1. fredwilson


  3. LE

    And for most of that time, I’ve felt that the tech sector was surprisingly uninterested and uninvolved in things outside of the tech sector. That’s a great strength of the tech sector, it’s is focused on innovation, making things, and building companies. And it does not get distracted by things outside of that realm.I think it’s great that people such as yourself and Ron Conway (aka “The Godfather” [1] ) do this type of thing. However along the lines of keeping one’s eyes on the ball, while climbing up the ladder, it does disturb me a bit when I see younger people focusing on some of the same social issues instead of simply worrying how to get the point where they might be a “made man” one day and have enough power, money or impact to have a larger stage and influence. Others might disagree with this, but my observation over time is that you have to focus on yourself and what is good for you only, and worry about the rest of the world once you are in a better and more secure position to do so. [2][1] http://www.businessinsider….[2] This thought doesn’t take into account of course the serendipitous benefits of not only focusing on yourself obviously.

  4. Shaun Dakin

    I appreciate your commitment to being involved in more than making money. One big peeve I have is listening to tech titans talk about how they built this and disrupted that based on “hard work” and “innovation”… when the reality is that the internet backbone is based on the work of the largest planned economy in the world (read socialist).What? The US Military Industrial complex.The internet is a direct result of taxpayers providing their hard earned money to the government to perform basic research that “innovative” companies simply will not do because of the risk.We are now sitting here with 1000’s of entrepreneurs, such as yourself, and companies that simply would not exist without a massive government subsidy.It is time to give back to the nation that gave so much.

  5. William Mougayar

    Have you ever listed all these issues in one place? And that would be almost an orthogonal narrative to your VC thesis…like “we invest in this….but we are also passionate about that.”Net neutralityTech education in high schoolsWomen in techBasic Income GuaranteeShared economy regulationBitcoin licensingEtc… (what else is on that list?)

    1. LE

      What do you see as the business benefit to doing that? (A question, not a challenge).

      1. William Mougayar

        Key benefit of more visibility into these issues is potentially broader support for their realization. As is, one has to go through Fred’s blog posts or Albert’s and others to figure out what they are.

        1. LE

          is potentially broader support for their realization.Along those lines then a good idea would be to form an ad hoc group of like minded investment or related firms to state and agree on the same principles. Then a link could go on each firm’s site to the organization as well as what you are mentioning above simply stated.All of this takes effort to put together of course. So the question is are these principles important enough that the firms would take the time to get involved? Can’t fault them or criticize them if they won’t, but no question that the impact of a group of them together would go much further. [1]Other side is the difficulty of getting everyone to agree to everything. Maybe yes to “net neutrality” but “meh” to “basic income guarantee”.[1] Just on the PR angle and getting mass publicity. “Today 10 VC firms formed an alliance that …”

          1. William Mougayar

            In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t too different from corporations being good “corporate citizens” by participating, contributing and giving back to the communities that support them. Except for the advocacy related topics, which is a form of lobbying.But I agree that there’s a higher calling for the Tech industry to be a positive factor of change and progress into society, government and business.

        2. Prokofy

          In fact, because they are all highly politicized goals, they are like a kind of PAC, disguised as non-profit work. That’s fine, because there is an awful lot of that in our society of interest groups (Soros and Koch brothers on opposite ends of the spectrum). Just don’t pretend that this is neutral charity.

      2. James Ferguson @kWIQly

        If we do ever go ahead and raise a round. We would in part care about the fit we felt we had with investors (cultural). Transparency helps this. So whille I am sure @fredwilson:disqus has none-too-shabby deal flow – I do imagine this could only enhance it (assuming other entrepreneurs think like us) – so more VCs should consider wearing their hearts on their sleeves.Anyway supporting good is good – which is all that matters

    2. fredwilson

      We should compile a listSome of these are my causes (CS Ed), some are Albert’s (BIG), some are Brad’s (ubiquitous Internet access for all).But we all help each other out on them

    3. Arthur Rubin

      Funding Adult Education – preparation for entry into the workforce and college.

