What a difference a couple of weeks makes. In my last blog post, I talked about how technology presented an opportunity for cities around the world to become innovation hubs. Since then, we have been through an election cycle in the US. President-elect Donald Trump was a surprise win to many, and in the post-election analysis, the issue of cities left-behind by the economy has been identified as a key factor in him being the chosen candidate. We need to face the fact that technology has contributed to this economic disparity.
The technology industry is most proud of the way it “disrupts” industries. We have replaced jobs with machines in many industries and continue to do so. Technology is expected to upend healthcare, education, transportation, food, housing and just about every aspect of daily life. But when we “disrupt”, we often destroy. We leave entire careers at the wayside, and formerly thriving towns economically devastated.
Now it’s time for tech to disrupt itself and acknowledge the role we are playing in good disruption and bad. We need to put together think tanks on how to replace the jobs we usurp. Do we have an obligation to hire a certain percentage of the workforce displaced? Robin Raskin in her recent Huffington Post column suggested a tech Peace Corps to help find solutions to revitalize devastated communities. Do we have an obligation to create and contribute to a universal income strategy as jobs are lost and not replaced?
The bottom line is, we must start finding solutions to the problems we have created. We must take our fair share of responsibility. Our own survival might depend on it because if enough people are left financially devastated by technology’s disruption, we can expect more revolution in government like we saw with the Donald Trump election. We must recognize that while globalization has been great for tech and tech workers, it has left others in ruins. It’s time to disrupt that pattern.
My time with the Neal’s Running Start entrepreneurs opened my eyes to the world of ideas and knowledge that is happening in the most unlikely places, like Saskatoon, Canada. We need to support these entrepreneurs and equip cities, governments and educators if we’re going to accelerate local economies, move struggling cities from out-of-date industries that do not offer long-term viability, and usher in the next season of economic prosperity for all.
VCs need to consider social investing in remote places and with people solving third world and first world social and economic problems. We need to look to an unlikely group of entrepreneurs to give us new ideas, new perspectives and help us see beyond the next unicorn.
In the next few months, I will be visiting various cities and talking to smart people who are looking to be part of the solution to the economic damage inflicted on our American towns and cities. I will be researching ideas and opportunities. I’ll share my discoveries with you as I go, and I look for your input along the way as well. If you have ideas to share, people you think I should meet, places you think I should visit, I’m excited to hear from you all. Let’s do this together!