Instant Karma Newsletter 7.16.20
  • Figuring out when tech is “mission-driven” and making life better rather than just easier usually depends on your values. Sometimes, like when Code for America develops systems that help nonviolent juvenile offenders clear their records, it’s clearly tech-for-good.   

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Today, half of the 7 billion people on planet Earth walk around with a tiny computer in their hand. Whether this is ultimately a good thing or bad thing is a Sisyphean philosophical question best left to The Good Place

But with most ESG portfolios heavy on tech stocks, which are performing exceptionally well during the pandemic, it is worth asking at a more granular level whether an app or platform that bills itself as “mission-driven” is making a positive impact or just making our lives easier. ESG screening is the Hippocratic Oath of impact investing: first, do no harm. That means a portfolio without fossil fuels, the Mafia, or other things considered harmful. On the other end of the spectrum, Code for America’s computer training program to help nonviolent juvenile offenders clear their records isn’t just “not bad” — it’s actively good. 

Differing values make defining impact a challenge. A vegan investor who wants a portfolio free of companies that use animal products may see investing in tech companies (where animal products rarely show up in supply chains) as “mission-driven,” even if those tech companies are not addressing social or environmental problems. 

So, where’s the line between “mission-driven” and “making my life easier”? Opinions will differ, but an app for influencers to live-stream their shopping experience is probably the latter. 

In Other News: Fenty Skin, Rideshares in Space

The World Economic Forum estimates that 395 million jobs could be created by 2030 if businesses make “nature-positive” changes. Fenty Skin, the skincare companion to music mogul Rihanna’s groundbreaking Fenty Beauty, is slated for release at the end of this month. Google is investing $4.5 billion in Reliance Industries, home of India’s fast-growing digital platform Jio. Space tourism may be years away, but space rideshare service providers are already raising money. The $600 billion in U.S. university endowments is under growing pressure from student activists to divest from fossil fuels. Al Gore is investing in robots that track carbon emissions. Hear me out: what if tuna is the Trojan Horse (fish?) for the robot takeover?

Levity Break

Banksy is back aboard the London Tube