What You Missed At Gen.T Stream: Creating Social Impact In A Post-Covid World
No one can predict what things will look like after the pandemic, but some of the world’s top entrepreneurs and thinkers are taking this time of crisis to try and make a better world for themselves and those around them. But what kind of positive change is needed in a post-Covid world? And how do we get there?
The second edition of our virtual conference Gen.T Stream, which was sponsored by Credit Suisse, answered these questions with the help of three world-class speakers. Our first speaker, data scientist Christopher Wylie, is perhaps best known for his role as a whistle-blower in the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal. During his fireside chat with Gen.T’s Asia editor, Lee Williamson, he expounded on how companies can operate in a more ethical and sustainable manner without compromising on profit.
Speaking to the next generation of business leaders and philanthropists, our second speaker, Dr James Gifford, shared some key insights behind the recent report Creating A World With The Next Generation by Credit Suisse, where he serves as head of impact advisory.
Closing the session was our third speaker, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who shared about the power of community, balancing doing good and making a living, and what it means to be “pathologically optimistic” about life.
During the conference, we also unveiled the 20 recipients of the Gen.T Credit Suisse Social Impact Awards. These are young leaders from the Gen.T community who have made significant contributions to Asian society in the fields of social impact, sustainability or innovation. The segment was introduced by Gen.T head Tamara Lamunière alongside Dr Francois Monnet, head of private banking North Asia and chief executive of Credit Suisse’s Hong Kong branch.
Here are the key takeaways from this edition of Gen.T Stream.
The need to regulate social platforms
“When we’re looking at problems on social platforms, the first thing we have to understand is these are architectures and constructions. With other highly technical sectors such as aerospace or telecommunications, there are pre-cautionary principles that we apply to standards of engineering, where prior to releasing technologies into the market, we have to conduct certain amounts of safety testing and risk mitigation. In addition to that, you’re accountable to a third party, typically a regulator who inspects your work.”
“We already have a lot of legal mechanisms in place in other sectors, so I don’t really see why social platforms, and more broadly the internet, have to remain completely unregulated, particularly when they touch every aspect of our lives on a minute-to-minute basis.”
The future of personal choice
“We’re at the precipice of the proliferation of AI into most aspects of our lives. People are just starting to put Amazon Alexas in their living rooms. But imagine this trend five, 10, 20 years from now—when we’re sitting in our living rooms watching our smart TV as our TV is watching us; our refrigerator is monitoring the food we eat and having a ‘conversation’ with the TV; and every aspect of our house is watching and thinking about us. The real risk here is what happens to a person’s agency when every aspect of their life is now mediated by something that’s motivated to optimise them as a consumer? What happens to personal choice when there’s no happenstance?”
The unsettling evolution of our environment
“Throughout human history, we’ve evolved in a passive environment, so even if nature impacted us, it never had an intent. The biggest difference now is we’re constructing a world where it has intent now. And there’s something quite perverse and scary about the idea of everybody living in a world which is thinking and watching them. How at every moment in time, it knows what we’re doing, where it seeks to influence everything around us, and where it can see us but we can’t see it. There’s a fundamental discrepancy in power there.”
The power of data
“I see data as like electricity. Electricity is manifestly dangerous if not contained in a safe structure or environment. You can kill people with it, but we wouldn’t say it’s bad because of the risks it poses to people. What we say is that we need building codes and standards to maximise the utility of electricity, but prevent the real and substantial risks that power can pose to people. Data and AI are the same—it’s a thing that is powerful, and you can use that in a good way or to harm people.”
Using data for good
“You can use data to better anticipate demand and understand the breadth of the population. In fashion, for example, data can be used to increase inclusivity and reduce waste. Data is simply information—you can use it to make smarter decisions and ultimately, it’s not data that is the issue but what your intent is with it.”
See also: Meet All 20 Awardees Of The Gen.T X Credit Suisse Social Impact Awards
Dr James Gifford
What is impact investing?
“There’s huge interest in growing technologies that can not only make money, but has the impact as well. This is where people get confused. They think impact is like philanthropy, but actually impact investing and impact business is about finding business models that are inherently high-impact and scalable. So when it comes to impact investing, there’s a relationship between the impact and money you make. It can be a win-win situation.”
A More Purpose-Driven Generation
“The next generation really cares about sustainability, climate change and poverty alleviation in a way the previous generations didn’t. Particularly with [those] from wealthy families, they’re often trying to pivot their family businesses and investment portfolios towards a more meaningful and purpose-driven strategy to make a difference.”
How the older and newer generations think differently
“Older generations aren’t necessarily driven by the purpose to make the world a better place. I think they are incredibly hard-working and have built amazing businesses. But they are very business-minded in an old-school sense. The next-gen are often very proud of what their parents and grandparents have built during their era, but it wasn’t an era where climate change was at the forefront and social issues were dominant in the discourse. The next-gen wants to do something about these, which can perhaps mean that the older and next-gen business leaders in Asia have different priorities.”
Sectors that require more investment
“We have a long way to go for climate technology as well as biodiversity—how do we ensure that areas of Borneo are protected and people’s livelihood are enhanced. Can we develop technologies to improve the productivity of forestry on degraded land so we don’t have to push into the virgin rainforest? One key point is that productivity of agriculture is directly related to conservation, because if we can improve the productivity of existing forestry and food production systems, it means we can produce more on a specific plot of land and leave more land for nature—and that’s [where] technology [can help].”
See also: The Rise Of The Responsible Consumer
His perspective to innovation
“I don’t really care what people are doing, I just do what’s interesting to me. I don’t want to copy what other people are doing, but I also don’t want to avoid copying if what they’re doing makes sense. I don’t really care about how many minutes people stay on our website. I care more about whether they’ve gotten something meaningful out of it to want to come back.”
Pursuing meaning over money
“For entrepreneurs out there, my advice is to do something that you think is meaningful and gives you passion, rather than what you think will give you the most money. Ironically enough, if you try to do the thing that you think makes you the most money, you may not make as much money because you’re going to be so unhappy you’re not going to be very good at. Whereas if you’re doing something you really love, you may make a lot of money. And if you don’t, at least you’re doing what you want.”
How to harness the power of community
“To lead a community, you have to follow the community. You really have to say, we’re all doing this together. You can’t just tell people what to do, instead you have to bring people along. It’s not about incentifising with money, although in some industries that sometimes works. It’s more about saying [what you’re doing together] is meaningful, because almost everyone wants to do something meaningful in their lives.”
Don’t wait, just get started
“There’s a Silicon Valley expression of fail faster, which I very much believe in. Oftentimes for entrepreneurs, if you’ve got a good idea, you should just start building it, even if it’s not going to end up as good as you think. When I talk to young people just getting started, I tell them that frankly no one is going to notice what you’re doing. Taking that first step and getting started is difficult to do, but just do it because otherwise you can dream forever.”
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