Dr. James Gough is a McCain Global Leader and a former military and aid doctor, having served with the British Army and the ICRC in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Bangladesh. Beyond the field of medicine, he served with the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a diplomat and co-founded a U.K. charity promoting and protecting the wellness of those who serve the Crown to protect the nation. He is currently the chief impact officer at multi-national scale up Infinite Lambda and the founder and CEO of One Shot Immersive, a social venture providing life-saving educational technology for humanitarian crises, conflict, and disaster.
Part I was an opinion piece framed around my experiences. Part II is a more pragmatic approach, giving those reading a better idea of what the tech sector can and should be doing to play a more direct role in making the world a better place. I hope the actions identified can help you and your organization.
1. Find your place
Business often fails to see other vital component parts of the economy and society. It can have a distorted view of its place in the world. The tech sector is guilty of this today. In her brilliant book, “Doughnut Economics,” Kate Raworth describes the market:
“[L]ike fire, it is extremely efficient at what it does, but dangerous if it gets out of control. When the market is unconstrained, it degrades the living world by over-stressing Earth’s sources and sinks.”
To solve the great challenges of our time, we need the market to serve society, not the other way around. The Economist recently listed the US tech sector on its Crony Capitalism Index. This is not a good look – tech firms are now among the biggest lobbyists in Washington, DC, with eight firms spending $100 million last year.
Raworth describes the essential relationship between the four component parts of any economy: The Home, The Market, The State, and The Commons. If tech (The Market) can regain some of its early progressive spirit, and remind itself of this delicate balance, it can begin to contribute more meaningfully to our future prosperity. It cannot be about limitless growth, but about considered action in lockstep with the other three vital parts of the economy.
Sit down with your colleagues and ask yourselves, what is our business for? What wants and needs do we address? What is our place in society and how can we serve it best? There is no judgment in where you find yourself, but knowing where you are, can help you navigate towards a positive impact.
Fig. 1 enables organizations or individuals across all parts of the economy to assess where they are placed relative to the market, the societal wants and its needs. It is deliberately simplistic and allows teams a place to build from. For services organizations such as Infinite Lambda, it helps us to navigate which organizations we wish to work with.
Fig 1 : GOUGH-HUBAY WINDOW
2. Build a diverse team representative of the world we live in
Many of those in the McCain Institute Global Leaders program have dedicated their lives to furthering diversity, equity, and inclusion in their home countries and further afield. It is clear that we all have a whole heap of unknown unknowns, baked-in perspectives, and unconscious biases. These are profoundly shaped by our experiences and the environments within which we exist. They perpetuate if we allow them to.
Real change cannot happen without forming diverse relationships and by building and being part of diverse teams. To build organizations that can address and contribute to societal wants and needs, we need to focus relentlessly on diversity.
However, building a diverse team in tech is not simple. The pool of talent available is the result of societal and institutional prejudice and bias. Opportunity is not equal. Companies need to move upstream of the current market. They need to engage under-represented groups by engaging other parts of the economy. This sometimes means engaging with other parts of the world more directly through platforms such as Tunga.io.
The State has enormous power to open doors of opportunity for under-represented groups. In Wales, the devolved government has introduced a Basic Income For Care Leavers of $2000 pcm. This means that for 24 months, an 18-year-old leaving care has a chance to take part in opportunities such as boot camps and talent accelerators. These opportunities catapult individuals into careers. Without innovative and progressive state intervention like this, these doors remain firmly closed.
Build diverse teams by reaching out to governments and civil society groups such as data.org, as well as mission-aligned businesses like She Can Code. Look for the common ground and make change happen.
3. Impact through partnership
No tech business can make a meaningful impact on the world without partnerships. To understand the perspectives from the four component parts of the economy, we need to form bonds beyond commercial aspiration. First, it helps to identify a global challenge we face that aligns with your own organizational passions or mission. Something that inspires you and your colleagues. Secondly, begin to build an understanding of the challenge by seeking out the experts who work on them every day. This could be NGOs, IGOs, local community groups or individuals. Thirdly, identify what the state is doing (or not) to address the challenge. This allows you to build a picture of the current state and identify gaps where tech can play an essential role. It is vital that you form meaningful relationships with people within these various groups. I have found that mutual skepticism of each other is often a blocker to great progress. The respective understanding between business and nonprofits is woeful, and at times toxic. Once these bonds are formed, educating each other on respective capability and perspective is essential. The opportunity for those who deeply understand the challenges, are potential solutions that only you can see.
4. Re-Visit Your Organizational Model
Perhaps your business is not really a business. Perhaps you fit more snugly into another area of the economy that Raworth describes. I have experienced this first hand. I found myself firmly in the bottom left of Fig.1 with my VR medical training start-up. Perhaps I was slow to realize that there is no money in saving poor lives, but I do know that serious money is required to save them. Seeing a problem and seeking to solve the problem is one thing. Finding a market is another. It can be a brutal realization, but the courage to re-evaluate your business model should include re-evaluating the organizational structure you have built. Many of the investors who are skeptical of your business model may be more interested in your not-for-profit. Your relentless focus on a problem, the solution and your expertise, has a place. Your business may not.