Weekend Briefing No. 343

Welcome to the weekend. If you’re in the U.S., I hope you’re enjoying your long weekend.

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Prime Numbers

150 B—A new analysis from Brookings shares a brutal number confirming the impact of the ongoing pandemic in our creative economy. Estimating from April 1 to July 31 alone, there were 2.7 million lost jobs and losses—$150 billion for creative industries, which encompass musicians, designers, performers and artists.

339 M—The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. reported global meat production at 339 million tons in 2019, which was a hair down from the 341 million observed in 2018. Have we reached peak meat?

.229—The Major League Baseball league-wide batting average is just .229 as of Wednesday’s games, down from .252 last year.

Entreprise à Mission

A change in French law and a global pandemic have accelerated Danone’s pursuit of a stakeholder-driven business structure that aligns social and environmental benefits with the bottom line. Earlier this summer at its annual general meeting, Danone’s board overwhelmingly approved adoption of the Entreprise à Mission model, a new type of corporation created by a 2019 French law. By adopting this model, Danone formally commits to go beyond the traditional corporate focus on short-term profit maximization to also prioritize other stakeholders such as workers, community, environment and customers. Danone also recently announced its intent to become the world’s largest Certified B Corporation by 2025, five years earlier than its prior commitment. B Corps are for-profit businesses that must reach a minimum score on an independent assessment of their social and environmental performance. By standing with other leading businesses, the multinational food company—with annual sales of more than $28 billion in the U.S.—also signals a new future for corporations, where they must value people and our planet, as well as profit to survive and succeed. Forbes (12 minutes)

Impact Investing & Coronavirus

Impact investments are outperforming traditional bets in the coronavirus crisis, which may be a turning point for wealthy investors looking to generate change. Over all, 64 percent of actively managed E.S.G. funds beat their benchmarks versus 49 percent of traditional funds through the first week in August, according to research from RBC Capital Markets. Investment dollars have begun to follow returns. In the first half of the year, $20.9 billion went into impact funds, which was just shy of the amount of new money for all of last year, according to a report from Morningstar. The data heartens advisers who see this as a moment when they can stop making the case that individuals need to give up returns to make impact investments (a belief, known as concessionary returns, that has been largely refuted). New York Times (11 Minutes)

Requests for Startups

(1) Artificial intelligence (AI) stands to have a large impact on society. It feels like it could be one of the dividing lines in the history of technology, where before-and-after look totally different. We’re interested in people applying research to any narrow domain (drug discovery, programming assistant, legal advice, fraud detection, etc.) and especially those focused on the intersection of AI and robotics (manufacturing, self-driving cars, etc.). (2) Jobs will look very different 25 years from now. We’ve already seen a massive shift toward automation, robots and AI, and the pace of their impact on work isn’t slowing down. We want to know how the meaning of work will evolve. People seek full-time jobs for many reasons, including money, healthcare and a sense of purpose. We’d love to see solutions that address each of these factors (or any others) in anticipation of a changing job market. (3) Human memory is too volatile. Compared with computers, humans have an odd memory system. We can recall subtle emotions and feelings from 10 years ago while simultaneously forgetting where our phone is and what to pick up at the store. The increasing bombardment of information and ideas certainly does not make it easier, nor do age-onset diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Merge is coming. Some solutions like voice assistants and wearables may help supplement short-term memory. More complex approaches involve neural interfaces but raise new UX problems. We want to fund startups that are exploring how to improve human memory with technology. Y Combinator (15 minutes)

North Korean Underground Railroad

Any North Korean knows that escaping their nation is nearly impossible. First, the woman called “Faith” would have to evade the soldiers and surveillance cameras on the border. But even once she’d snuck into China, the danger would only have just begun. To reach a South Korean embassy, where she could receive asylum, she would still have to clandestinely journey thousands of miles across China and then several Southeast Asian countries. If she was discovered anywhere along that trek, she would likely be repatriated to one of her nation’s infamous gulags, where prisoners slave with so little food they capture rats to eat. But after more than 30 years of never daring to criticize the dictatorship out loud, even after enduring a famine, she was willing to risk anything to free herself. For over two decades, a secret network has worked tirelessly to help thousands of refugees escape the world’s worst dictatorship. This is the story of one desperate woman who risked her life to reach freedom and of the complicated man who led the way. GQ (32 minutes)

