Re-thinking the Tech Sector and Community Impact
In recent years, the flourishing technology sector has brought San Francisco new jobs, new residents and new economic vitality, but has also raised community concerns about neighborhood integrity, affordable housing, parking, transit, and shifts in the culture of the City.
The companies and investors responsible for this economic growth have become subject to an increasing level of scrutiny about their role as corporate citizens. From articles in the New Yorker and Vanity Fair to local print and broadcast media, the community anxiety—and outrage – about the changing nature of San Francisco is well-documented.
For the most part, the counterpoint to this narrative has focused on the generosity of billionaires like Marc Benioff and Mark Zuckerberg and major global brands like Twitter and Google. While Benioff’s multi-million dollar support for the Children’s Hospital-UCSF merger or Zuckerberg’s $120 million contribution to local public schools are worthy of celebration, how does focusing on them help to shift the stance of the Tech community towards giving back? Ironically, it might have the opposite effect.
The focus on Benioff and Zuckerberg reinforce a few trends that have informed the tech sector’s approach to community engagement for decades. Their stories do not represent a structural shift in the sector, they demonstrate that generosity and community engagement is the domain of a few individuals and businesses who are fortunate enough to win the lottery of technology mega-success.
So what about the solidly successful start-up that has yet to have the windfall of a successful IPO? What about the journeyman tech executive who is more than comfortable but will never be a Benioff? What about the young idealistic “techie” who came to the sector to launch a career with meaning? Shouldn’t they also be inspired, challenged, and guided towards opportunities to contribute to the broader well-being of our community?
We think so.
And we’re building the tool box to make it happen.
The PRCO Community Impact Scan (CIS) enables technology firms to assess their interests, capacity, and opportunities for community engagement. Engaging directly with company leadership and staff, we help businesses understand the landscape of potential challenges and opportunities for developing community engagement programs in five key areas:
1. Tech Sector Leadership Positioning the company as a sector leader in community engagement as a means of building brand and raising visibility to potential investors, partners, and customers.
2. Employee Engagement Understanding the potential value and of employee volunteer programs, employer matched giving, or company-sponsored issue education to enhance employee recruitment, retention, and performance.
3. Local Public Policy Navigating local government and policy makers to serve business objectives such as Community Benefits Agreements, legislation on the sharing economy.
4. Corporate Philanthropy Developing strategies and capacity to give financial support and pro bono services to local nonprofits and understanding how to leverage that work for mutual benefit.
5. Corporate Practices Aligning business practices with community values including environmental sustainability, workforce diversity, and other issues.
For businesses already engaged in this work, the Community Impact Scan is an opportunity to take a step back and fine-tune programs and strategies and benchmark progress. For those at nascent stages of engagement, the Community Impact Scan serves as a launch pad to examine interests and motivations; define capacity and resources; and identify opportunities to strengthen their impact in each of the five objective areas. Whether positive community impact is part of a company’s core mission or they enter the process as a response to public concerns, the Community Impact Scan will provide a clear path to building and strengthening a company’s community engagement efforts.
The tech sector’s positive impact on communities ought not be limited to a few highly visible billionaires or corporations. It can – and should be – defined by the leadership, dynamism, and creativity of the entire sector, but the sector needs some inspiration and some catalysts. We intend for the Community Impact Scan will be one of those catalysts.