VCs Ben Horowitz And Lars Dalgaard Want To Bridge SF’s Growing Digital Divide

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Pews were packed at San Francisco’s Glide church in the city’s Tenderloin district last night with people who wanted to hear the gospel thoughts of two of Silicon Valley’s most successful VCs, Ben Horowitz and Lars Dalgaard.

The event was designed to support a $10K Crowdtilt fundraiser for the #PoweredbyLove campaign put on by Glide SF, the church organization helping San Francisco’s poor and most marginalized communities. The topic of the event was how to fix SF’s growing digital, and hence economic, divide. It was ripe for a disparate crowd of folks from both tech and the Tenderloin.

Notable figures in the audience included MC Hammer, both VC’s families, a sprinkling of startup entrepreneurs and Mark Zuckerberg’s parents.

Just prior to her husband taking the stage, Horowitz’s wife Felicia got up in front of the crowd to talk about her life growing up in Compton. “If you know anything about that place, it’s far from tech,” she joked. Her rendition of a song from the musical “The Wiz” sent chills throughout the then hushed crowd.

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It’s easy to scratch our heads at a couple of billionaires asking the crowd to get involved and donate. We could even reason that they, along with the other tech billionaires, have helped create this divide.

“I was walking around and seeing these 7,000 homeless people and I’d be going to fancy parties at HP… Or I’d have a friend buying some overpriced lamp,” Dalgaard said.

While this made most of the audience laugh, it was an uneasy truth that seems to linger on everyone’s mind here. San Francisco is going through a time of rapid economic change. Unemployment is the lowest it’s been since the dot-com boom and wages, rent and seemingly everything else has increased.

The change has given rise to protests, people have been kicked out of their homes, much of the city’s artistic population has had to relocate elsewhere, and yet the city still sees an egregious amount of homeless people and members living on its margins.

A woman in the back would say, “mmm, okay” or “preach” when Dalgaard urged the crowd to get involved. “You can’t walk through these halls and not want to get involved here. I challenge you,” he said.

Dalgaard and Horowitz, who currently work together at A16Z, shared some uncanny wit back and forth on stage. “It was either do this or buy a designer lamp,” quipped Horowitz in response to Dalgaard’s earlier comment.

Horowitz then relayed that his involvement was in part because he’d been influenced by the 70’s TV miniseries Roots. Because of Roots, at a young age he began asking how slavery ended. He then went on, “A tiny group of really weird people called the Quakers said this is not ok.”

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During the Q&A, a woman asked if either of them had a plan to help close the economic chasm. Both noted their contributions to the community and emphasized the importance of CEOs giving back.

“Look at Mark Zuckerberg. He didn’t take his earnings and spend it on a fancy new car or home. He took his first $100 million and gave it to the Newark school system,” said Horowitz.

Both Horowitz and his business partner Marc Andreessen have pledged that half of all their earnings will go to charity. Dalgaard was quick to point out the flack that Marc Benioff took with his 1/1/1 corporate charity plan.

Zuckerberg, Horowitz and others have also urged for reform in education and immigration. “What would happen if Silicon Valley lost all of its immigrants,” Horowitz asked. He didn’t need an answer.

Dalgaard, an immigrant of Danish origin himself, sympathized. He is one of many strong supporters in the tech community for the work of FWD.us on immigration reform policy.

“This event is free. If you don’t have anything, that’s okay, but give if you can and get involved if you can,” said Dalgaard. Those interested in getting involved can find out more at Glide.org.

Photos courtesy of Ashleigh Reddy