    4. Prokofy

      This list is exactly what I mean in my main expression of concerThis is a political program, not “civics”. Because it’s “civics” just for one point of view, the left-libertarian tech view.Who says Net Neutrality is a good thing? I have many reasons to oppose it and it may in fact harm telecoms’ businesses and put yet another sector of industry out of a job so that Silicon Valley can enrich itself. Isn’t that what Fred admits?Tech education in high schools — sounds great, except when I’ve seen this in action in my own kids’ schools, I see it as tech companies merely finding fresh sales markets with captive budgets they can get spent on themselves. There are too many worrisome cases where tech gadget salesmen and worse, tech ed consultants are simply drawing down budgets for themselves that we need for other basic things like after-school programs.Women in tech — who could be against this? Let’s hope there isn’t a hidden agenda here, too!Basic income guarantee – there is more of this than many people realize who haven’t encountered the vast social services and welfare capacity of particularly New York City. But to give everybody a basic income on demand without work even would require a massive change *of the capitalist social system itself*. Are you advocating that? And are you conscious of how this might harm your own business that depends on free enterprise?Bitcoin – countless numbers of people have lost enormous sums of money from this racket; if nothing else, they’ve wasted fortunes on “mining equipment” they can’t sell later in a saturated market of other disappointed “miners.” It’s a secretive, non-accountable system that Fred has tried to feature here as an identity and service system (and that makes sense) but too many glorify it into a cult of code that has serious repercussions for how society has been structured up until now — relying on elected government to maintain the state treasury and mint rather than a bunch of unaccountable anarchist coders.You get the idea. Every “civic good” that you think is a civic good is not that for me. Will we get to vote on this democratically? No, not if you are a wealthy tech entrepreneur and impose this not only by manufacturing and marketing your tech, but taking over the “third space” of philanthropy.

  6. LE

    I believe it is shortsighted to avoid getting engaged in the discussions and debates about what kind of world we need to work toward.Discussion are fine but I’m not seeing any actual path to impact, as opposed to talk and feel good stuff. That is not doubting the sincerity of those who are doing the talking. (I am 100% thinking that they are sincere).In the end does this “we” really matter? You have a large bunch of players all acting in their own self interest. There is no summit like nations do (or NFL NBA) where they agree to certain principles (and enforce them). Even if a particular financial player or players gets together and decides to act a certain way, there will be other participants that will seize on the opportunities left by the void. My saying, to repeat again, is “you can only be as honest as your competition”. What that means is the collective group will then eventually move back toward a certain behavior because they have to.

  7. Matt A. Myers

    Is there a line to be drawn, or stated before talking about a topic, where one’s civil engagement has bias towards gaining profits?Lobbying by private businesses, private money influencing politics, is an issue that is strongly being fought against to prevent large corporations with billions of profits to use to leverage, and to potentially lose, and for newShould one state specifically one’s current biases and specific future gains if something is being pushed to be changed or adopted?If someone is afraid of sharing this then is it really for the public good? If it is good for the public then they’ll still support it, so no one should be afraid.

    1. fredwilson

      Yes, but that’s not what I’m talking about here

      1. Matt A. Myers

        K 🙂

    2. pointsnfigures

      I think we need to change our view as to what doing civic good is. Oil companies have been extraordinarily helpful in advancing human achievement. There is no harm in making a profit.It’s also critical to understand why private companies feel the need to lobby. It’s because of the government that regulates them. Regulatory capture. Professor George Stigler showed it mathematically.

