Weekend Briefing No. 245

Welcome to the weekend and hola from Mexico City! I just spent a week at the Opportunity Collaboration – big shout out to all my OC friends new and old! I’m hanging out in Mexico City this weekend. If you want to follow along with me as I explore the city, follow me on Instagram and check out my stories.

I’ll be in SF next week for SOCAP, so if you want to connect, shoot me an email.

Prime Numbers

MIT, one of the birthplaces of artificial intelligence, just announced a bold plan to reshape their academic programming around it. With $1 billion in funding, MIT will create a new college combining AI, machine learning, and data sciences. It’s the largest financial investment in AI by any US academic institution to date.

95 The US was once home to 95 percent of global startup and venture-capital activity. Today, that share has been cut to a little more than one-half. The pace of this decline is accelerating with more than half of the fall occurring in the last five years.

1.9 There are many statistical measures that show the productivity of the US but can be difficult to decipher how Americans use their land to create wealth. The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion acre puzzle of cities, farms and pastures that feed, power the economy and bring value.  

More Than Me

From the outside, the education charity More Than Me was a huge success. Disrupting a failing school system in Liberia, winning international accolades and raising over $8MM in funding. Yet some of the girl students had a secret. Far from being saved from sexual exploitation of the streets of Monrovia, they were being raped by the co-founder of the organization, Macintosh Johnson. Johnson was shielded by his co-founder, Katie Meyler, who allegedly had a romantic relationship with him. The assaults allegedly went on for years, and she kept him in place even after having reason to suspect his predilections. But he was also shielded from exposure in the community by everything that she had brought: a school, scholarships and, above all, hope. There are very conflicting stories about who knew what, when. When I heard about this report, I realized that a couple board members are friends of mine and More Than Me actually sponsored Weekend Briefing No. 124. So, this hit a little close to home. This should serve as a good wakeup call for all the “disruptive” non-profit leaders that when you move fast and fail to put proper governance in place, success may actually be your worst enemy. We often villainize for-profit CEOs, like Travis Kalanick, for their brashness and flouting rules and regulations. It’s time for the social sector to realize that we are just as susceptible to this type of hubris. Pride cometh before the fall. Let’s operate from equal parts hustle and humility. ProPublica (52 minutes)

Silicon Valley & Saudi Arabia

Last week I ran a story on the new Saudi Arabian megacity NEOM. Many of you noted that I didn’t mention Saudi’s human rights record (See Feedback Loop below). So, I wanted to give space to my friend Anand Giridharadas’s OpEd as a counterpoint. He points out that, If the Valley is sincere then it will “change the world” and “do the right thing, period,” then the Saudi government’s billions of dollars in investment capital should be returned, and Silicon Valley companies should refuse any further investments. Every business leader and news organization of conscience should pull out of Neom — at the very least due to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Mr. Khashoggi couldn’t be intimidated by his country. He might have given his life for his bravery. Silicon Valley must choose where it stands on the questions of lies and truth, cowardice and courage that defined his work. Turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia is no way of “changing the world.” New York Times (6 minutes)

Holacracy

Holacracy is designed to completely upend traditional hierarchy and replace it with a new structure that decentralizes power, essentially making everyone a CEO. The philosophy behind holacracy—that power needs to be distributed throughout the network— makes intuitive sense, particularly in the age of emerging blockchain technology. There are about 1,000 organizations around the world that have adopted its methods. But there’s little empirical evidence of the program’s effectiveness. So is it a management breakthrough, or a cult? Quartz (22 minutes)

Housing as A Service

Around the world, homeownership is increasingly out-of-reach for all but the wealthy: The price of a home exceeded the median income in 18 of 33 countries according to the latest figures from the IMF, including the United States, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and even smaller nations such as Estonia. In the midst of these changes, tech entrepreneurs and their investors are betting that there’s tremendous opportunity—namely, to make a lot of money off consumers and institutions by making the process of buying, renting, and selling homes far easier, faster, and simpler than it’s ever been. Over the coming decades, housing will continue to be transformed from a product into a service. Just like we order an Uber or get noodles delivered to our doorstep without much human interaction, soon we’ll be able to rent, buy, or sell homes nearly instantly with an app. Quartz (8 minutes)

Message in a Purse

When Christel Wallace found a piece of paper folded up at the bottom of her purse in March 2017, she threw it in the trash. She hadn’t yet used the maroon bag, made by Walmart and purchased from one of its Arizona stores months ago. But after a few minutes, she got curious. She took the paper out of the wastebasket, unfolding the sheet to reveal a message scrawled in Mandarin Chinese. Translated, it read: Inmates in China’s Yingshan Prison work 14 hours a day and are not allowed to rest at noon. We have to work overtime until midnight. People are beaten for not finishing their work. There’s no salt and oil in our meals. The boss pays 2,000 yuan every month for the prison to offer better food, but the food is all consumed by the prison guards. Sick inmates have to pay for their own pills. Prisons in China cannot be compared to prisons in the United States. Horse, cow, goat, pig, dog. What would you do next? Vox (16 minutes)

Bill Gates on Paul Allen

Microsoft would never have happened without Paul. In December 1974, he and I (Bill Gates, not me) were both living in the Boston area—he was working, and I was going to college. One day he came and got me, insisting that I rush over to a nearby newsstand with him. When we arrived, he showed me the cover of the January issue of Popular Electronics. It featured a new computer called the Altair 8800, which ran on a powerful new chip. Paul looked at me and said: “This is happening without us!” That moment marked the end of my college career and the beginning of our new company, Microsoft. It happened because of Paul. As the first person I ever partnered with, Paul set a standard that few other people could meet. He had a wide-ranging mind and a special talent for explaining complicated subjects in a simple way. Since I was lucky enough to know him from such a young age, I saw that before the rest of the world did. As a teenager, I was curious about (of all things) gasoline. What did “refining” even mean? I turned to the most knowledgeable person I knew. Paul explained it in a super-clear and interesting way. It was just one of many enlightening conversations we would have over the coming decades. Paul was cooler than I was. He was really into Jimi Hendrix as a teenager, and I remember him playing Are You Experienced? for me. I wasn’t experienced at much of anything back then, and Paul wanted to share this amazing music with me. That’s the kind of person he was. He loved life and the people around him, and it showed. He will be missed. Gates Notes (5 minutes)

On Aging

Though keeping our body in top shape is important, how we respond to aging is a choice made in the mind, not in the gym. If there is one characteristic common to friends who are aging with a graceful acceptance of life’s assaults, it is contentment. It’s about accepting uncertainties of old age without surrendering to them. However, it takes discipline to accept with dignity the inevitable decline awaiting us: frailty, memory lapses, dimming sound and sight, the passing of friends and the looming finish line. New York Times (5 minutes)

Feedback Loop

Dear Mr. Westaway,

 

Hope all well. I’ve been a subscriber to your newsletter for a while and thoroughly enjoy it. I wanted to let you know that I thought I’d just point out that the inclusion of the NEOM website, and somewhat breathless coverage of the marketing around it- without any mention of the ongoing global outcry over the unexplained disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, or indeed the wider domestic situation regarding human rights, etc- struck an uncomfortable note, and felt very unusual in an otherwise thoughtful Briefing.

 

Yours sincerely,

Alex Simuyandi

From the Community

Congrats to my friend Eve Blossom on the $10MM series A funding for her company Future Family.

Weekend Wisdom

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. –St. Augustine

About the Weekend Briefing

A Saturday morning briefing on innovation & society by Kyle Westaway – Managing Partner of Westaway and author of Profit & Purpose.

Photo by Priscilla Flores