Special Thanks to my Eisenhower Fellowship Program Officer- Kari Ytterhus without whose help this Journey would have not been possible.
Digital impact on work, society, environment and geo-political stability is exponentially increasing, thanks to the combinatorial power of technology – such as AI, Blockchain, and Genomics. Digital technology holds unprecedented promise in its capability to solve some of the hardest problems we face, such as access to education, healthcare, climate change and gender equality, among others, and such solutions are imperative to building an inclusive world, a necessary condition for a just, peaceful and prosperous world.
At the same time, there are new risk emerging. Digital impact is challenging democracy with fake news, threatening individual freedom with cyber bullying, exploiting humans by data privacy breaches and above all raising the fear of Artificial Intelligence algorithms dehumanizing society and exploiting environment at an unprecedented scale. Digital technology in the fourth Industrial revolution need to be steered and scaled to ensure a positive impact on society and environment.
Eisenhower Fellowship has passionately driven the mission of a just, peaceful and prosperous world since 1953, President Eisenhower’s first year in office. Since then, Eisenhower Fellowship has been awarded to leaders from around the world to interact with diverse leaders in the US and study their area of interest in pursuit of their stated mission.
When I was selected for the 2017 Eisenhower Fellowship, I decided to study how the digital impact on society and environment can be kept positive and scaled at speed—how to further the Tech4Good Research I am passionate about.
The Research Hypothesis: The power of digital technology has been so profound that no single societal player—be it government, business, civil society, academia or individuals—could possibly steer it alone. I hypothesized that only a synergistic architecture of the various societal players guided with their ‘collective intelligence’ could steer the combinatorial forces of exponential technology towards the desired digital impact. To derive tangible actionable outcomes that I can implement post the study, I decided to examine the hypothesis through the lens of the Big Business and study their role in the ecosystem by talking to over 50 leaders in the US constituting the combinatorial power of the ecosystem.
My EF Journey took me over 30,000 miles across 10 cities in the Unites States. I spoke to leading minds in Stanford, MIT, Wharton and UT at Austin; think tanks like RAND, Carnegie Corporation and Singularity; world bodies like United Nations Global Compact and World Bank; and non-profits like Grameen, Benetech, Techsoup, Deshpande Foundation among others. I visited Google, LinkedIn, TwoSigma, Investcorp and Accenture, and also interacted with political leaders like former Secretary of State General Collin Powell (who is also the Chairman of Eisenhower Fellowship) and India’s Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley.
From these interactions emerged a ‘collective intelligence’; a pattern for the synergistic innovation architecture for ensuring and scaling positive digital impact, with a strategic framework for businesses that will involve leveraging the 5Es of steering and scaling Business efforts in building an Inclusive world with Digital Technology:
- Build a strong foundation of digital ethics
- Leverage digital technologies to embed social good in business models and offerings
- leverage digital technologies to engineer solutions for the next billion
- enable and educate the civil society with digital capabilities to address the market cracks and build capacity to absorb innovation for the masses (see figure 2).
Building a foundation of Digital Ethics:
A foundation of Digital ethics needs to hold up the synergistic innovation architecture. At a granular level, this foundation of ethics would manifest itself in data protection and privacy practices and ethical AI algorithms of businesses. Ethical AI algorithms would ensure that humans are not exploited for greater profitability and are free from bias. In one of my conversations with Lucy Bernholz, Director at Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford, observed that “businesses and nonprofits collect far more data than they can protect.”
In another conversation, Rob Nail, CEO of Singularity, highlighted the impending risk of Genetics being used to build superhuman capabilities. “In future Olympics we may see humans far more stronger and bigger than we have ever seen. These technologies will introduce new societal challenges than what we can imagine today” observed Rob.
Regulators will face the challenge to keep pace with the Innovation in Digital technologies. Businesses have an important role to play along with other ecosystem partners to help Governments come up with appropriate regulations that can steer the impact of Digital technologies.
Re-imagining Business Models and Go to Market Offerings with Digital technologies: Opportunities in an inclusive world would ideally be available to all. Further, in an ideal world, businesses would be ethical and focus not only on profitability but also societal and environmental returns to its stakeholders – the triple bottom line. At present, the impact on society and environment, as well as the need to make benefits accessible to wider sections of society than a select few, are largely ignored, breeding dissonance. However, with digital technology, businesses today can explore different go-to-market strategies and achieve maximum inclusiveness while ensuring profitability—a potential win-win for all. Jobs and quality healthcare and education can reach the masses and not be limited to narrow sections of society. Market cracks can be reduced or eliminated by re-imagining business models and go to market offerings with help of Digital technologies.
