⚡Dystopia

Good morning! Hope you had a great weekend. To all of you who signed up this weekend, welcome! It was raining most of Sunday, so we stayed in and rewatched Dead Poets Society. It reminds us to always hold fast to the human element in everything we’re doing.

Let’s get into it!

World Bank’s new education SDG target

When goal-setting, simpler is always better. As our ability to reach the global education targets of the Sustainable Development Goals seem more and more unlikely, the World Bank is asking countries to refocus their efforts around new, simpler target—halve “learning poverty” by 2030.

What this means. By the age of 10, more than half of all children in low- and middle-income countries cannot read a simple story. Reducing “learning poverty” will allow kids to better access to other subjects and skills, as reading is a gateway.

Why we aren’t able to hit the original targets. SDG 4 (Universal Literacy and Numeracy) is too ambitious and broad. Governments can’t mobilize around the targets and some are far too difficult to track.


Algorithms that punish the poor

A revolution is underway in how governments treat the poor and you’ve probably never heard about it. It’s powered by artificial intelligence, predictive algorithms, risk modeling, and biometrics. The new technology being implemented around the world has resulted in the rise of the digital welfare state. It’s changing how low-income people interact with their state.

The shift. The automation of poverty is moving the needs of vulnerable people from human caseworkers into the hands of decision-making machines. A political scientist, Virginia Eubanks, calls it “the digital poorhouse.”

The problem. Automation itself isn’t the issue, but rather the speed in which it is happening. Governments are trying to shift so quickly that one-time errors and even system errors aren’t being addressed. The most important element of welfare is being lost—the human element.

  • In Australia, which already has faced issues with wrongly clawing back historic debts through a flawed algorithm, the government’s new welfare automation is cutting off payments without any notice to recipients.

  • In India, Aadhaar, a 12-digital unique identification number, has been issued to all residents as the world’s largest biometric experiment. Unfortunately, this is a fallible system. For example, Motka Manjhi’s subsistence rations were stopped due to a computer glitch that failed to recognize his thumbprint. He skipped meals and eventually died from what his family believes to be starvation.


Check this out: If anybody is interested in building something, here are some social prizes for those interested in changing the world.

Ending Short Termism

Last week, finance ministers from around the world met in Washington DC for the annual meetings of both the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund. The discussion was focused on, well, pretty much everything happening today – Brexit, the US-China trade war, the upcoming recession, and more. Uncertainty is at an all-time high, and the keepers of the global markets were hard at work figuring out how to navigate in these murky waters.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, shared a perspective urging leaders to “not deflect attention from even more pressing long-term challenges,” including –

  • Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030

  • Delivering on the Paris climate agreement over the next 30 years

  • Reforming our global economic system to make it fit for the next 50 years and beyond

Easy topics to cover in a week, right? Definitely not. However, Schwab threw global leaders (and us) a bone – addressing the root cause of these issues necessitates “an end to ending economic short-termism that underpins policymaking today.

Let’s make this tangible. Schwab suggests developing scorecards that track our performance on these long-term priorities. Doing this requires the following:

  • Rethink GDP as our key performance indicator in economic policymaking

  • Embrace independent tracking tools for assessing progress under the Paris climate agreement and SDGs

  • Implement stakeholder capitalism by introducing ESG scorecards for businesses

We’re going to take a closer look at each one!

Rethinking GDP. This measure of economic progress came into vogue when economies were seen as vehicles for mobilizing wartime production. Today, economies are supposed to focus on maximizing well-being and sustainability, so we need an alternative set of measures to anchor to. A bunch of people much, much smarter than us have been working on this. For example, the Wealth Project suggests a measure called Natural Capital, based on a country’s ecosystems, fish stocks, minerals, and other natural assets.

  • Our take. We are fully behind this idea. Fundamentally changing the reference points by which we view an economy will, over time, change mindsets about what is important.

Independent tracking tools. Tools like the Climate Action Tracker should be used by governments, international organizations, businesses, and more when reporting performance and sharing best practices. Plus, we need to develop accessible platforms behind each SDG to crowdsource ideas and unique skillsets – for example, check out our earlier coverage on UN’s UpLink.

  • Our take. Tracking and reporting progress on all our goals is fundamental to highlighting progress. However, there are significant execution challenges when using the existing impact trackers today. In tomorrow’s newsletter, we’ll be diving into these challenges and possible solutions.

Stakeholder capitalism. Businesses need to move away from shareholder primacy and towards an era of stakeholder capitalism, as (supposedly) seen in the Business Roundtable announcement.

  • Our take. We’ve talked about this one before. On Friday, we called BS on the Business Roundtable’s commitment to this, as evidenced in Jamie Dimon’s response on the JP Morgan earnings call. However, earlier in the week, we covered Bernie Sander’s plan to mandate stakeholder capitalism by creating worker ownership and board representation in large companies. If this plan goes into effect, companies may not have a choice. We’ll be watching this very closely.

So, what happened last week? The outcomes of the meetings are still to be seen (they just wrapped up yesterday). Stay tuned for more over the course of the week!

Monday, October 28

  • Conversations on Plant-based Entrepreneurship: Vegpreneur is a global entrepreneurs community that is made up of innovators who are building a plant-based future and they’re hosting an evening panel on the state of plant-based entrepreneurship at General Assembly. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. 

Saturday, November 9

  • 92Y Food Summit: From spotlights on innovation and burgers once thought impossible, to balancing the thrill of the delicious with social responsibility, to how immigrant chefs are transforming American cuisine, to what you’ll be eating in 2020, check out this event for this tantalizing think tank for food lovers.

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