It is easy to look at what’s happening here in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and get excited. It’s invigorating just being around the energy here in SOMA. Seeing all the young, hopeful techies working for cool companies doing amazing things and literally changing how we do–well, just about everything. So much so, that it is also easy to forget just how big (and insidious) some of these companies are or how the same patterns of the traditional business world prevail within and around them: racial and gender inequality, exploitation of workers and the myriad of class issues like income inequality and gentrification that come along with these.
Where we might slam BP for spilling oil or Gap for working conditions in their Bangladesh factory, we spew accolades at Apple or Google despite them utilizing equally appalling labor practices and having as significant an impact (if not more) on our environment. We glance over the fact that a disproportionate amount of their employees are white and male. And don’t even get me started on Uber–it is like that company is purposely trying to be evil. Why do they all get a pass? Perception plays a huge roll. With two parts organic ideology of the start-up/tech community and eight parts marketing/PR spin, we get lost in the “cool factor” and look past the “indiscretions”.
As we in the tech/startup community are dreaming up new ways to change the world and imagining possibilities, why can’t we reimagine (or “disrupt” as techies love to say) the very systems that allow these patterns to emerge over and over again? The San Francisco Bay (and the tech industry in general) is attracting what are arguably some of the most brilliant minds in the world. What if a small percentage of that brilliance, skill and effort went, not to creating yet another Snapchat or another way to have artisanal donuts delivered to that apartment you can barely afford, but to contributing to the world in a positive and meaningful way? What if we were to develop apps/platforms/communities that aimed to end hunger, ensured everyone had access to clean water or eradicated preventable diseases?
At the very least, what if those same brilliant minds refused to accept the recurring patterns that keep cropping up over and over again in the business world? What if our community hired or co-founded with more women and people of color? What if they became social entrepreneurs instead of simply focusing on profits? What if they got involved with and learned from the communities they live in rather than simply gentrifying them?
This is a unique and exciting time in history, with massive opportunity and potential. When you look back on it 5,10,20 years from now, what will you say you did with that opportunity? Who will you have helped? How will you have disrupted and made a difference? What legacy will you leave behind?