      1. Matt A. Myers

        It’s finding and then taking into account all variables and impacts in an equation that’s important, not just the good-looking and marketable ones. Oil helped fuel (pun intended) innovation, however it also slowed electrical development – whether through direct policy or political pressure by for-profit companies lobbying and by indirect pressure of economics of scale pooling money towards oil – making electrical a more risky bet for R&D.The quick way isn’t the best way, though companies who are looking to make quick money – via scaling efficiencies quickly – will use their invested dollars to sway public opinion, and there is generally never the equivalent money going into educating people about the alternatives or full truth of certain technologies – to counter the good-looking and marketable messages/thoughts of an idea.Re: Government regulation – Without it then people would continue to get sick and die because of pollution, and then either a) those people would murder the people working causing the harm, or b) they’d be arrested/ignored and then society would continue to become more and more sick – which is actually what’s happening now, except companies are still allowed to pollute – just so long as they’re not immediately causing “near-term” harm.

  8. William Mougayar

    That aside, I hope they start the conference with a minute of silence in memory of Dave Goldberg.

    1. fredwilson

      Me too. He was a wonderful person

    2. Twain Twain

      I contacted him randomly on LinkedIn and he was one of those rarities: a genuine connector.Months later I met him IRL at Web Summit and he couldn’t have been more gracious and warm.It is as Maya Angelou wrote, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

      1. William Mougayar

        Wow. May he RIP.I heard he “touched” a lot of people.

  9. Richard

    Good intentions don’t move mountains, buldozers do. The great Peter Drucker.

  10. heather

    First time commenter… Tech companies across Baltimore have been active participants in philanthropy for several years – primarily in ways that are most impactful in our community. Just this week many of our firm’s staff took to the streets to share their voice, to help neighbors clean up and to help store owners across the city start repairs. Others have been actively involved in the civic organizations that we believe will have the biggest impact in our community – including those that show kids the value of an education to participate in the tech sector, and organizations that give adults a chance to be an entrepreneur through a “vehicle for change”. Tech companies and many others across the city are also bringing a new conference to town in 2016 (Light City) that will literally shine a light on tough topics such as social justice – through art installations, music performances and talks. While we may not be currently “coding for good”, we are using our talents and networks to do good in many ways.

    1. fredwilson

      That is so great to hear!

  11. Richard

    “by 2020, within the United States, every 5-year age band from birth to 69 years of age will be within 1.5 percent of every other band. This is not just a U.S. phenomenon. By 2060 the same will apply to the entire population of the world. That might not sound like a big shift but to put it in perspective, today the age group from 24-29 is nearly three times as large, globally, as the 65-69 age group.”This could either be a headwind or a tailwind and this is where tech should be focused.

  12. neddesmond

    Fred Wilson and Ron Conway will be on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt this Monday May 4 at 9:05 EST. Catch the livestream at Techcrunch.com.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks Ned

  13. Matt Zagaja

    We have been thinking about this a lot here in Connecticut. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving now sponsors a new data vertical, TrendCT (http://trendct.org), that is working to build that bridge between tech and non-profits and provide avenues for people in tech to help their communities. Last year I helped the folks at SeeClickFix in New Haven organize an event for the National Day of Civic Hacking (http://hackforchange.org), and am meeting up with them this week to help them do it again this year. If any CT people are interested in becoming engaged in these efforts as contributors, attendees, sponsors, etc. please don’t hesitate to contact me (mzagaja at alum.wpi.edu, shameless plug).

  14. pointsnfigures

    I would love to see the tech community getting behind using software to create smaller more efficient government. But I am not hopeful that this will happen.

      1. pointsnfigures


    1. Matt Zagaja

      There are lots of barriers to selling software to government. The hiring is also not setup to be super conductive to tech. However I am optimistic on the federal side with programs like 18F and the United States Digital Service. Code for America has been doing great work with cities as well. Mike Bloomberg is now leading the charge on the funding side (http://www.washingtonpost.c… and the Behavioral Insights Team from Great Britain has been doing cool stuff (http://www.behaviouralinsig…) along with their GDS:https://www.youtube.com/wat

    2. Matt A. Myers

      IMHO it’ll be a private company that does this.

  15. Nidhi M

    Deadly waiting for it. Ron Conway is not an investor, he is Father of young, crazy, passionate, entrepreneurs.

