804.424.1933 brad@bbbox.io

1 – More on My Project, a List of Topics

Now that we have a rough plan for the “GOOD IDEAS about Our Future” podcast, structure, and budget, it’s time to identify topics. Provided below are ideas, descriptions, and a few relevant sources to research content.

Episode 1 – “Why Talk about the Future of ‘GOOD’?”

This introductory podcast will identify why it’s important to think about how technologies will shape opportunity for all moving forward. I plan to provide evidence that science and (at the time) innovative systems have historically been used as a tool for “othering,” excluding, and marginalizing people of color and women in America. Relevant resources will include Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, the trove on documentation on “redlining” following World War II (like this interactive “Mapping Inequality” resource), and innovative technologies that have been developed to support the Prison Industrial Complex (like this article from COLORLINES). I’ll juxtapose these harmful innovations with beneficial ones, such as investments in renewable energy sources that now outperform fossil fuel options for return on investment, the W.F. Kellogg Foundation’s Business Case for Equity, and the ongoing promise of a boom in technological innovation through entrepreneurship in Africa. I’ll also explain that initiatives like Code For America are shaping a brighter future through existing technologies. I will conclude that the rest of my podcast episodes will focus on the simple fact that if we intentionally build a more inclusive future that is more equitable (and accessible) for historically marginalized individuals, we all stand to win.

Episode 2 – “We Were Investing in BAD before We Got Good (at least better)”

This will be a deep dive into the history of investing and the paradigm shifts over time. I’ll make the case that capital drives innovation. Historically, capital was directed at destructive and harmful prospects, like colonialization (e.g., the East India Trading Company) and slavery in America (i.e., wealth in the U.S. originated through an extractionist economy that relied on slave labor) that created power imbalances that were seemingly unreliable until we broke out in Civil War). I will frame all these investment principles, of course, as being rather innovative at the time — and ultimately a failure because historically “innovative” economic system was cruel, inhumane, and, ultimately, unsustainable. I will then describe how “impact investing” is the latest iteration that is driving innovation for GOOD, borrowing from Brian Trelstad of Bridges Ventures, CEO of Enclude Laurie Spengler’s excellent timeline of investing, and information from the Global Impact Investing Network. My conclusion: When we invest in more people’s success . . . more people succeed, and when that happens, we increase access to capital for all. I’ll also (briefly) pull in Paolo Freire‘s thoughts that when we lift up the poorest among us, both the poor and the wealthy stand to benefit.

Episode 3 – “Could Silicon Valley’s Lofty Prospect Be Realized by Rural?”

While the Silicon Valley bubble may not have burst as many anticipated, it could be reaching market saturation (or at least the inevitable constraints that bound innovation). I believe Silicon Valley’s $400 juicer that was an investment darling is proof enough of that. And with limited space (and talent), Silicon Valley can’t hold the vision of the world’s future for forever. And organization’s like SamaSchool could hold the answer for building a more sustainable future. By upskilling individuals around the world and creating entry points into the globale Information Economy, we can create a more sustainable economy where more individuals can thrive. Additionally, innovations from rural communities — and resident engagement inititiaves to shape a shared vision for the future (like Impact Independence County) — may be just what it takes to reverse the trends in growing inequality/inequity described by a growing number of academics (Robert Putnam describes wealth gaps, relevant data, and the cuultural shifts and policies that have created them beautifully in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis). 

Episode 4 – “My(ForReal)Space: Digital Advocacy”

Although millennials and Gen Z folks have gotten a bad rap for post-and-done political engagement, social media is an increasingly powerful tool for community change. An early, powerful example was how social media served as the engine for the Arab Spring. More recent examples are a double-edge sword: Just as #BlackLivesMatter organizers and protestors relied on social media to take action, various platforms have served as refuge for domestic terrorist hate groups in America. Just as social media increasingly shapes inviduals’ perception of reality, it can also be leveraged to actually change our social realities. With platforms this powerful, the question is increasingly raised: Are we entering a time in which social media requires stringent regulation?

Episode 5 – “Is It Fair that Elon Musk Could Send Me to Mars?”

