Want more innovation, jobs, and investment? Go talk to the private sector.
Why Black Lives Matter must start engaging companies directly.
After Apple finished their iOS 10 software prototype, they released a “beta version” for comments and suggestions. The feedback they received from the public and developers allowed Apple to modify the software and create a better product. This is an example of a company using a feedback loop — a system that employs open communication to make corrections and increase efficiency and performance.
Companies leverage feedback loops after products are already in use as well. For example, when Google Maps crashes on your phone, it instantly sends a notification to the Google’s headquarters. There, developers take this information and analyze what went wrong so that they can fix it in the next update. It is this dialogue between customers, employees, and companies that fuels constant innovation. The same feedback loop is behind drastic improvements in Tesla’s self-driving car and Apple’s Siri voice recognition technology.
This process holds an important lesson for anyone who seeks to influence and improve business policies or spur innovation: If you want to change the way a company or a group of companies is operating you should interface with them frequently and directly.
Unfortunately, this is a lesson that The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a group that seeks to influence and improve several companies and industries, has not yet learned.
Wait.. A Plan to Change the Private Sector That Doesn’t Include Talking to the Private Sector?
The M4BL is a coalition of over 60 organizations that aims to transform the economic reality of black America. Included in their goals are divesting from fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy, funding black-owned businesses and co-ops, and employing more black workers — all laudable business reforms. The problem is that the M4BL plans to accomplish these goals by communicating solely with the government.
For example, their jobs plan is to:
“Pass a $2 to $4 trillion policy that would both create government jobs for Black workers, and subsidize businesses to hire Black workers. The main targets of this effort would be the Congress, President, and Chairman of the Federal Reserve.”
Their plan for funding black business and co-ops is to:
“Pass federal legislation to put in place a tax measure that gives individuals a deduction of 125 percent on federal income tax for investment in cooperatives; [and to] incentivize private bank funding to cooperatives and other alternative institutions through the Community Reinvestment Act.”
And their renewable energy plan is to get the federal government to:
Divest from fossil fuels and “invest instead in a cooperative loan fund” for local sustainable energy.
Nowhere in these plans does M4BL articulate a strategy to contact employers or banks directly. Rather they are looking to the government to facilitate these innovations.
That’s right — the same government that couldn’t pass the American Jobs Act during the Great Recession. The same government that rather shut down under sequester than pass a budget. The same government that has been called the most divided in decades!
With this political climate, any plan for economic progress that is contingent upon government action is a plan for endless gridlock, stagnation, and complacency. And even hypothetically, if the partisan tides did suddenly shift and the government began to function again, it is still doubtful that policy makers could act to unilaterally solve issues in banking, unemployment, and energy because that isn’t really how economics works. If the M4BL is going to effectively spur innovation, they need to learn to communicate with companies directly.
Bypassing Government Bureaucracy to Achieve Economic Justice
In 2015, the Washington DC venture capital firm 1776 conducted a study titled Innovation that Matters. The report explained the different routes citizens, entrepreneurs, and governments can take to achieve change in education, energy & sustainability, health, transportation, and cities.
Typically, these three groups work together to create change. But researchers found that if the government was preventing progress, entrepreneurs could bypass the government’s bureaucracy and work directly with citizens.
“Within the ecosystem, entrepreneurs face a choice: engage with civic institutions as partners, or circumvent them by working directly with citizens,” reads the report. “Startups increasingly have the option to work with established organizations in entrenched industries or to go around them if those organizations resist change.”
The reciprocal is true too — citizens can circumvent as well. They can engage with government as a partner for change, or if the situation demands, bypass policy makers by working directly with entrepreneurs and corporations.
Depending on the issue, going directly to the private sector provides certain benefits:
- Unlike the government, the private sector is not winner take all. If you convince a company to support your cause you can immediately start implementing solutions.
- When working in highly technical sectors (ie: finance or renewable energy), private corporations in those sectors often have more expertise than the government.
- Because many companies consistently interface with customers and employees for feedback, these businesses are more in-tune and implement solutions quicker than most government offices.
After accounting for this, you can see why the M4BL might want to directly approach a company like SolarCity. The rapidly expanding solar firm has the ambition, expertise, and funding to make a great partner on the M4BL’s renewable energy plan. Or could you understand why M4BL might contact the banking powerhouse, Wells Fargo (which desperately needs to repair relations with the black community) about investing in black businesses and co-ops. Circumvention provides endless options to bypass government gridlock. It only requires that activists look beyond conventional political thinking.
Black Lives Matter Must Apply Lessons from Circumventing Mainstream Media
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this situation is that Black Lives Matter organizers have successfully implemented this process before.
In 2014 during the protests following the Mike Brown shooting, police officers began firing canisters of teargas into peaceful demonstrations and shooting protesters with rubber bullets. All of the major news outlets refused to report it. So the next night, when police administered violence again, instead of relying on CNN or Fox, activists begin to use their smartphones and social media accounts to document the events. The broadcast went viral. Viewers were outraged. And the videos sparked a national conversation policing protests.
At every protest since, the use of technology to bypass traditional media institutions has been integral to raising awareness about police brutality and growing the Black Lives Matter movement. But now, as the activists gain traction and begin to shift towards implementing policy and economic reform, it is important that they do not forget what made the movement possible in the first place: the bravery to demand that society provides justice, and the wisdom to circumvent those who would deny it.
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