  16. JLM

    .The issue of “engagement” is a very broad issue and one that requires more than a little discussion to get to the bottom of things.I am wildly in favor of anyone who is willing to invest their own time and money in any cause even if I do not agree with them. I love people who put skin in the game. When ideas wrestle, better ideas are the result. I am in favor of wrestling matches.I am wildly opposed to anyone who uses other people’s money to further their own causes. It irritates me to see the shareholders money being used to advance the views of, say, the chairman of Starbucks on race. Just an example.All in favor of Howard D Schultz using his own money to advance the discussion of race in America, but not in favor of using the shareholders’ money for his pet peeve. Frankly, this is a breach of his fiduciary duty while also being one of the goofiest ideas ever. Ever.As to the tech community in general, it is highly segmented. The folks who I work with such as at AustinTechStars are woefully uninformed as to anything much bigger than the screen of their laptop. Hey, I was equally uninformed at that age, no real criticism there.Tech is also very insular in thinking there is a necessity for disruption where many problems simply call for some old fashioned elbow grease, discipline and competent leadership.The Veteran’s Administration is an example of a government failure that a Marine gunnery sergeant could straighten out in a couple of weeks.The definition of “civic engagement” is a broad swath. I completely applaud teaching everyone in the world to write code — there is no downside to this. On the other hand, I think the entire discussion of basic income guarantee is a lobotomy scar seeking liberal fantasy that could only be started on a full stomach.What is really useful is not some notion of “engagement” but ‘involvement” — get into the trenches and actually do stuff that is going to have an impact.I have had several trench level experiences that have changed my thinking dramatically — working on school bond campaigns both in favor and in opposition, being involved in the theater, working as my precinct chairperson and and helping to run Austin Midnight Basketball.I learned more about myself than anything else. I was humbled by what I learned about education, gay perceptions, politics and race. Obviously, it changed and informed my thinking in many ways.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. lydiasugarman

      Just wondering…have this generation’s parents provided fewer examples of )personal civic responsibility?I believe it is a basic responsibility of parents to lead by example and volunteer, take roles at school, church (if you belong to one), and the community. Volunteering is the glue that holds communities together and keeps things working. This is something the “greatest generation” did especially well post-WW II. But, I think successive generations may have dropped the ball, instead focusing on career and even helicopter-parenting with all kinds of “enriching” activities scheduled for their kids but lacking in teaching volunteerism by example.Consequently, communities, of all descriptions, suffer, disintegrate. Now, with parents’ focus on those little screens, for whatever *compelling* stupid reasons, “Bowling Alone” (http://www.communitysolutio… is even more true. It isn’t melodramatic to say that we’re missing the disintegration of America because we’re mesmerized by those little screens.JLM, your comment reminded me of the idea I had yesterday for doing Startup Weekends where attendees pitch volunteer projects, build teams, then go out to work in the community all weekend on their projects. Sunday night, they come back to present what was accomplished, what was learned, and the plans and commitments for continuing the work in the community.

      1. JLM

        .This generation of parents are more involved in country clubs, lake houses and vacations with a smattering of foreign cars.I wonder if my parents generation — the ones who won World War II in 3.5 years — were just doers. Spankers. No baloney people because they had stared evil in the eye.We are rapidly becoming a very soft country. Constantly watering down standards to the lowest common denominator. It is particularly true in politics wherein integrity is some mythical characteristic rather than a bed rock value. We are our own worst enemies.And yet, there are points of light — like your idea.Keep on moving it forward. You are doing the right thing.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

      2. Prokofy

        I think you’re right about this. Just as they don’t ‘teach civics’ in schools anymore — people don’t know how a bill becomes a law yet they call Congress ignorant if they aren’t techies — they don’t “do” civics anymore. When I was in high school and college (I’m 58) it was clear that volunteering meant very specifically helping flood victims rebuild, gathering clothing and food for disaster victims, reading to the blind, helping the disabled write letters, helping underprivileged kids by tutoring after school — very specific human tasks of very basic needs. These were what our clubs in these institutions were about.Nowadays, in my daughter’s PC-riddled campus (which isn’t even as bad as most), I see kids getting into a circle to discuss “white privilege,” to plan how they can make a transgendered person feel safe in a single-stall bathroom (?), and how to avoid “triggers” for rape victims — when they’re not planning on how to export themselves to Guatemala to be with the People and help them — during which, of course, they have many circles to discuss their white privilege.This is very ideological, contrived, and removed from real help to real people in a simple manner.

