(p. 2) The first rule of Silicon Valley venture capital is never insult a start-up. Founders are always killing it, disrupting the world.
If a start-up is fizzling, shuttering or caught scamming? The socially acceptable response is total silence.
Everyone knows that. Except Jason Palmer.
The start-up in question was AltSchool, a Mark Zuckerberg-backed project to turn school into a start-up experience. It had just announced it was pivoting out of existence after raising $174 million.
Mr. Palmer is in this field: He is a venture capitalist in Washington, D.C., focused on education technology. On June 29, he tweeted that AltSchool was always a bad idea, and he was glad that his firm hadn’t invested in it.
That single jab at a failed company sent the investor elite into conniptions.
. . .
So, two months after the tweet, how is Mr. Palmer feeling? The outrage that came both in public and private did not, in the end, oust him from the industry. He continues to invest.
For him, it was “a reminder,” he said, that tech entrepreneurs truly believe they are saving the world. He wanted to be clear now that he truly believes this, too. They were right. His tweet was very bad. He has been chastened.
“Tech entrepreneurs are just as mission driven as people in nonprofits,” Mr. Palmer said. “They believe they are helping the world just as much as nonprofit founders.”
But of course most start-ups fail, he added, a little quieter, and the tech world ought to learn how to talk about failure.
“In fact, most high-risk start-ups are nonprofits,” he said. “Effectively nonprofits.”
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 20, 2019, and has the title “Want to Do Business in Silicon Valley? Better Act Nice.” (Where there is a slight difference in wording between the online and print versions, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)
(p. A15) At the beginning of the 20th century, three figures dominated the rapidly expanding world of American philanthropy. Two—Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller—are still remembered, mostly because of the foundations they established. But the third—Julius Rosenwald—is largely forgotten. No foundations, and few buildings, bear his name. If his approach to giving was more modest in spirit, it was no less influential and effective in its day.
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. . . , Rosenwald invested in a catalog sales company that needed capital: Sears, Roebuck. He gradually became more involved in the business and, when co-founder Richard Sears resigned in 1908, took over its leadership.
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Because the rise and fall of Sears, Roebuck is already well-chronicled, Ms. Diner, a professor of American Jewish history at New York University, concentrates on what Rosenwald did with the status and fortune he accumulated. By one estimate, he donated, in today’s dollars, close to $2 billion before he died in 1932, as well as considerable time to the causes he cared about.
Many of these centered on his hometown of Chicago. Rosenwald’s gifts helped to create the city’s Museum of Science and Industry, build the University of Chicago, and support the settlement houses run by Jane Addams and others. He also underwrote a wide range of Jewish organizations, including cultural institutes, theological seminaries and, most notably, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a fund that was set up during World War I to aid Jewish refugees and that has continued to do so ever since.
The most striking part of Rosenwald’s philanthropy may well be his funding of African-American education in the South. Influenced by Booker T. Washington, he developed a program to construct elementary and secondary schools in any black community that wanted such support. Over a 20-year period, nearly 5,000 schools opened.
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For both Jewish immigrants in the slums of Chicago and black sharecroppers in the rural South, Rosenwald’s philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Oct. 29, 2017, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; Review: A Catalog of Generosity; His approach to philanthropy sought to promote practical efforts at self-improvement, not ambitious plans for social change.”)
The book under review is:
Diner, Hasia R. Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.
(p. A15) Opinion polls showing that present-day Democrats look more favorably on socialism than capitalism have prompted Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, to write what he calls a “love letter” to big business. His thesis: Corporations may lack heroic attributes, but they deserve more respect than they get.
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Alongside the vilification of corporate capitalism has been a rise in the social status of nonprofits, as if the nonprofit label, by itself, signals both value and virtue. Mr. Cowen isn’t having it: He asserts that fraud is more prevalent in nonprofit organizations than in profit-making ones. What is more, “plenty of charities and nonprofits don’t actually change or improve the world or deliver any useful product at all, but rather simply continue as lost causes with no impact.”