This is a mildly humorous question, but it points to an important question: What happened to public investment in innovation? Now that technologies we rely on, advances in science, and (perhaps especially) life-saving technologies are being developed by private businesses, have we all but let our federal government off the hook? Since the moon launch, it seems like the U.S. governments most signficiant investment in science and innovation has been in the area of international defense. But where did the drive that helped America win the space race go? However, the solution may very well be in public-private partnerships moving forward whereby national, state, and local governments take a seat at the table with corporations to develop technologies ranging from terraforming Mars to ending cancer. The recent push to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines could be a sign that more public-private partnerships could be formed to solve some of America’s greatest challenges.

Episode 6 — “Well, That Smart Speaker Is Dumb”

Voice recognition technology is racist. Facial recognition software? Also racist. The lack of racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in the world of technology development has resulted in, you guessed it, racist technology. No, computer’s aren’t out to maintain systems of oppression and historical marginalization. But the people who create them, whether intentionally or not, are doing just that. In order to overcome “racist” and “sexist” technologies, the corporations and research insititutions that produce them have to equitably increase diversity. And once again, it’s a win-win-win situation. Employ more people of color and women for leadership positions, pay them equally, and intentionally create equitable practices where their authority is recognized, and suddenly you have more qualified decision-makers, a greater distribution of wealth, and software and hardware that is designed well enough to prevent public backlash, boycotting, and lawsuits.

Episode 7 – “And the Band Played On”

A 1993 drama entitled “And the Band Played On” tells the story of an epidemiologist who noted that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was killing scores of gay men and, as he sought answers to this mystery that could result in treatment, his approach wasn’t received very well by much of anyone. Innovation in the healthcare industry has moved forward, leaving marginalized folks in the dust. Mortality rates from the COVID-19 epidemic are a striking reflection of that reality when you look at the disproportionate mortality rates in Black and LatinX communities. Looking to the future, if we acknowledge and learn from past mistakes, we have the opportunity to both keep more people alive and improve their quality of life while also increasing the number of folks who are able to more effectively contribute to as well as improve our society. 

Episode 8 – “REAL Global Ethics”

In 2002, city planning research Richard Florida published The Rise of the Creative Class, which is a garbage book that can be summed up in two sentences: “We should feel bad about our unsustainable sprawling suburbs [**cough cough** white flight **cough cough**]. Let’s take back our urban centers [AKA gentrify the $%!& out of the places communities of color were left with).” The book was so bad, despite its immense popularity, that he wrote a retraction nearly two decades later, The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class-and What We Can Do About It. Despite my beef with Florida, his books are reflections of previous decades of academic research in various disciplines focused on social issues. His first book captured the zeitgesit in academia for improved sustainability and urban renewal. His latest reflects the growing bodies of research in pretty much every social science that boils down to: Marx was right — if we treat people like garbage, they’re going to get back at us, whether intentionally or not; if we invest in our communities and the opportunity of every resident, we’ll all end up a lot better off for it. This concluding episode will provide a very surface-level overview of opportunities for us to build a more inclusive, equitable, and just future through the revised processses we use to develop and manufacture technologies moving forward. 

2 – Theories of Innovation

The selected topic is philanthropy

Kline and Rosenberg

Innovation requires input from grantee partners, which is often described as outcomes-based learning from grant reports as well as third-party report creation. This learning process is aligned with the vision, mission, and goals of the funder. As a result, both the funder as well as grantees — as a result of the grants they agree to implement — shift based on prior knowledge over time. Thus, there is a cycle of continuous improvement based on what has previously been attempted to achieve the funder’s goals.

Abernathy and Utterback Model

When philanthropic organizations undergo strategic planning, they shift through fluid, transitional, and specific phases. During the fluid phase — like other organizations — funders explore previous outcomes data (grants can be considered experiments, and grant reports contain what happened as a result of these investments). After sifting through what was learned from a period of grantmaking based on a specific strategy, the foundation transitions into a planning and may explore new ideas, exploring the realm of what’s possible by juxtaposing existing issues with previous solutions, both based on previous grantmaking (i.e., experiments) and what has worked else where. The funder then identifies what it will do to move forward, refining its vision, mission, and goals as needed to address the issues it exists to help its target population overcome.

 Clark and Henderson Model

This model is applicable to philanthropic organizations that focus on systemic change rather than addressing immediate, concrete needs. For example, this model is relevant to funders determined to transform long-term economic and educational outcomes rather than providing backpacks to kids. Therefore, a funder determined to transform systems will identify the elements within the system(s) it is determined to change, identify areas for improvement, and describe ways to improve related systems. Improvements often occur through the combination of scaling what works based on previous micro-level changes (e.g., improving educational outcomes in one community and transferring models to other communities) as well as data-informed policy changes and related advocacy. This requires the funder to strategically invest in these systemic changes.

 Teece Model

This model fits (at least in my mind) within the Clark and Henderson Model as a component as this describes how resources can be applied to take “what works” for positive change to scale. A funder must consider what grantees it can confidently invest in (distribution channels), how to create/invest in networks to effect change (relationships with suppliers, which are grantees, and customers, which are beneficiaries), how to share and manage knowledge (i.e., marketing capabilities), and then how to produce that anticipated/desired change over time based on resources and knowledge available (i.e., manufacturing capabilities.

 Christensen I Model

Like any other entity, philanthropic organizations are guided by resources, processes, and values. Resources include organizational capacity, knowledge, available grantee partners, and, of course, the budget. Processes include how funders seek and matriculate grantees, provide technical assistance to guide activities to result in desired outcomes, and document outcomes through direct reporting from grantees or through professional evaluation. Values, based on the foundation’s mission, shape the funder’s goals and serve as a compass for achieving desired change.

 Christensen II Model

Philanthropy will remain stagnant without disruption. A brief history of the field reveals that many philanthropic organizations exist to right the wrongs of its founders extraction-based practices (read enough about Henry Ford, Will Keith Kellogg, and the Rockefeller family, and you’ll know what I mean). The first major disruption in the field of philanthropy was to listen to nonprofit leaders, which over time has led to incremental improvements as the field has become more professionalized over the past century. Philanthropy increasingly exists to address the emerging needs of growing inequality within capitalist systems. Unfortunately, many funders focus on low-end disruption, like feeding the hungry or providing backpacks; however, there is enormous opportunities to invest in small systemic change (e.g., transforming a region’s economic and educational systems) and then scaling up what works to address needs at scale. In other words, while philanthropy in many ways addresses the symptoms of poverty (e.g., providing backpacks to kids), the field is increasingly focused on eradicating the need for such charitable activities (e.g., rebuilding systems where parents don’t struggle to afford backpacks in the first place because they are employed and earning a living wage).

Value Chain Evolution Model Model

This takes a broader look at the field of philanthropy rather than individual funders. Philanthropic organizations can specialize in certain areas — say, for example dental health — but the impact of the organization is only actualized when it is observed in the context of the network that organization belongs to — say, for example, working alongside other funders that focus on other areas of health, solely on education, the arts, workforce development, etc. A great example could be ending poverty in Arkansas. While two funders could focus on health, one on dental wellness and another on child well-being, connecting these two funders to others that take on other facets of poverty, creating a strategic plan, and then implementing said plan could result in dramatically better results. Thus, each funder and its network of grantee partners contribute to resolving the seemingly intractable issue of poverty.

3 – More from Weapons of Math Destruction

Anywhere you find the combination of great need and ignorance, you’ll likely see predatory ads. (p. I’m 70)

This section feels especially relevant to me as it is the antithesis of what I have spent the past decade working on (although I’ve learned plenty from it). Data-driven marketing and communications feeds on fears, insecurities, and what-ifs. O’Neill descirbes how data on “what keeps people up at night” can be used to get them to spend money hand-over-fist to keep themselves safe and secure . . . while deteriorating their financial safety nets and personal security. From sexual enhancements to for-profit colleges, she describes how data is used to create the perfect profile of individuals’ fears — especially folks with low to moderate incomes — that are then used to generate campaigns that compel them to waste money on ineffective products and services. As O’Neill puts it: “Anywhere you find the combination of great need and ignorance, you’ll likely see predatory ads” (p. 72). She goes on to say that predatory advertising couldn’t be burgeoning at a more dangerous time as about 40 percent of Americans consistently struggle to make ends meet.