Think Outside The Valley: How Tech Companies Can Change The World

A handful of tech heavyweights did something remarkable earlier this week — they came together for the betterment of society.

As partners on President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, internet service providers, startups, and tech nonprofits will expand broadband access to around 275,000 people living in public housing. As technology has become a part of our daily lives, ConnectHome should remind tech companies of their responsibility to make their products as accessible as possible.

The birth of the on-demand economy has redefined convenience as we know it. Virtually anything you can think of — dinner, groceries, work assistance, transportation — can be summoned to you in a single tap. While these services have improved the lives of many, only those who can afford or access them reap the benefits.

That the most recent tech boom has focused on improving the lives of the few is not lost on The New York Times’ Farhad Manjoo, who discussed the value of point-to-point solutions in a recent column. Manjoo’s skeptical take on tech companies’ mission to scale their products — making them cheaper and more accessible — underscores the moral dilemma Silicon Valley faces.

Although an endless number of startups has been enriched by catering to the Valley’s well-heeled residents, an opportunity remains for tech companies to give back to the community that made them.

Even today, it is disheartening to know tens of millions of people in the United States do not have access to the Internet, let alone over 50% of the world. Our government has recognized that broadband access is as vital to our lives as water or electricity.

It goes without saying online connectivity greatly advantages those who have it; hence, a wide disparity exists between those who have it and those who don’t. Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts to bring affordable basic Internet service to the world through have been one of the most notable initiatives.

It’s the best way to ensure equal opportunity for a generation increasingly defined by a disappearing middle class. As beneficiaries of online services and marketplaces, tech companies should work toward making a positive impact in their own communities or a greater impact in the world.

No program better exemplifies the “tech for good” mantra than ConnectHome, a public-private partnership with internet service providers like Cox and Google that will expand high-speed broadband access to 275,000 low-income Americans. President Obamaannounced the initiative on Wednesday, recognizing the disadvantages those without Internet access face when it comes to education and employment. For some Americans, broadband access will cost just $10 a month. ConnectHome is a model for how startups can give back.

Giving back isn’t limited to government initiatives, though. Sean Parker has self-funded his eponymous foundation to the tune of $600 million demonstrating the social good tech leaders can bring to the world. Parker, whose contributions to Facebook make him among Silicon Valley’s wealthiest, established the. Parker foundation to tackle not only nearby issues like civic engagement, but moonshots like global public health and biotech as well. He hopes to leverage the startup mentality he’s gained over the years to affect large-scale change.

Companies like SurveyMonkey are creating products designed to give back, too. SurveyMonkey Contribute lets users take surveys and be rewarded with a charitable donation to a participating charity of their choice. So far SurveyMonkey Contribute has raised over $5 million in donations to charities like Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross, and The Humane Society Of The United States. SurveyMonkey’s platform is now organically giving back to those who need help the most.s

There’s no doubt that we’re living in an entrepreneurial environment — startups shouldn’t be shamed for serving viable markets. But that economic imperative doesn’t absolve them of their responsibility to make their products as accessible as possible. These values shouldn’t have to be preached; they should be engrained in Silicon Valley culture.

We are privileged to benefit from technology, and ultimately that obliges us to take on greater responsibility that comes with the privileges we enjoy every day.