As published in The Marketplace Magazine Jan-Feb 2019
Using business to bring about societal change in North America is a complex issue that requires collaboration and tenacity, a conference for students and young professionals was told.
“I don’t know about you, but the people I work with don’t want change, said Roxann Allen Kioko, of Eastern Mennonite University’s business and leadership programs. “People usually hate change.”
But, “How we have done business for the past 40, 50 years really does need to change.”
Kioko made the comments at the Business+Justice=Change panel at MEDAx, a mini-conference for young people held at MEDA’s annual convention in Indianapolis.
The panel included: Jeff Boodie, co-founder/chief executive officer of Job Snap, which helps young people get hired based on video profiles; Kristen Cooper of The Startup Ladies, focused on women entrepreneurs, and Matthias Pries, a social finance consultant.
White males dominate the venture capital market, Boodie said. Black Americans face major challenges in attracting money to finance the growth of their new businesses.
He started JobSnap to create a business that solved problems for people like him. Many people he serves with JobSnap were previously incarcerated or homeless.
Cooper struck a similar tone. “Women and people of color are grossly underfunded,’’ she said.
Since Cooper created The StartUp Ladies, the #METOO movement has led to more discussions around inequity. “It is easier to have discussions with anyone about the disparities.”
Collective consciousness about discrimination and inequity has increased, she said. Smart people want to understand issues and collaborate to figure how to help make positive change. “I think now we can have these conversations.”
Everyone needs to consider what their role is in changing how investments are made in people who are grossly underrepresented, she said. In the US, only 2.19 per cent of all venture capital investments went into women-led start-ups last year.
Efforts to make change will likely result in failures, panelists agreed.
“Whenever you talk about innovation, you’re also talking about failure,” Pries said.
The education system has failed students in not teaching them how to deal with failure, Kioko said. “Framing failure as learning is key,” she said.
For Boodie, what seemed like a success turned into a failure. Early in JobSnap’s evolution, it had its app in the Apple online store. But Apple has stringent rules around what app developers can put in their products, making it a poor fit for JobSnap. “We took it off the shelf,” he said. “Ultimately Apple was controlling my innovation for what I wanted to put out to the world.”
He realized the people he wanted to serve didn’t necessarily have smart phones, and would be better served by a web app, where he had more control over the technology.
Cooper says it is important to normalize failure as a teacher. “If I have to suffer, I definitely want to learn from it, because it’s so painful.”
She urged young adults to build a network of investors, mentors and other advisors who can continue their education, or risk becoming stagnant.
Pries, who works in the Canadian government’s Privy Council office, advised people to be tenacious. His first job came after repeatedly e-mailing the head of the company where he wanted to work. “In part, it was the tenacity to just bug somebody until they’ll listen that helped me out.” ◆