Americans have a big stake in profits, as Mr. Cowen reminds us. “As of 2015, 55 percent of Americans had money invested in stocks . . . ,” he writes. “Even if you do not personally own many or any equities, there is a good chance your retirement fund or pension fund does.”
(p. A17) KANSAS CITY, Mo. — They unfurled colorful blankets on a grassy slope, and unloaded steaming trays of corn dogs, baked beans and vegetable beef soup. Every week for the past three years, the volunteers have gone to a park just outside downtown Kansas City with home-cooked meals for the homeless. They call it a picnic with friends.
But on a cloudy afternoon earlier this month, an inspector from the Kansas City Health Department showed up and called it something else: an illegal food establishment.
She ordered most of the food put into black garbage bags, bundled them on the grass and, in a move that stunned the gathered group, doused the pile with bleach.
Allen Andrews, who has been living on the streets for the past year, said he watched silently as the bleach was poured, thinking back to when he had a home. He remembered how he had sometimes poured bleach on trash he put out for collection, to deter rodents from getting into it.
“They treat us like animals,” Mr. Andrews, 46, said.
(p. C6) It is an old, old story. A wealthy man comes to town, promising change and a brighter future. He’s the expert. He knows best. Inevitably, it doesn’t exactly work out that way.
Stephanie Hanes, an American correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, spent three years watching one particular version of that fairy tale unfold in central Mozambique.
The wealthy man was Greg Carr. An Idahoan, Mr. Carr had made millions first by selling voice-mail systems and then by running Prodigy, an early internet service provider. At age 40, he turned to philanthropy . . .
. . .
In “White Man’s Game,” Ms. Hanes outlines, in a nonpolemical way, the long history of Western involvement in Africa’s wilderness.
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Turning to the present day, Ms. Hanes takes World Wildlife Fund, Nature Conservancy and other Western groups–known as Big Green–to task for their conservation colonialism.
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She . . . points out that they are a bit cynical. “The conservation industry mirrors the humanitarian assistance industry,” she writes, “with alarmist pledge drives, heart-stirring photos and admonitions to ‘act now!’–all to be repeated for the next grant cycle.”
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It is clear from Ms. Hanes’s account that a complex interplay of social, political and economic matters affected Gorongosa, not just one man’s ambition. The imported elephants inevitably roamed outside the park and into nearby towns, damaging crops and perhaps killing a villager. Mr. Carr’s tree planting, a laudable goal on the surface, was seen negatively by the people there because, culturally, tree planting was a way of marking one’s territory. When visiting a prominent local leader, Mr. Carr arrived in a red helicopter, oblivious to the fact that, in Gorongosi culture, red is the color of violence. For locals, Mr. Carr was the latest in a long line of outsiders invading their land. He destabilized rather than restored.
In the West, Mr. Carr’s work catalyzed praise: a glossy piece on Gorongosa in National Geographic by the noted biologist E.O. Wilson, a profile in the New Yorker. But the reality on the ground was different. Few tourists came to Gorongosa, and a flare-up of civil-war tensions led to violence. Overall the 150,000 Mozambicans who lived in the district, according to Ms. Hanes, saw little measurable improvement in their lives. Park staff even tortured suspected poachers.
In the most powerful scene in the book Ms. Hanes observes Mr. Carr and his associates staring at a map of Mozambique and contemplating expanding the park borders to incorporate a vast swath of land so that animals could migrate again. They wanted to rewild central Mozambique. It was just another example of the “generations of white man standing around maps,” observes Ms. Hanes. They never mentioned the millions of people who lived in those lands.
(p. A19) In the early 20th century, Milton Hershey transformed chocolate from a luxury good to a working-class staple. It made him a fortune, which he used to establish Hershey, Pa.–a model company town 100 miles west of Philadelphia and the self-proclaimed “sweetest place on earth.” He also established an orphanage, the Milton Hershey School, to provide housing and education primarily for children from the area.