      3. lydiasugarman

        My parents (members of the Greatest Generation) were great examples, in very different ways. My mother was PTA president, twice, once when my sister went through grade school and once for me. She was also a Classroom Mother several times and was a 4-H mother teaching us to cook and sew. She was a member of the Altar Society as well as president. These are/were the women who cleaned the church, made flower arrangements, decorated the church for holidays, etc. She was Democratic Country Chairwoman. She was also the chairwoman for the Blood Drive. My dad preferred charity on a more personal and private level, making sure certain families in need had food, gifts, and money for the holidays and throughout the year. At his funeral, many men of different ages, including the funeral director, spoke of how he mentored them and taught them about farming. I was very, very fortunate to have such great role models to teach me civic responsibility and real compassion and respect for our fellow citizens. There are shining v examples, to me, of what made America a great country.We already *know* we’re privileged! We don’t need to talk incessantly about it. And, granted being sensitive to being respectful, inclusive, and tolerant has made great strides in recent years, seriously, how much do you need to discuss it? Talking the talk doesn’t mean anything if you don’t walk the walk and put your money, time, and energy where your mouth is and actually DO good works that benefit others and one’s community, near and far.

    2. Prokofy

      You’ve opened up an avenue of thinking I wasn’t aware of, thanks. With the structure of the corporation and the CEO dominating it, of course any of the charity projects could become just whims, just toys of the CEO. So you have to hope that if the CEO has a pet whim, like Sergei Brin cares about Parkinson’s Disease because he has the gene for it, that it will also accrue to the good of society.I didn’t know about the Starbuck guy’s views, I’ll have to look them up. But how could this essentially built-in problem be fixed? The past centuries’ tycoons didn’t give right out of their corporations, they established separate 501-c-3 institutions that acquired their own governance, profiles, etc. Isn’t it a good thing, for example, that Ford Foundation has nothing to do with the antisemitic views of Ford himself, upon whose money the Ford Foundation was once started. I’ve been a big critic of George Soros’ obsession with drug legalization and various thinly-disguised halfway houses to this end like “harm reduction” and even “pain management.” I feel like some ideologue simply ‘got to him’ (I used to work in his foundation). I think it undermines his other causes and prevents him from even having programs in some countries that refuse to accept the “harm reduction” model (Russia).One way around that problem is to have boards, procedures, public records, reports, Roberts Rules of Order, etc. — a foundation is as hard to run as a corporation, and shouldn’t just be run out of some guy’s pocket.

    3. Chimpwithcans

      Super comment. Point well made.

  17. Grace Schroeder

    People with domain expertise need also to engage more with technologies. In the arena of disease, knowing how to leverage technologies that can tease out correlations and heat maps (think MS) combined with the genome work would get us closer to prevention and a cure. Breaking down silos is a shared responsibility.

  18. MFishbein

    It seems risky to talk about many issues in a work environment. I agree it would be nice if more people talked about important issues. But for someone who hasn’t “made it” and still needs to worry about reputation, it seems there is a lot to lose, and little to gain, by expression opinions, especially if they are different from the popular narrative.I’m struggling with this currently. I plan to become more outspoken and engaged with important issues publicly once I don’t have to worry about the downside as much.

  19. Marissa_NYx

    Do we need a new word to define the role of social good that is the mission of many tech companies (ok, not all practice it ). Philanthropy doesn’t describe it – philanthropy seems to describe the capitalist process of “focus on making money first , then be a philanthropist and give it away.” The new model in tech is “have a strong social mission, do good and make money. ” It is more integrated , concurrent with doing well economically.