From my study emerged a 3-step go-to market strategy, based on this ethical foundation. It can be framed as follows:
- Embed ‘Tech4Good’ in current offerings: Businesses need to examine if ‘Tech4Good’ is embedded in their offerings. For example, are accessibility requirements designed into systems? Are adequate data protection and privacy measures put in place? Are algorithms audited to ensure against biases and unethical practices? Linkedin for Good, Head, Meg Garlinghouse shared how Linkedin included Skill based Volunteering as an important datapoint to be captured in Linkedin profiles. Linkedin for Good’s mission is to connect the talent and passion of professionals with opportunities to use their skills to make a positive impact in the world. Linkedin also provides ‘Company’ Page for Non Profits. In this case, Linkedin embedded their mission for social good in their existing social media platform to encourage volunteerism. They did not engineer a new platform for people who are outside their target market- the next billion or unorganized workforce.
- Engineer for Billions as new offerings: Engineering solutions for an inclusive world needs different design thinking and can be profitable. The UN Global Compact estimates this as a USD 12 trillion opportunity by 2030 that will create 377 million new jobs. The new value based healthcare system being designed by Dell Medical School in Austin is a case in point. The idea is to focus on wellness as opposed to illness. The initiative funded by the government by raising property taxes aims to prevent illness by linking welfare programs to health of population using the power of Big Data from diverse sources. The money spent earlier in treating population outside insurance cover is being used to prevent illness and improve lives with the help of community workers. Businesses, too, can look at opportunities to engineer solutions for a broader market where possible. Engineering for the billion, however, needs regulatory support at times. Google is targeting connectivity to masses through flying balloons. Rob Nail, the CEO of Singularity, observed that in “seven years the whole planet will be connected”. Engineering and deploying these innovative solutions need new regulations that governments have to establish in collaboration with various societal players like non-profits and business. While Rob believes that “regulatory systems will be constantly tested by new innovations,” he also foresees the emergence of “an uncommon partnership between businesses and civil society that will give rise to new business models to deliver benefits using technology.” He raised a note of caution: “All physical jobs will go away, but the big challenge will be lack of skills and not lack of work. We will enter a world of continuous learning, where degrees will become less important or even irrelevant.” Engineering for the billion has to be co-created with the target population. “A solution for the billion cannot be engineered without a deep understanding of their needs and constraints,” observed ‘Desh’ Deshpande, CEO and Founder of Deshpande Foundation.
- Enabling Social Enterprise and Non Profits to address the needs of the unserved markets: Even when solutions are engineered for the billion, there will always be populations that fall in market cracks, where opportunities like jobs, education, healthcare would not reach. These spaces are addressed by non-profits and social enterprise. Businesses enabling social entrepreneurs and non-profits address the needs of the bottom of the pyramid. Jim Fructerman, CEO of Benetech, which runs bookshare.org, the largest online book store for people with vision impairment made an important observation. Jim states the need for exit criteria when non-profits address the needs in the market cracks: “As market forces start seeping into the cracks, nonprofits need to move out and address unserved spaces.” He explained this with the bookshare.org case study. Bookshare started out by allowing blind persons to scan a book they have bought and an OCR software would read out the contents. While millions of copies of books were available for vision impaired customers, this still was not a scaleable model. Every blind person had to buy the book, scan it and read it using the software Jim’s company provided. Jim accidentally chanced upon Netflix. He envisioned a platform where visually impaired people can share and access audiobooks. However, for this to be possible, it was essential that copyright laws be relaxed for visually impaired people. Persistent efforts paid off and governments waived off copyright for books used by visually impaired. Now, one book can be scanned into an audiobook and shared with other visually impaired people. Currently, Jim is working with publishers to ensure that they create ebooks using standards to support the blind. Once that happens Bookshare will solely be an exchange platform and not required to create audiobooks. For Bookshare, that will be an exit criteria as Publishing business moves in to meet the needs of the unserved.
Accenture’s Tech4Good program also enables nonprofits and social entrepreneurs serving the market cracks. We help them extend their accessibility solutions, improve financial inclusion, and ensure more children get mid-day meals and do not leave formal education. Accenture brings the latest emerging technologies to enable the social enterprise and non profits to accelerate social transformation.