Song in the Key of Life

I (Kyle) recently listened to Stevie Wonder’s iconic album Songs in the Key of Life for the first time. (I know.) The album is widely regarded as Wonder’s magnum opus and one of the greatest albums in the history of recorded music … and it almost didn’t happen. Wonder had been under contract to Motown founder Berry Gordy’s label since he was just 11 years old. Now a self-assured adult with a steady string of hits stretching back a decade, a “quarter life crisis” malaise began to take hold. The superstar began to openly discuss quitting the music industry altogether and moving to Ghana, where he believed his ancestral lineage could be traced. There, he planned to devote his considerable energy to assisting handicapped children and other humanitarian causes. Brightly colored dashiki tunics replaced his standard Motown-issue mod suits, an outward expression of the changes he felt within. Gordy’s empire had taken a beating in the first half of the decade due to changing musical tastes and economic depression. Knowing that he stood to lose his most consistent seller to a life of philanthropy—or lucrative offers from rivals at Epic and Arista Records—the label chief was prepared to move mountains of cash. Wonder sent high-powered lawyer Johanan Vigoda to discuss his lengthy list of stipulations with new Motown president Ewart Abner, and board chairman Gordy, who described the negotiations in his memoirs as “the most grueling and nerve-racking we ever had.” When the dust cleared and the papers were signed, Wonder had a seven-year contract that promised him a $13 million advance (with the opportunity to net up to $37 million if he delivered more than his album-per-year minimum), 20 percent royalties and control of his publishing. At the time, it was the biggest deal that had ever been done in the music industry. Time magazine noted that it was more than Elton John and Neil Diamond’s contracts combined. Rolling Stone (18 minutes)

Drive & Listen

I think we all miss traveling. While we’re all homebound this summer, you may want to check out Drive & Listen, a new app by student Erkam Şeker, which allows anyone to take a virtual drive around one of the app’s 38 available cities, taking in the sights and sounds of the street as well as local radio stations. The app takes you on tours of streets in cities like Paris, New York, London, Beijing, Istanbul, Tokyo and many more. Some drives include major points of interest in certain cities, such as the Spanish steps or the Colosseum in Rome or Tokyo Tower in Tokyo. Travel + Leisure (4 minutes)


Just for fun. Here’s one of the most athletic things I’ve seen in a while. Watch Olympian Katie Ledecky swim with full glass of milk on her head. Cnet (1 minute)


Check out Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism by Christopher Marquis. Businesses have a big role to play in a capitalist society. They can tip the scales toward the benefit of the few, with toxic side effects for all, or they can guide us toward better, more equitable long-term solutions. Christopher Marquis tells the story of the rise of a new corporate form—the B Corporation. Founded by a group of friends who met at Stanford, these companies undergo a rigorous certification process, overseen by the B Lab, and commit to putting social benefits, the rights of workers, community impact and environmental stewardship on equal footing with financial shareholders. Informed by over a decade of research and animated by interviews with the movement’s founders and leading figures, Marquis’s book explores the rapid growth of companies choosing to certify as B Corps, both in the United States and internationally, and explains why the future of B Corporations is vital for us all. Amazon

Most Read Last Week

Do Your Best Work – How do we do our best work? We make time for it.

Reimagining Venture Capital – The investments in venture capital reflect those who built it. But those who built it, mainly white and male, may have blind spots around markets they have not worked for, lived in or sold to.

On Perfectionism – Perfectionism is when the last 5 percent of a project feels like 95 percent of the work. When is a project good enough?

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 David Becker.

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Weekend Wisdom

Just because a man lacks the use of his eyes doesn’t mean he lacks vision.Stevie Wonder

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