I’ve spent the last two weeks talking to the speakers and panelists joining us at next week’s Techonomy NYC. One theme came through consistently: business, infused by tech, must be responsible for its impact, and for doing good.
This is not hyperbole. Businesspeople are people, and the world is in bad shape. Our governments are not doing what we need. And many of our problems are global. Bizarrely, companies are operating globally in ways that no country’s government ever can be.
“There needs to be a global conversation about ethics,” sayd Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, one of those global companies. I spoke to him Friday morning in preparation for our fireside chat next Tuesday. It’s the kind of thing business leaders need to internalize and, like Smith, help lead. He has helped the mature tech company he helps lead take a raft of responsible actions — initiated a Cybersecurity Tech Accord, in which a companies promised to defend against cyberattacks and not to assist governments that launch them; challenged the termination of the DACA program in federal court, and won, at least for now; proclaimed that Microsoft would respect the IP of its customers, even when it was developed together using Microsoft technology — a major step for an age of what Smith calls “shared innovation.” He’ll talk about all this next week.
We will also host companies whose actions are specifically socially directed. Citi took steps to restrict the credit card charges it would process for the purchase of guns. An architect of the policy joins us onstage. Airbnb is a global advocate for refugees and created means for them to acquire housing. A company executive will explain.
BlackRock, the world’s largest investment company, issued a mandate that the companies it invests in need to include social effects in their strategic calculations. Brian Deese, BlackRock’s global head of sustainable investing and a former senior Obama administration official, will join a conversation on the “ROI of Social Responsibility” with Alice Lin Fabiano, Johnson & Johnson’s global director of social innovation. J&J, one of Techonomy’s partners, has been a pioneer of social responsibility throughout its century-long history.
Another key strand of the conference involves biotechnology. Friday morning I also had a preparatory conversation with Peder Holk Nielsen, CEO of Novozymes, the Danish multinational company that is a world leader in the use of industrial enzymes, and a highly socially responsible company. Its enzymes go into laundry detergent, for example, to help lower the temperature in which we can wash clothing, saving massive amounts of energy, and lowering carbon emissions.
Here’s what Holk Nielsen said to me about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, the aggressive targets for global progress, which are key to the Techonomy agenda: “I’m fairly optimistic. I think in general we’re underestimating the power of technology, if we let tech and research work. As a company, we try to concentrate on where we can make a real positive contribution on the SDGs, and then do no harm on the others.”
We’ll also hear from Amyris, a smaller but also very innovative company, which harnesses yeast to produce organic molecules that might otherwise be harvested by killing animals or felling rare trees. Its “pure and responsible” skin care products marketed under the Biossance brand are among the fastest-growing in the United States.
Putting all this in context will be Professor Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University, who opens our program on Wednesday morning. He believes we have an urgent responsibility to take a fundamentally different view of our jobs as businesspeople and leaders. If we don’t, he worries, the world may not make it. “The idea is that with all of this wealth and technology and knowhow and skills, we could reorient the way we do things, locally to globally, so that we could have it all — economic prosperity, social fairness, and environmental sustainability,” he told me in an exclusive interview.
Join us to hear these inspiring leaders and many more explain why we all have to put our shoulders more firmly to the wheel of responsible progress: next Tuesday and Wednesday, May 8th and 9th, on West 46th Street.