UCLA Anderson’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports and the Anderson chapter of Net Impact hosted activist, entrepreneur and thought leader Freada Kapor Klein, founding partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact in Oakland. Kapor Klein is author of Giving Notice: Why the Best and the Brightest Leave the Workplace and How You Can Help Them Stay. She co-leads the Kapor Center and Kapor Capital with husband Mitch Kapor, who, among his many tech and business accomplishments, founded the Lotus Development Corporation and designed Lotus 1-2-3. They champion impact technology companies that make real improvements in real communities.
Last August Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein pledged $40 million over the next three years to fix the leaky pipeline to opportunities and careers in technology. Their pledge funds a set of initiatives designed to give women and underrepresented ethnic minorities a better shot at becoming tech entrepreneurs.
Interviewed by Christal M. Jackson, founder of Head and Heart Philanthropy, Kapor Klein shared her wisdom, experience and advice on a number of salient points, chief among them these five:
1) A pipeline problem exists, but it’s become the excuse for exclusion.
Biases and barriers within the pipeline to tech careers prevent people from advancing through it and often cause them to exit the path if they've embarked on it. If we don’t fix the leaks, Kapor Klein said, “We will see our entire national standard of living steadily decline relative to the rest of the world.” We all lose, she said, when people in underrepresented groups are encouraged not to aim high — being persuaded, for instance, that the accident of birth that landed them in a certain ZIP code precludes them from certain educational and professional trajectories. “One low expectation along the way deprives us all of talent.”
2) Lived experience makes all the difference.
The Kapor Center’s SMASH five-week summer program housed on college campuses that provides rigorous STEM classes to students from underserved communities, and middle-school hackathons they organize in low-income communities, inspire young people to design brilliant solutions to the problems in their own schools and neighborhoods — apps for navigating food deserts for fresh affordable food, or for avoiding gang activity on the walk home. People who have overcome obstacles and faced resistance are positioned to make the greatest contributions to meeting real challenges in real communities, as well as changing the face of business and industry. Take, for instance, Plaza Familia, the English-language learning platform backed by Kapor Capital. It was launched by a woman who, as a child, was a calculus wiz, but was placed in remedial math in grammar school because she had not yet mastered English. Having experienced this setback, she was determined others not be roadblocked.
3) If a VC commits to diversity, it needs to walk its talk.
Kapor Capital recently issued a “Dear Investors” entreaty to VCs to make a commitment to diversity. Three quarters of those contacted signed on, and the letter triggered overtures from additional VCs — to a one led by Caucasian males — enthusiastically offering to use Kapor’s language in their own promotion. “Clean your own house first,” advised Kapor Klein. If you are purporting to champion founders of color or otherwise “diversify,” she said, learn what it takes to attract them. Reflect the commitment in your own practices.
4) Get in front of business as usual.
Why Oakland? “Oakland is going to be the next tech hub for all the wrong reasons. San Francisco and Silicon Valley are going to become full and too expensive, and most Millennials don't want to live in the suburbs. We want to make sure that everything great about Oakland stays great.” So the Kapor Center works with city government to promote “techquity” locally and safeguard against the kind of gentrification that edges people out instead of retaining them. “We want Oakland to be the home of impact tech companies,” said Kapor Klein.
5) Business schools should teach social innovation.
Soon enough, every company will of necessity be a tech company. Business schools, Kapor Klein said, should teach their students what technology enables. Define “impact” rigorously, she said, understanding that not all educational startups, for instance, are socially responsible. Always be specific about who benefits and which gaps are widened or closed in corporate and entrepreneurial endeavors. She added that nonprofits today need the same kinds of disruptions as for-profits in order to make the most productive use of their time and resources. They can use technology, for instance, to crowdsource collaboration with other nonprofits working toward the same goals. And, she said, to be truly current, teach “diversity baked in from the beginning.”