Saturday, July 20, 2024

Tech reset: Why startups need to take responsibility in the communities they serve

The following is the text of a speech delivered by Jen Evans, CEO of B2B News Network and SqueezeCMM, at a TechToronto event on Monday, Jan. 15. 
I’ll start by saying if you’re looking for B2B content marketing performance solutions, talk to me — SqueezeCMM and B2B News Network, my two startups, can help. HPE, MicroFocus, Citrix, and RBC will all be at our content performance summit Sept 28-29 so please visit squeezecmm.comand to learn more. 
And that was what I was originally here to talk about. 
But for several reasons, including that it is Martin Luther King Day, I am choosing to talk about something else. 
“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice”. Why we can’t wait, 1964
A few months ago several like-minded women got together. And we talked about some of the things we are seeing In our industry and in society. Things that were being reinforced by developments south of the border, things that forced us into confronting: what does it mean to be a compassionate person? A compassionate society? Are these things we value? 
I believe we do. I believe it because I’ve seen it
This is not about throwing money at a problem. This is about community. This is about a multi-billion dollar industry that steps over 500 people who sleep on the streets of this city every night. 
Three of those people are Joe and Gabriela and their little two day old Marina. Two weeks ago they were living on a grate outside Scotia Plaza. Did you step over them? 
One of the women we’re housing right now was an award-winning entrepreneur five years ago. Five years ago. We just got her back off the streets. Do you think it can’t happen to you? 
How would you want to be treated if it happened to you? If you had a head injury and couldn’t be a programmer anymore? You can’t quite hold down a job. But you’re a really good decent person. What should happen to you? Should you live on the streets? In shelters where violence and theft are major issues? 
What’s fair? What’s luck? 
Who’s responsible? 
The community. That’s us. And that’s what happened. Simple things can have a huge impact on dozens of lives. Tech made it possible to coordinate hundreds of people and families and donations all over the province on one phone. Imagine what we could really do if we took it on as a mission to solve these problems. To better equip schools and government. To change a homeless person’s life by giving them phones, lifelines. 
And work together to structurally eradicate it, because in a city this good, this wealthy, this much a shining example to the world, we should never have a 7.5 month pregnant woman sleeping on a grate at -27. We have capacity. Think about all the empty spaces in this city on a given night. Do all people not deserve warmth without sacrificing their dignity and autonomy? Does a public servant not deserve the best software possible to do their job in a country where $45 million fundings aren’t even all that unusual anymore?
No one left behind. Policy meets tech meets data. That’s the focus of which Bianca Wylie, Saadia Muzzfar, April Dunford and I are officially launching today.
We have a lot of people in our industry focused on our growth. But who’s looking after the community we are pricing out of affordable housing? Either we accept responsibility for that and do something about it, as a coordinated initiative and not one-offs, or we’re hard pressed to call ourselves a compassionate sector.
Two examples of where we could start: I came here tonight in a new streetcar that had no functioning method of payment because all the terminals were out. Not the first time. The city needs those revenues to support more than just transportation. And we are looking for letter-writing support for the master data plan. Sign up on the site and we’ll get you going. 
Let’s define the problems and apply our brilliance as an industry to working on real solutions. If you are willing to donate hotel rooms, meals or transportation, find me tonight. Join us. Visit the site, sign up, thank you. 


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Jennifer Evans
Jennifer Evans
principal, @patternpulseai. author, THE CEO GUIDE TO INDUSTRY AI. former chair @technationCA, founder @b2bnewsnetwork #basicincome activist. Machine learning since 2009.