. . .
Other early-20th-century philanthropists, such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, left behind massive general-purpose foundations that underwrote experiments in medicine, science and higher education, Mr. Kurie observes, while Hershey “gave us chocolate candy and a single residential school in south-central Pennsylvania that remains little known outside the region.”
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. . . , [Mr. Kurie] suggests that the trust can be viewed as a model of philanthropic responsibility, even by institutions without a devoutly local focus. Mr. Kurie’s most significant contribution here is to draw attention to philanthropy’s “external stakeholders,” those people and organizations “who are neither agents nor subjects of philanthropy but who are, for better or worse, caught up in its activities.” He demonstrates how a philanthropic institution can continue to reflect a founder’s vision while shaping and being shaped by the community that grows up around it, one whose bonds can often be bittersweet.
(p. A10) When Jeff Bezos announced last week that he and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos, would create and operate a national network of Montessori preschools, few were more surprised than Montessori organizations and leaders themselves.
In a statement released on Twitter, Mr. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the wealthiest person in the world, said the preschools would be “in underserved communities.” He continued, “We’ll use the same set of principles that have driven Amazon. Most important among those will be genuine, intense customer obsession. The child will be the customer.”
News of the initiative, called the Bezos Day One Fund, came with an eye-popping commitment: $2 billion, some of which will support organizations that help homeless families.
. . .
Montessori’s unique combination of freedom and rigidity — a famously “child-centered” practice with a host of rules and restrictions — can make its classrooms look drastically different from traditional ones.
Students span a three-year age range, say, between 3 and 5. Dressing up or talking about fairies or superheroes is not allowed. Instead of a play kitchen, there may be a real one, where students might pour their own juice into a glass cup, not a plastic one, so that they will learn the lesson that a glass can break if they are careless.
And every day, students get three-hour blocks of unscheduled, uninterrupted “work” time — the word “play” is not used — in which they are free to choose their activities, whether finger-painting or sorting wooden pegs.
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With little else to parse, Montessori leaders pored over Mr. Bezos’ brief statement, which described the planned schools as “Montessori-inspired.” The term “Montessori” is not copyrighted, and any school can choose to describe itself as such.
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Mr. Bezos attended a Montessori preschool in Albuquerque in the 1960s and is one of several tech industry leaders with personal ties to the method. The Google founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have attributed some of their success to their Montessori educations. Dr. Montessori’s reframing of child’s play as “work,” driven by the child’s choices and interests, is, in many ways, a natural fit for Silicon Valley’s culture of founder-driven entrepreneurship and innovation.
(p. A15) Some 44% of millennials believe they do more to support social causes than the rest of their family, according to the 2017 Millennial Impact report. If you’re volunteering at shelters or working for most nonprofits, that’s all very nice, but it’s one-off. You’re one of the privileged few who have the education to create lasting change. It may feel good to ladle soup to the hungry, but you’re wasting valuable brain waves that could be spent ushering in a future in which no one is hungry to begin with.
There’s a word that was probably never mentioned by your professors: Scale. No, not the stuff on the bottom of your bong or bathtub. It’s the concept of taking a small idea and finding ways to implement it for thousands, or millions, or even billions. Without scale, ideas are no more than hot air. Stop doing the one-off two-step. It’s time to scale up.
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If you don’t think I’m credible, you too can listen to Bono. As he told Georgetown students a few years ago, “Entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid.” Of course it does. Want to change the world? Stop doing one-off volunteering and scale up.
(p. B1) On Tuesday [January 16, 2018], the chief executives of the world’s largest public companies will be receiving a letter from one of the most influential investors in the world. And what it says is likely to cause a firestorm in the corner offices of companies everywhere and a debate over social responsibility that stretches from Wall Street to Washington.
Laurence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of the investment firm BlackRock, is going to inform business leaders that their companies need to do more than make profits — they need to contribute to society as well if they want to receive the support of BlackRock.