    1. Prokofy

      I can’t think of anything more fictional than the idea that tech companies today are first having a social mission, then somehow making money after that social mission.What kind of social mission is it to have people share pictures of their cats? Seriously, most apps boil down to that, and that’s what most tech innovation is about. There’s nothing wrong with that, and along the way other good things get done by using the cat-sharing device, for example, to find people in Nepal or send them money. But let’s not pretend that all the gadgets and apps all have social missions. They don’t. If anything, some are anti-social.

  20. Paul Sanwald

    I’d like to hear from folks some ways that you’ve incorporated volunteering into your culture, especially at a startup. What’s worked and what hasn’t?I had a fantastic experience doing TEALs but I won’t lie, balancing that with being cto at an early stage startup was super super difficult. That said, it was the kind of difficult that makes you better and I encourage everyone at my company to volunteer.

  21. Twain Twain

    The Marc Benioff approach to philanthropy and civic engagement is inspiring: one percent of equity, one percent of profit in the form of product donations and one percent of all of employees’ time and put it into a 501(c)(3) public charity.

  22. Travis Henry

    I’m most excited by the prospect of technology making activist communities tighter and more accessible, changing the nature of political campaigns (esp campaign finance), and clarifying government expenditures and taxes.As another commenter mentioned, this is most likely to spring from the private sector. I’d add that it’s also likely to start at the state level before it finds roots in the federal.

  23. Joel Natividad

    Just watched the livestream, and adding some points to the discussion:On the Sharing Economy, and how some businesses like AirBnB are impacting local issues like housing:* insideairbnb.com scraped data clearly shows that overwhelming majority of hosts have only one listing (not illegal activity). IQuantNY actually dives into the numbers (http://iquantny.tumblr.com/…Should Tech innovate with Govt or despite of Govt? Do the initial innovation outside of Gov, and then start working with it later? (Ask forgiveness, rather than permission, etc.)See AirBnb and Uber…Is Civic Good a Second Act?Carnegie, Buffet, Gates, Soros, Adelson, Koch, etc. etc. created a lot of their wealth, and then, once they had the resources, started focusing their wealth on doing Civic Good (or at least their version of it, especially since Citizen United ). Apart from the 1% promise, do you see doing Civic Good as part of the initial mission sustainable? B Corps?

  24. Keenan

    Fred, I think what bothers me is that this is ever a discussion. Not being engaged civically is shortsighted whether you’re in tech, sports, oil, sales, teaching, entertainment, etc. None of us live in a vacuum, so acting like it is silly. Just sayin’