Academia is also driving the creation of new business to serve the next billion with help of Technology. MIT Initiative for Digital Economy runs the Inclusive Innovation Challenge every year. The program identifies and supports Social Innovators who are creating innovative businesses to serve the next billion. IIC award over one million dollars in prizes to Inclusive Innovators, international organizations that are using technology to solve a grand challenge of our time — to create shared prosperity by reinventing the future of work. I was delighted to do a workshop with 16 of the IIC winners in MIT selected from across the globe during my Fellowship.
Educate to build capacity for absorption: The final element of the Innovation Architecture is the need to educate—build capacity and capability at the bottom of the pyramid to absorb innovation for the masses. “Desh” Deshpande highlighted the unique challenge faced by solutions for the billions—the lack of capacity to absorb the innovation. Youth and community workers have to be educated and allowed to absorb the innovation, who can then act as a catalyst helping the billions absorb the innovation. Desh runs a unique program called Sandbox in Hubli where young people are trained as grass root innovators. The secret to the success of Sandbox, according to Deshpande, is to “convert people into innovators and leaders who come up with relevant solutions that are not thrusted from outside. You can then add technology and funding to scale it up.”
One of the major challenge faced by Non Profits and Social Enterprise serving the market cracks is affordability and capability to manage Digital technology. They lack the skills, the expertise to select and operate the right Digital technologies to serve the billion. To bridge this gaps there are non profits like TechSoup which act as bridge between the Technology companies and Philanthrophy. With billions of dollars of software products and services made available to non profits from technology businesses to help them build the required Digital capabilities to serve the next billion in areas like education, healthcare and others. When I visited TechSoup in San Francisco, I met an obviously elated CEO, Rebecca Masisak celebrating their 2 million Technology grant milestone to the Non Profits. “At TechSoup, we believe that strengthening the civil society community is the best option for addressing the anxiety and sense of displacement that is spreading across the globe.” Rebecca Masisak, CEO of TechSoup
Accenture Labs has been working with Maya Healthcare in India to create a Tech4Good solution that educates youth in rural India to focus on the wellness element of healthcare and prevent non-communicable diseases.
We have explored that all five elements- Ethics, Embed, Engineer, Enable and Educate of the Innovation Architecture for Business need ‘collective intelligence’ and synergistic coordination between government, academia, business and non-profits to varying degrees (see figure 3). The question remains is whether Digital technology can help us build the ‘Collective Intelligence’ so important for TechforGood project. My meeting with Prof Thomas Malone, Founder of center of collective intelligence in MIT Sloan School of Management gave me the answer.
Inspired by systems like Wikipedia and Linux, Climate CoLab a project run by Prof Malone is an open problem-solving platform where a growing community of over 90,000 people — including hundreds of the world’s leading experts on climate change and related fields — work on and evaluate plans to reach global climate change goals.
By constructively engaging a broad range of scientists, policymakers, business people, practitioners, investors, and concerned citizens, Climate CoLab mission is to build and gain momentum for plans for achieving global climate change goals that are more detailed, actionable, and effective than any that would have otherwise been developed.
Based on the many examples I encountered, I conclude that an inclusive world can be built using Digital technologies in synergy with a supportive ecosystem. Business can amplify their mission and profitability by leveraging the collective intelligence of an ecosystem comprising of regulators, academia, innovators and civil society rather than doing it alone. It is possible to structure these interactions, and business can address the needs of society with differentiated go-to market strategies powered by Digital technologies and ecosystem partners. While businesses discover new revenue growth models, they also contribute to building an inclusive world that is just, fair and prosperous.
My final stop of the Journey is New York. I had the opportunity to interact with Vartan Gregorian, President Carnegie Corporation, Sean Cruse and Rosedel Davies-Adewebi from UN Global Compact, Mohammed Al Ardhi, Board of Director for Investcorp, Rachael Riley and Christine Zhang from Data Clinic of Twosigma.
Diverse set of ecosystem partners. Twosigma started as a Datascience company for Financial Trading and is now running this unique Data Clinic program where employees volunteer to solve social problems using the power of Data Science. Very interesting indeed. They are an example of what they do best to solve social challenges. Although this is still a peripheral initiative and not part of their core business.
Meeting with Carnegie Corporation focused on International Peace and also impact of AI on education and jobs. I was one of the 4 EF Fellows provided the opportunity to talk about my Fellowship journey which was appreciated by the audience.
Investcorp is a highly successful investment company with a mission to reach USD 100m. They have a strong CSR focus. They are looking at opportunities beyond North America and Europe to emerging markets like India.
