Tech Powers Talk Social Impact

Google, Facebook, Yahoo & others converge at Tech4Good Conference

“I’ve been in business my whole life and I really believe business can be transformative and it has the power to do a lot of good in the world when used thoughtfully and correctly.”

Tech Almighty descended upon the University of San Francisco School of Management to talk social impact and innovation last Friday (March 4). Higher ups from Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Semantec and many others converged at the downtown San Francisco campus for the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation conference, which served as a kickoff for the Tech4Good Startup Weekend.

“The whole notion of social enterprise is mission-related in the School of Management,” USF School of Management Dean Elizabeth Davis tells We See Genius, noting the ethics of Jesuit tradition. One of the ways that manifests in practice, says Davis, is the Tech4Good conference and weekend. “It’s a really fabulous conference in social innovation and conscious leadership and opens the door to talk about what it means to be in business and do good at the same time.”

A panel comprised of Facebook’s marketing head, Kevin McSpadden, the director of Yahoo for Good, Olivia Khalili, and Nick Cain, a program manager for, Google’s social enterprise investment wing, talked about how tech can influence positive change in areas from climate change to racial injustices to the Zika Virus. Managers and associates of Better VC and DBL Investors–two of the areas top double and triple bottom line venture capitalists–spoke about what they look for in seed and Series A funding rounds. And execs from the likes of Glassdoor and Semantec spoke about inclusiveness in shrinking a gender and racial gap in tech.


“I’d say we are going through a culture shift now,” said Cecily Joseph, vice president of corporate responsibility and chief diversity officer for Symantec, in front of a large standing-room only conference room.

“I’ve been in business my whole life and I really believe business can be transformative and it has the power to do a lot of good in the world when used thoughtfully and correctly,” added Mary Jo Cook, president and CEO of Pacific Community Ventures.

While entrepreneurship and innovation were certainly at the forefront of the conference, another tactic for social change was also internalized–do-gooders can infiltrate top leadership positions in some of the most potent tech monsters to make big-time change. Davis calls it developing “conscious capitalists.”

“Our jobs as business educators is to produce those influential leaders who really are very thoughtful, purposeful and principled in their applications,” believes Davis “In some context that means developing the next green stove that costs $10. But it also means putting business leaders in the for-profit enterprise that are really producing not just shareholder returns, but stakeholder value. And quite frankly, that’s a different narrative than a lot of business schools have.”


And Davis seems to be onto something. Nestled in between massive tech companies, billions of venture capital cash and top business schools like Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business and the West Coast campuses of Babson College and The Wharton School,  USF appears to be drawing in top thinkers to talk social innovation.

“It is a fundamental discussion for us about how to do business and do good and what does that mean to transform organizations,” explains Davis. “How do we make organizations not just efficient, which is very often the dialogue in business schools, but what does effectiveness actually mean? And I think here is where we add a different element to the conversation than others.”

USF School of Management students at the graduate and undergraduate level are required to complete a four unit business ethics and social responsibility course their first semester. “If you don’t like these topics, it probably will be a long semester for you at USF,” says Jennifer Walske, the program director for Conscious Capitalism & Social Innovation at the School of Management. Walske, who is also a Social Impact Fellow at the UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business, also says courses like supply chain management are taught with a sustainable lens and at least half of the MBA population are members of the campus Net Impact Club.

Indeed, social impact seems to be just as popular among faculty and staff as its student body. “We’re a small school, but the attendance at these events are always standing room only,” insists Director of MBA Programs Frank Fletcher. “Our students–part-time and full-time–are craving this content.”


Both Fletcher and Davis believe the do-gooder uprising is as much a product of the school’s fundamental commitment to business for good as much as the openness to different business strategies in the West Coast bubble. “Having come from the East Coast, I can say this is much less an issue on the East Coast than it is on the West Coast,” says Davis, who earned her PhD from Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and has spent the vast majority of her life on the East Coast. “I think what we’ll see is this movement will move across the country … this is the rumbling of a movement that will move to the East Coast.”

Still, Davis says much more can be done. And that falls on the institutions educating the world’s future business leaders.

“I’ve been involved in the global sustainability area for a number of years,” claims Davis. “And I’ve been to the climate change conferences and my observation is that very often the voice of business is absent or not as active as it could be in solving some of these very large problems we have on a global scale. But that requires a mindset on the part of leaders to engage in that level of problem solving.”