  25. Prokofy

    I think it’s great if the big IT companies become more involved with philanthropy like their ancestors the Rockfellers and the Vanderbilts. Google, for example, only spends a tiny percentage of its massive earnings on charity. There’s Google Ideas, the Google “do” tank but they are very secretive and hold their funds close. I know personally of a few projects they were involved in, like Advancing Human Rights and the countering non-violence conferences. But unlike Rockfeller or Ford foundations, they don’t follow up and don’t have coherent programs with public information.I think you and Ron Conway are both positioned to be leaders in this area because you’ve always spent a lot more time than most tech leaders thinking and writing about the societal issues from the impact of tech.I’ve listened to the TechCrunch interview and I’ll have more to say on my blog, but basically, all of this has to be very specific and have meat on the bones. Whose civics? What engagement? For what end?For example, down the block from you at Union Square Ventures is Civic Hall. This is merely yet another attempt of old Nation magazine cadres to wrap the “progressive” agenda in yet another appealing form. “Civic engagement” is the word they’ve discovered is the buzz phrase of the hour, because “community” has worn threadbare especially after 6 years of the Community-Organizer-in-Chief. No one can look at “the People’s X” any more without thinking of East Germany and the Soviet Union. But what are they REALLY doing? Just trying to create platforms for political power and getting their candidates in — as they did when they called themselves Tech President — then discarded that name.To get very specific, take the Citibikes program in NYC sponsored originally by Citibank — except not really sponsored, as this is a money-making venture (and other companies, including at one point a Canadian company and a Germany company are involved in this “New York City” project). I don’t know if you’ve ever commented on it, but I imagine you think it is “good” and “civic”. Indeed, many geeks think it’s just grand to have a software project become concretized as a “health” and “civic” project in compelling people to ride bikes more and reduce carbon usage in cars and buses. But the program has been plagued with all kinds of coding problems, load-balancing problems, expenses, it doesn’t pay its own costs, and it is basically run from Seattle, not by the people of New York.Some of us complain about this project, dubbed “totalitarian bikes” by Dorothy Rabinowitz in a famous Wall Street Journal piece which earned her endless ridicule from techs and yuppies.But it is totalitarian because we never got to democratically decide a thing about it. We couldn’t decide where it was placed, or decide if we’d rather have parking spaces than too many of these bike racks; we couldn’t decide the pricing scheme which is frustrating; we couldn’t decide that it couldn’t be — counter-intuitively — placed far away from existing bike paths (because power bikers didn’t want the civics cluttering up their paths). The Citibikers don’t wear helmets and bump into people and run lights, adding to the “killer bike” problem.So civics? But WHOSE civics, Fred? Not my civics. Not even yours, as you own your own bike. But whose? The “idea” of what is good for society?The tech propensity to take away democracy and freedom even as it grants “civic engagement” makes me more wary than ever. I have a watch on all these “coding for the city” projects which are horrendous bastions of special interests and nerd tyranny.

  26. Aileen Gemma Smith

    Let’s also consider this: http://techcrunch.com/2015/… There -are- folks working in civic tech or gov tech making a difference- and creating strong partnerships. It is a long strategy, often dismissed or misunderstood by investors. Folks working on those startups have to frame a market not well understood (government) and how their products solve internal and external problems.

  27. Phil Hayes-St Clair

    The potent combination of skills and influence to advance any social issue is more powerful than any cash donation will ever be. A compelling idea, no matter how early in its genesis, with the potential to address a local or global social challenge will earn the undivided attention of our company for two full days to think through and prototype possibilities. Imagine the philanthropic benefit if that happened twice a year at your company.

  28. Mica is awesome!

    I just started a company called Yabberz and the idea is to promote civic and civil discussion across all party lines (we are a nonpartisan site). Many of our commentators are also civic grass roots organizers. I think if the leaders in this country can not communicate with each other civilly We The People should at least try.

  29. Robert Heiblim

    Thank you Fred. Beyond tech, all citizens should be active, as after all it is their country, city or state that they live in. Among the biggest problem is lack of engagement. This allows minority views to dominate, incentivizes division and often rewards extreme views or quick fixes. This is a bipartisan practice that can only be controlled by action of citizens and their votes. Regardless of what you believe in, it can only happen when active citizens vote, and tell their representatives about how they will vote. The one thing politicians of all sizes and districts and parties agree on is, they want to be re-elected. That is the leverage point, so are you and your peers acting on your beliefs of what is right and needed, or are we simply talking about it elsewhere. Thanks for all activity by citizens.

  30. Startup Weekend IMMIGRATION

    Loved this post. I’m actually organizing an Immigration-themed Startup Weekend hackathon on May 29~31 in SF to generate solutions to the most longstanding problems in immigration. You can register for 50% off with this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/

  31. lydiasugarman

    What a magnificent example of CV humble-bragging combined with just the right soupcon of smug lecturing.

  32. JLM

    .Well played for the cleverness of your comment. Well played, indeed.The use of the word “soupcon” — even absent the accent mark below the “c” — is an extra credit feature that magnifires (yes, there is such a word, I made it up) the “well played”-ness of the entire comment by a quantum order of magnitude.Well played!JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  33. kidmercury

    Lol comment of the day no doubt! 🙂

  34. Muir Woods

    So true. Problem is, and thank God for the exceptions, your run of the mill SV codehead in tech don’t know squat about bulldozers.