Monday, January 7, 2019

Return to Tech or Stay in Social Impact?

One of the decisions I've put off is whether to stay in the social impact world or return to tech.

Some might argue there's an intersection between the two, but I haven't seen much of it around the issue I care most about, which is poverty and the unfairness of extractive industries. I'm talking about excessive, escalating fines for anything from parking tickets to court costs, or bank fees, or cash checking, or Rent-a-Center, etc, etc.

I'm thinking a lot about that, but haven't found the angle just yet. Payday lending is top of mind; even the framing of that practice is unjust: employees work, then wait one to two weeks for a paycheck. They're basically lending money to the employer, who pays them without interest down the road. In the meantime there are bills to pay.

So it's really a line of credit they're giving to the employer--the employee is the lender, and the employer is the borrower. There's something to that. An employer will argue the interest is built in. But the delayed pay benefits the company's cash flow, as they're currently structured. But maybe they should be depositing part or all of the pay on a daily basis, and adjust their cash flow practices around that. Why? Because it's more fair and makes life easier for low-paid workers.

Is there a tech angle? Maybe, but it feels like more of a policy issue, or practices issue.

I'm interested in solar and EVs (been obsessed about EVs forever). There's an intersection there and I'm watching some interesting ideas. The price per kWh is below fossil fuels now, and battery technologies are advancing rapidly. Graphene might be the key. Or the new thing out of MIT. But getting those to mass production will take time.

I don't like the "buy one, give one" model. It's basically philanthropy, and while free shoes are welcome (thanks Tom's), it doesn't promote sustainability and can have negative side effects.

And I don't like the 1% model. Again it's philanthropy, rather than introducing systemic change through a business model--the holy grail of impact business. Philanthropy isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's every inefficient with a lot of overhead, and tends to treat symptoms rather than root causes, many of which could be changed by policy.

So we'll see. I love tech--it's intellectually stimulating and can be a lot of fun. I'm looking at something pretty deeply right now. Not mine, but I'm pretty jazzed by it and I bet we could blow it up to something substantial.

What am I missing? Lots, I bet. It's a good time to dig in, do the research.

What excites you in tech and impact? Let me know in the comments.

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