Before the confinement, in the beginning of March, I had the opportunity to attend the 7th edition of the Sankalp African Forum, the theme being “Entrepreneurship 2030”.
One of the questions presented to the room of accomplished attendees was, “Do you think that the UNSDG objectives will will be achieved by 2030?”
Over 83% responded “NO”, including me, but I remain optimistic. I am morally and actively supportive of the tens of thousands of initiatives from around the world which are working to prove the answer is yes.
I find it difficult to manage this inner conflict because, in the end, I am convinced that such ambitions for humanity and the planet must be carried far beyond these types of events that also focus on business.
This has made me wonder why the business-oriented tech community in particular are not as committed to these topics like governments, NGOs, and civil society.
Why are we making a difference between tech startups and entrepreneurs related, with impact startups ? What if instead tech startups commit to making social and environmental movements a part of their main business objectives?
There are many excuses like they don’t have time to dedicate to these efforts, and that the hyper competitive atmosphere means their focus has to remain on finances, scaling, globalization, and making a great exit.
Do you have to wait until you become Bill Gates to make an impact ? No, I think that anyone aspiring to be a Bill or a Steve Jobs can be a game changer and claim the same ambitions carried by the leaders of startups of change. Tech startups should set out to find solutions to the problems of inclusion, social justice, the environment, as soon as they start to scale? But how would they integrate these solutions? Does a tech company have to create the same CSR mechanisms found in large accounts? More and more people across the globe have become active in these social issues, and they expect the businesses they support to be as well. This means that the trendy startups that don’t take responsibility and do their part will struggle to find a loyal following.
Is it possible for a startup or tech entrepreneurs to support a cause before the financial exit? Or should we leave each employee and partner free to do their individual part by relegating the impact to a small line of aid to associations?
Some tracks would be:
To bring employees together on a common issue and allow them to decide what they can dedicate to within the framework of their business and operations
Negotiate with VCs to raise funds for impact.
Integrate meaning and mission into the company’s statutes with concrete actions at stake like the pact law or the Bcorp label.
Therefore the success or failure of the startup would no longer be an end in itself. The success of the cause would add to the financial success by giving an extra soul to the adventure, even if it failed.
. . .
If we consider that social networks are becoming dangerous for our liberal and democratic societies as stated in the book of Professor Yascha Mouk, lecturer at Harvard University (1), AI tech startups could create antidotes to fake news or open source ad blockers to stop ads from questionable sources.
It can also be part of the startup’s identity. For example, Nigel Farage used an image of a horde of refugees invading England, which reinforced the lie about the cost of the NHS to influence the people on social networks, and ultimately win Brexit. The worst part was that neither the BBC or The Guardian could do anything about it. Besides, Corbyn was no match.
This allows tech startups to influence the way we look at the world and act in it, for the benefit of the greater good.If they put more creativity, execution, and capacity into it they could become game changers.
Just like with business uses, they can create the right conditions that millions of people can benefit from.
That’s good, because the focus of a large number of entrepreneurs is not the financial exit. Rather, it is about demonstrating a certain talent with many entrepreneurs losing dizzying sums after the exit, in the search for their next adrenaline rush, but we are not far from an artistic form.
As Léonard Elmhirst said, “Freedom for growth experiments enterprise and adventure, all are dependent on imagination, that greatest of gifts that fiction of the mind upon which all progress depends… what is life if not for experiment and new creation?”
In entrepreneurship, there is a formula that includes risk-taking, flair, and a race to demonstrate a creation of value, and sometimes even a distrust of the laws. As Jean Cocteau said, “Nothing daring exists without disobeying the rules”, and above all, a questioning of the established order!
The challenges of the 21st century are intense enough that the startup nation is not satisfied with just a few solutions for change in the “impact” niche. The order established in the economic world is not the only one to be disrupted.
Sofiane Ammar Chams founder
(*)SDG: Sustainable Development Goal des Nations Unies
(1) The People versus Democracy Why our freedom is in danger & how to save it) — Yascha Mouk, Harvard University press