A few weeks after joining the White House, we received a challenge from President Obama. How could we turn citizen outrage about the Syrian refugee crisis into tangible action on the issue?
One of our answers was working with Kickstarter to create their first-ever charity campaign, which raised almost $2 million to build and maintain refugee camps in the Middle East. The campaign made helping refugees as easy as tweeting, demonstrating how digital technologies can be used to address civic challenges — not just make communicating with friends easier.
Later in my tenure, my colleagues from the Domestic Policy Council taught me that poor Americans often pay twice as much for diapers (and other essentials) as their wealthy counterparts. In short, if you cannot afford to buy in bulk, pay for Amazon Prime, and so on, then you are forced to buy small quantities from the corner store — at a significant premium. So, we challenged ourselves again to use technology to address this problem.
Working with the e-commerce platform Jet, we helped create the Community Diaper Program. By tweaking packaging and tapping into existing logistic networks, non-profits benefitting from the program have been able to double the number of diapers they provide to impoverished American families — with the same amount of money, and without sacrificing quality. During the first six months, over 5 million diapers have been distributed in 48 states. All of this happens at-cost for participating companies — an example of a sustainable, technology-oriented solution to a policy problem.
These “product” initiatives with Kickstarter and Jet are not replacements for government action, but they made me appreciate how technology can uniquely address civic challenges. Next week, I will begin to further explore this theme, as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Thrive Capital.
Thrive is an investor in Kickstarter and Jet, as well as many of my favorite technology companies — from Stripe to Github and Slack. I’ve known the team at Thrive for over five years now. In 2011, Chris was one of the first people to encourage me to leave college to build Branch. More recently, Josh and I have been discussing ways to address recidivism issues together, inspired by our work with local prisons. It will be fun to explore alongside them and the rest of the Thrive team.
Truth is, I’m not sure where this wandering will take me. But whether it leads me to start another company, become an investor, rejoin the private sector, work at a non-profit, or serve again in government, I am more confident than ever that the technology industry can become a greater force for good. Our best work is most definitely ahead of us.