I was under the impression that we were supposed to be in the lobby of the inn this morning at 8:00 am. Turns out, we were leaving at 8:00 am. My 7:55 am thus went unappreciated by the group. I hastily smothered a bagel with cream cheese and took a splash of coffee on the road for my impromptu breakfast. We left just in time to hit a moderate amount of rush hour traffic on our way to our first stop, Step Up Silicon Valley (SUSV).
Step Up Silicon Valley
We met in a branch of the Catholic Charities Foundation, based in Santa Clara, with a woman named Almaz Negash. She works mainly with those who she describes as the “working poor” more than the homeless, and the current goal of SUSV is to decrease the number of homeless people on the streets by a drastic number by 2020.
We discussed in depth the wage gap in Silicon Valley with Almaz, her main points being that the rich in Silicon Valley are not necessarily to be blamed for the divide, but rather the resources available to those in lower paying jobs are lacking. She is currently working on an initiative to raise the minimum wage in the Silicon Valley area to over $20 an hour. When she brought forward her plan, it was received with interest by many of us, bringing one brave soul to ask how proponents of her plan would respond to the argument that increased minimum wage would increase the cost of living - rendering the change ineffective. Her answer was that the increase in cost of living “never happens” … and that was pretty much it. Although she said she did have data to support this claim, this answer did little to appease those who doubted her proposal.
Two things. One, my answer to the above question would simply have been that in Silicon Valley, perhaps unique or uncommon in this situation, already has a cost of living that is higher than what can be made on minimum wage - supposedly the cost to survive. I believe that because of the high density of tech gurus and entrepreneurs in the Valley, prices have been driving up in the area, necessitating a higher minimum wage for those trying to keep up while working lower level jobs. Secondly, she brought up “The Business of Poverty”, which is something that totally makes sense, but was completely new to me. The idea is that many charities and foundations are bringing in money and are able to pay employees based on the idea that there are people in poverty. Thus, what is the incentive to solve poverty? A sick idea, but ultimately still a truth. I will read more on this and discuss deeper in my personal blog for this trip.
Global Social Benefit Institute
We went from the Catholic Charities building to the University of Santa Clara, where we had a few hours before our meeting with our second host, Steve White. Steve works for the Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI), which is a group that trains, provides mentors, and sets young entrepreneurs up with means to obtain capital. All entrepreneurs that the GSBI works with are innovations that aid underprivileged countries. I thought it was a very neat and interesting idea - though not for everyone. To apply for a partnership with the GSBI you need two things: a lot of money and a great idea. This rules me out. My life savings is negative and the only person who thinks I have great ideas are my dog and [sometimes] my four year old younger brother.
From our visit with the GSBI, we heard of some great projects some people were investing in, such as an innovative way to provide individual houses with light in a village in an arbitrary poor country. Unit prices were stated, for example, to be roughly $30. The first proposal was that each unit be replaced with solar lights. However, each current light would need to be replaced, and at $30, an individual in the country could use their money in more practical ways. Instead, the project was to build various solar “charging” stations, and run it like a rental station. Lights could be traded in for fully charged units, and then money would be paid for power instead of the units. This would cost the consumer mere cents, much more affordable. Plus, it would be inexpensive for the manufacturer, thus creating a win/win scenario (there were quite a few more details in his explanation, but you get the jist). The idea here is that each entrepreneur spends time and resources with GSBI researching methods and most practical business models to effectively and efficiently create mutual benefit for poor areas around the world. An interesting concept.
Overall, I felt it was a productive day. We talked with two very intelligent people, ate some decent food, played a little frisbee, and thoroughly enjoyed sending our friends snapchats of the 65 degree and sunny weather, reveling in the idea of them bundled up staring out at the barren below-zero tundra of the Midwest.