Technology assumed many roles in the past year: our connective tissue, the social glue, and primary means of education, entertainment, discovery, and productivity. The long-promised digital transformation at scale was truly upon us. Social distancing spawned new habits and new routines. Technology allowed us to connect, adapt, and move forward during a time of intense isolation, fear, and loss. At the same time, this period lifted a veil, displaying technology’s dark side for all to see, the result of untamed and unforeseen forces.
As venture capitalists sitting in the middle of this change, nurturing and championing tech companies as they grow, we are accountable for what we enable and produce. With innovation comes responsibility—to generate returns beyond profits and to make technology a force for good in the world. We have a collective responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. We can no longer manage businesses solely for growth, important as that is. We must embrace the right constraints, transparency, and framework to engineer for growth and good. That is responsible innovation, and it requires a shift in the way the innovation community approaches and values its work.
We envision—and will work with the community to build—a coalition of investors, founders, executives, and policymakers, working in radical collaboration to rewrite the playbook for deploying technology ethically, and building and leading enduring companies.
Entrepreneurship is and will remain at the heart of the American dream. Free enterprise is the most powerful tool for accelerating change and driving prosperity. The power and promise of the U.S. innovation economy—epitomized by Silicon Valley—has long been its ability to make it easier for anyone to challenge the dominant players. A generation set out to disrupt the old order and succeeded. Now that the Davids have toppled the Goliaths, we are left to make sense of the consequences. We are at risk of heading into a world with no rules, no referees, and a “fix it after we get there” approach. It isn’t acceptable and it isn’t sustainable—not for the economy, not for democracy, and not for society.
Let’s be clear: No company starts with the express purpose of ruining the world. Social media platforms weren’t built to undermine truth or faith in free and fair elections. Yet, in 2020, the technology we created and relied on upon the name of connectivity and sociability eroded core pillars of democracy—trust, free speech, equality—exposing the inequities of access and the marginalization of entire groups, and lending growing credence to fringe ideologies and conspiracy theories.
With the benefit of hindsight, we are looking to help guide the next generation of innovators to learn from the recent past and partner instead of disrupting to create something better. To accomplish that, we invite fellow investors, founders, executives, and leaders to work with us to develop responsible innovation standards of leadership based on four pillars:
Economic opportunity & inclusion: Truly innovative technology leaves no group behind or marginalized. Companies must understand the effects of innovations on a broader array of stakeholders, and build guardrails to anticipate and protect against potential harm. That includes ensuring increased equity, broader access, and more evenly distributed prosperity as a result of innovation.
Environment & Sustainability: We must insist on developing—from the outset and by design—operations, and products that are sustainable and serve the well-being of the planet and its people.
Openness & diversity: An enduring business cannot be built without exceptional people. That requires a commitment to build cultures to ensure that people are treated with dignity and can work in an environment that is diverse and free of discrimination, and where employees and communities can benefit from and partake in business success.
Privacy & safety: Customers don’t want to be treated like a “product” or be regarded as just “users.” Businesses must return to customer-centricity with a commitment to respecting individual rights, including the privacy and secure maintenance of personal data, and the avoidance of misinformation that disrupts the community and undermines democracy.
Once developed, these standards must become the backbone of business models, brand visions, and company cultures from the outset, and they must then be enforced by private-sector leaders, boards, and policymakers. This imperative dovetails with the increasing responsibility that companies face to speak out on societal issues. Embracing one call to action without the other is leaving the job half-done.News Source: BARRON'S