Finally the meeting with UN Global Compact was most relevant as they are trying to help Businesses focus on re-imagining their operations and strategies for societal impact. Look at societal impact not as at periphery but as a core. I see there will be tremendous opportunity here to collaborate.
With this all my meetings are complete and I am looking forward to my pin ceremony and closing seminar in Philly latter this week!!!
The Best part of the Eisenhower Fellowship Journey are the passionate and intelligent people you meet. They help you see new perspectives and help find answers to questions in your mind.
I am thankful to all the wonderful people who gave their precious time to interact and critique my thinking in EF journey.
- General Collin Powell (Group Meeting- DC)
- Hon. Minister for Finance-Arun Jaitley (Group Meeting- Boston)
- Nick Torres (US EF Fellow)- Social Innovation Journal (Philly)
- Sheryl Khulman- Managing Director-Wharton Social Innovation Initiative (Philly)
- Steve Hollingworth- President and CEO Grameen Foundation (DC)
- Lauren Hendricks- EVP, Grameen Foundation (DC)
- Haben Girma- Disability Rights and Inclusion (Virtual)
- Desh Deshpande, Founder Deshpande Foundation (DC)
- Ron Baker (Distinguished Engineer- IBM Austin)
- James Froedge (US Fellow- Austin)
- Dr Anjum Khurshid- Director of Data Integration- Dell Medical School (Austin)
- Dr Bill Tierney- Chair of Dept of Population Health- Dell Medical School (Austin)
- Stacey Chang- Executive Director- Design Institute of Health-Dell Medical School (US Fellow- Austin)
- Chris Liang- Executive Director- Capital City Innovation (US Fellow- Austin)
- Dr Lucy Bernholz, Director- Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab (San Francisco/ NYC)
- Jim Fructerman, Founder and CEO Benetech (San Francisco)
- Rebecca Masisak- CEO TechSoup (San Francisco)
- Michel Moven- CEO CosmoTech- EF French Fellow (San Francisco)
- Angel O’Mahoney- Senior Political Scientist, RAND
- Prof. Fritz Raffensperger – RAND
- Meg Garlinghouse (Head of Social Impact in Linkedin)
- Brent Chism (CEO- Taroworks)
- Rob Nail, CEO of Singularity University
- Rebecca Winthrop- Brookings Institution- Director Center of Universal Education
- Namitha Datta- Program Manager- Solutions for Youth Employment-World Bank
- Prof. Tom Malone (Founding Director- MIT Center for Collective Intelligence)
- Prof. David Verrill- Executive Director- MIT Initiative on Digital Economy
- Devin Cook- Executive Producer- MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge
- Sushil Vachani (Board of Deshpande Foundation)
- Hemang Dave (Board of Deshpande Foundation)
- Vartan Gregorian, President, Carnegie Corporation
- Mohammed Mahfood Al Ardhi, Executive Chairman, Investcorp
- Sean Cruse- Head of Technology and Data/ Rosedel Davies-Adewebi (UN Global Compact)
- Jerome Glenn- CEO Millennium Project
- Meena Sonea Hewitt- Executive Director- Harvard South Asia Institite
- Rachael Weiss Riley- Director- Data Clinic- TwoSigma
Mind Plus Machine- How can AI help workers?
Moderator: Anant Agarwal, CEO, edX, Inc.
Fred Goff, CEO, Jobcase
Andrew Lo, Professor, MIT Sloan School of Management; Director, MIT Laboratory for Financial Engineering; and Principal Investigator, MIT CSAIL
Sanjay Podder, Managing Director, Accenture Labs (India)
Harvard welcomed the 2017 Middle East South Asia Fellows today – Harvard’s South Asia Institute and Middle East Initiative both played host, with many connections forged and opportunities for potential joint endeavors
In 7 years we will achieve complete connectivity one web. There is an XPrize Challenge in 18 months to teach English to people- says Rob Nail, CEO of Singularity.
He further goes on to say that Regulatory systems will be tested due to Innovation.
He cautions that Future of abundance or Mankind will blow itself- how do you steer towards Tech for Good’?
On Future of Work Rob made some interesting observations-
All physical job will go away.
The big Challenge will not be lack of work but lack of skills.
Degree will be devalued and replaced with continuous learning.
Humans will move from Jobs to Endeavors. Human Endeavors will focus on empathy exploration entertainment. Human skills such as Critical thinking, cognitive empathy, Leadership and Grit will be Valued.
On new Business Models- Rob sees ‘Uncommon partnership’ between Business and Civil Society to deliver the benefit with technology.