Introduction: The Crossroads of Business, Technology, and Social Impact
Growing up as a low-income student in the Silicon Valley, I feel like I have always had an innate interest in the crossroads of business, technology, and social impact. In fact, I chose to attend UC Berkeley partially because of this interest, believing that it would be the best university to learn more about the intersection of these topics. After all, it was home to many social movements —the Free Speech Movement for instance. Unfortunately, I was disappointed upon my arrival to find that there was a high focus on careers in the ABCs (accounting, banking, and consulting) amongst the business students and tons of jokes about the inauthenticy of the business world. No one really explicitly talked about the role of businesses or technology in implementing social change.
Fortunately, I quickly learned that although not often discussed, the crossroad did exist. It was just tucked away in the unfrequented part of the Berkeley ecosystem. I did a little bit of exploring and starting my second semester, enrolled myself into classes that seemingly discussed the topics, at least individually (Virtual Communities/Social Media, Philanthropy: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, Ethical Leadership, to name a few). While they all gave me a great background into each of their respective topics, I still felt like I was missing something — a deep dive into how they could all intersect to implement change.
And then lo and behold, the fall of my junior year a new business course opened up: Social Movements and Social Media. Taught under the business department, the course discusses the complex relationship between social media technologies, social movements, and for-profit organizations. Unfortunately, I was unable to take the course then due to a timing conflict with my club (Berkeley Women in Business shout out), but luckily, the course was offered again this year and just started last week.
In our very first lecture, we were able to hear from Jen Martindale, the CMO of the Yerba Buena Center of Arts (YBCA), who gave a brief introduction into the history of YBCA and how it arose from the gentrification of San Francisco’s South of Market. She also discussed the role of YBCA in implementing local change and supporting national movements. As an art museum, it has managed to become an instrumental part of social change by being a cultural incubator. They support the local art ecosystem, provide a platform for political messages through art, and work with social justice organizations to create change. For instance, they highlighted a collaboartion with Tania Bruguera, a Cuban artist who uses her work to discuss political issues in power and control. In explaining the importance of culture, Jen said something that really resonated with me:
“Political change is the last manifestation of cultural shifts that have already occured.”
As such, cultural change is key and can be achieved through art and daily interactions and activities. The idea highlights the importance of technology and is also echoed in one of first class readings. In The Political Power of Social Media, by Clay Shirky, he states “Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference” (5). Technology has allowed for the development of conversation with groups of individuals across the world, fostering cross-cultural discussion and providing the cultural change needed to lead to a political change. My only concern about the newfound importance of technology is in regards to its accessibility. As mentioned in Andrew Perrin’s research, “Social Media Usage: 2005–2015,” only 65% of American adults use social networking sites. The number jumps even further amongst lower-income households and rural households to 56% and 58%, respectively. Because social movements effect marginalized individuals more, it is highly concerning that the numbers are lower with these groups. At the same time, I gain hope looking at platforms like internet.org that aspire to make the web accessible to everyone — including those who cannot afford it or live in more rural areas. According to Mark Zuckerberg in a Facebook post, this effort alone already has doubled mobile data usage in the Phillippines and Paraguay
In all, social media can be a tool for solving social issues and is part of the crossroad that I have been searching for as it integrates technology, business, and social change into one platform. While class has just begun, I am already excited and hoping to dive straight into deep discussions about current social issues, the role and extent that businesses should have in them, the power of technology, etc.
Here’s to an exciting semester.