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(p. B3) Companies often talk about contributing to society — sometimes breathlessly — but it is typically written off as a marketing gimmick aimed at raising profits or appeasing regulators.
Mr. Fink’s declaration is different because his constituency in this case is the business community itself. It pits him, to some degree, against many of the companies that he’s invested in, which hold the view that their only duty is to produce profits for their shareholders, an argument long espoused by economists like Milton Friedman.
“What does it mean to say that ‘business’ has responsibilities? Only people can have responsibilities,” Friedman wrote, almost rhetorically, back in 1970 in this very newspaper. “Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”
(p. A6) BOXFORD, England — Their ages range from 9 to about 80. They include a butcher and a builder. Some devoted vacation days to laboring on their hands and knees in an open field.
The group of amateur archaeologists — 55 in all, though only two dozen toiled on a typical day — were part of an excavation project near the village of Boxford, in southern England. They had to contend not just with days of backbreaking work, but also with a daunting, two-week deadline to complete the challenging dig.
Their commitment was handsomely repaid, though, in a few magical moments one Saturday last month. As a layer of soil was carefully scooped away, small, muddy pieces of red-colored tiling glinted in the sunlight, probably for the first time in more than one and a half millenniums.
The mosaic that slowly emerged from the earth is part of a Roman villa, thought to date from 380 A.D., toward the end of the period of Roman domination of England. The find is being described as the most important of its type in Britain in more than half a century, and in this picturesque, riverside village of thatched cottages, the scale of the discovery is still sinking in.
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“It was down to the volunteers, it really was. I get quite emotional about it; it was something to see their drive,” added Mr. Nichol, project officer for Cotswold Archaeology, a company whose normal work includes helping real estate developers preserve archaeological finds.
. . .
So for the organizers, it was a relief, rather than a disappointment, when the earth was pushed back to conceal their discovery.
The night before that was done, Mr. Nichol decided to keep watch over the site from his S.U.V. with a supply of food, a sleeping bag and a bottle of red wine, all donated by volunteers.
The Roman owner of the villa would have invited guests to eat and drink on this spot, using the mosaic as a talking point, so a mildly bacchanalian vigil did not seem out of place.
“I was on my own in the field; it was incredible,” Mr. Nichol said. He described how, in the solitude, he felt drawn back across the centuries to experience a unique connection to the more-than-1,600-year-old archaeological site, and to the mythological images of its extraordinary, colorful mosaic.
“The wine did help,” he added.
(p. A19) Many American entrepreneurs have obsessed over how to make good use of their wealth. The money of steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie built 1,689 public libraries. Julius Rosenwald, the genius behind Sears, Roebuck, devoted much of his fortune to funding schools for African-American children in the rural South. Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller gave vast sums to medical research, higher education and Baptist missions. For James Cash Penney, the obsession was farming. As David Delbert Kruger shows in “J.C. Penney: The Man, the Store, and American Agriculture,” the famed merchant’s devotion to his rural roots brought not just commercial success but also meaning in life.
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Penney’s farming ventures began in 1921, when he bought 720 acres near Hopewell Junction, N.Y., hired a veteran breeder and worked with him to select the best Guernsey cattle he could find. Emmadine Farm would operate for more than 30 years, supplying breeding stock to small farmers around the country and eventually furnishing a large commercial dairy.
Four years later, Penney purchased 120,000 acres in northeast Florida, intending to create a utopian community where committed, morally upright families could build a future on 20-acre plots, living rent-free for a year and using buildings and equipment provided by Penney to grow their first crop before deciding whether to buy the land. He hired experts who encouraged the farmers to be self-sufficient and advised them on when and how to plant vegetables and fruit trees. Initially, Penney Farms flourished, but then disaster struck: crop prices collapsed, the farmers moved away and in 1930 Penney’s own fortune was wiped out. The following year, the entrepreneur was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown.