Women in tech are transforming social impact sectors. The tech giants have come aid to it
The goal of tech giants to transform charity is nothing new. Everyone is familiar with the journey Melinda Gates made from Microsoft to the Gates Foundation to Pivotal Ventures, a hybrid strategy to investing in women-led firms and utilising charitable grant-making to achieve advocacy and social good. In order to give back, fight misinformation, defend democracy, and support women in tech, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, founded Craig Newmark Philanthropies. Eric Schmidt, the co-founder of Google, founded The Schmidt Family Foundation to aid organisations and projects that strive for a healthier and more just world.
Particularly intelligent, astute, and creative women have made this transition, including Ellen Pao, CEO of the nonprofit Project Include (previously COO of Reddit), Ann Mei Chang, CEO of the nonprofit Candid (previously Senior Engineering Director at Google), and Nabiha Syed, CEO of the media nonprofit The Markup (formerly VP and Associate General Counsel at Buzzfeed).
What motivated these influential individuals to leave the technology industry and concentrate on social impact? Any of them might have easily departed Reddit, Google, or Buzzfeed for a different digital firm or unicorn startup, but instead they decided to change directions in their careers.
You dream, you iterate, and you solve complicated problems, frequently rapidly and with some of the best teams around, which is how the IT business feeds into our need for instant gratification as humans. You create observable products. Projects and businesses can be launched quickly, with the potential for significant financial gains. Even if you fail, you can try again.
So why enter the leadership of the social sector? Making the world a better place is our duty. Elizabeth Birch, who had left Apple to lead the Human Rights Campaign, served as an inspiration to her.
Pao recognised the potential of data to help businesses be more successful and inclusive. Too many businesses were employing consultants to complete 45-minute unconscious bias trainings as a DEI checkbox. It was annoying to watch businesses promote progress by focusing their PR efforts on a single training.
Syed saw the change from Buzzfeed to The Markup as an opportunity to change the narratives of journalism. He claimed that his interest in journalism was sparked by the idea of covering stories that were essential to democracy and accountability. A charity, according to Syed, offers you the freedom to accomplish that rather than being on course for an IPO.
All three of the leaders of nonprofit organisations discussed how shockingly difficult it is to raise money at a nonprofit and how this directly connects to taking risks. They witnessed the enormous sums of money invested in for-profit businesses like Google, Apple, Buzzfeed, and Reddit, including some created with a beneficial social impact. But most NGOs don’t experience those same benefits.
Chang pointed out that while Candid receives 85% of its money from earned sources, the majority of organisations rely on grants or private donations, which means you have to work hard to keep the lights on.
The financing feedback loop has the power to influence a leader’s perception of what is possible and, over time, to breed cynicism. Syed pointed out that while companies are not subject to shareholder accountability, philanthropy nonetheless has incentive systems. According to Syed, charitable organisations constantly ask: “Will our stakeholders like this? Can it be funded? The answers to these issues frequently don’t address the core needs of the communities being serviced, leading to vanity projects that immediately feed back into the funding cycle.
Technology executives’ expertise and experience can help socially impact organisations. Complexity, problem-solving under time constraints, and translating ideas into actual goods are all things that Syed, Chang, and Pao are accustomed to. The obstacles are unexpected and frequently discouraging, but these leaders’ deep commitment to systemic change drives them to develop fresh strategies and methods for groups, communities, governments, and funders to successfully collaborate in order to bring about significant changes in a previously static system.