Weekend Briefing No. 248

Welcome to the weekend. It was great to see some of you at The Atlantic’s Power of Purpose summit this week. If you weren’t there, here’s a short clip of me talking about innovation at Nike.

It’s been a big week in our community. Friends have won a seat in US Congress, raised a fund to save the oceans, had their company acquired and more (see the From the Community section below). Have I mentioned how impressive y’all are?

Prime Numbers

18.54 B – Berkshire Hathaway investors cheered this week after Warren Buffett’s investment arm disclosed that its net income for Q3 more than quadrupled from last year to a whopping $18.54B.

38 – Apparently, there are at least 38 different ways to fold a paper airplane.

7 7-year old Malea Emma absolutely crushes the National Anthem. It’s a perfect storm of cuteness and patriotism. Watch and try not get a little bit choked up.

When No One Retires

Before our eyes, the world is undergoing a massive demographic transformation. In many countries, the population is getting old. Very old. Globally, the number of people age 60 and over is projected to double to more than 2 billion by 2050 and those 60 and over will outnumber children under the age of 5. The reasons for this age shift are many — medical advances that keep people healthier longer and dropping fertility rates to name a couple. This societal shift will undoubtedly change work, too: More and more Americans want to work longer — or have to, given that many aren’t saving adequately for retirement. Soon, the workforce will include people from as many as five generations ranging in age from teenagers to 80-somethings. Attitudes on elders in the workplace are often negative. That’s a shame, because typical 60-something workers today are healthy, experienced, and more likely than younger colleagues to be satisfied with their jobs. They have a strong work ethic and loyalty to their employers. They are motivated, knowledgeable, adept at resolving social dilemmas, and care more about meaningful contributions and less about self-advancement. They are more likely than their younger counterparts to build social cohesion and to share information and organizational values. Harvard Business Review (14 minutes)

Missing Millennial Men

Ten years after the Great Recession, young men are lagging in the workforce more than any other age and gender demographic. There is a huge jump in non-participation among prime-age men over the past two decades: About 14% of 25- to 34-year-olds with just a high-school degree weren’t in the labor force in 2016, up from 6.4% in 1996. Men — long America’s economically privileged gender — have been dogged in recent decades by high incarceration and swollen disability rates. They hemorrhaged high-paying jobs after technology and globalization hit manufacturing and mining. The young ones have fared particularly badly. Many of them exited high school into a world short on middle-skill job opportunities, only to be broadsided by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. What’s driving this? There’s anecdotes that Millennial men are simply unwilling to do work that’s not “fulfilling” if the alternative is living with mom and dad and playing video games. Bloomberg (8 minutes)


Last week, our client Unsettled was selected from over 3,000 startups around the world to pitch on stage at the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) Tourism Startup Competition, the world’s largest initiative dedicated to identifying the startups that will lead the transformation of the tourism sector. And… they took home the top prize! It is a powerful recognition for their efforts pioneering a new type of travel experience; one driven by a slower, more intentional form of travel and local experiences rooted in community, co-creation, and growth as much as adventure. It’s the experience and who you share it with, not just the destination, that matters most. Unsettled (3 minutes)

Stop Asking for a Carbon Tax

This week Washington voters rejected the I-1631 ballot measure, which would have created the nation’s first carbon tax. If a solidly Democratic state, grappling with rising climate dangers and driven by anti-Trump fervor, still can’t push a carbon tax past the finish line—what are the odds any US state can, much less the country as a whole? Americans have long supported outright regulations on greenhouse gases, like emissions caps. Cap-and-trade programs like the ones operating in California and a group of eastern US states, which put the direct onus on businesses rather than consumers, but taxes are really unpopular. As one economist put it: progress on greenhouse gas reduction “will have to come from standards, tax credits, tax replacements, fleet purchases, loan guarantees, R&D, infrastructure choices, & other non-carbon tax policies. It’s sub-optimal but so are most sandwiches and I still eat them.” MIT Technology Review (6 minutes)

FDA for Algorithms

It used to be the case that you could just put any old colored liquid in a glass bottle and sell it as medicine and make an absolute fortune. And then not worry about whether or not it’s poisonous. We stopped that from happening because, well, for starters it’s kind of morally repugnant. But also, it harms people. We’re in that position right now with data and algorithms. You can harvest any data that you want, on anybody. You can infer any data that you like, and you can use it to manipulate them in any way that you choose. You can roll out an algorithm that genuinely makes massive differences to people’s lives, both good and bad, without any checks and balances. Does that make sense? Is it time for something like the FDA for algorithms. A regulatory body that can protect the intellectual property of algorithms, but at the same time ensure that the benefits to society outweigh the harms. Nautilus (7 minutes)

Impact @ Scale

When Jordan Kassalow, founder of VisionSpring met BRAC’s vice chairperson Dr. Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, the two men became intrigued by the possibility of leveraging BRAC’s extensive network of community health workers in Bangladesh to sell eyeglasses. There was the potential of a triple win: a huge distribution channel for VisionSpring, increased value and income potential for BRAC health network, and extended productive working years for older clients whose near vision was failing. After simplifying the exam procedure and running a small pilot, the possibility became a reality. Since 2006, the partnership has scaled to 61 of 63 districts in Bangladesh and amounts to 25% of VisionSpring’s sales. In 2017, they celebrated the millionth pair of eyeglasses sold and expanded the partnership to Uganda. Skoll (5 minutes)

AI Trainers

In a strange twist of global economics, it’s the women of Kibera (the largest slum in Kenya) that are training the most sophisticated AI systems in the world… one pixel at a time. Adam Smith would be proud. They load up an image on their desktop, and then use the mouse to trace around just about everything. People, cars, road signs, and lane markings. Ingesting millions of these images into an artificial intelligence system means a self-driving car, to use one example, can begin to “recognize” those objects in the real world. The more data, the supposedly smarter the machine. These women work for Samasource, a San Francisco-based company that counts Google, Microsoft, Salesforce and Yahoo among its clients. They seek out people in Kenya who are currently earning around $2 a day. Samasource instead provides a living wage of around $9 a day. That’s an improvement, but still a pittance for Silicon Valley. Samasource believes it has impacted almost 50,000 people in the developing world; those who either worked at Samasource, or are supported by someone who did. It has surveyed former employees and discovered that around 84% continued on to more formal work or took up higher education. BBC (7 minutes)

From the Community

Congrats to Antonio Delgado on his close victory to become the newest member of the US House of Representatives for New York’s 19th District.

Congrats to Heather Hartnett and Joe Marchese of Human Ventures. One of their portfolio companies Reserve was acquired by Resy.

Congrats to Rob Kaplan for raising a $90MM fund to combat ocean plastic.

Congrats to Ben Patton on his organization Patton Veterans Project being featured on Comcast for his innovative approach to treating veterans with PTSD through filmmaking.

Weekend Wisdom

Youth is wasted on the young.George Bernard Shaw

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 Drew Graham.