Dozens of tech companies sign ‘Tech for Good Call’ following French initiative

A couple of years ago, French President Emmanuel Macron initiated the Tech for Good Summit by inviting 50 tech CEOs to discuss the challenges in the tech industry and make some announcements.

Usually, tech CEOs meet ahead of Viva Technology, a tech event in Paris. This year, Viva Technology had to be canceled, which means that tech CEOs couldn’t get together, take a group photo and say that they want to make the world a better place.

In the meantime, dozens of tech CEOs have chosen to sign a common pledge. Despite the positive impact of some technological breakthroughs, they collectively recognize that everything is not perfect with the tech industry.

“Recognizing that such progress may be hindered by negative externalities, including unfair competition such as abuse of dominant or systemic position, and fragmentation of the internet; that, without appropriate safeguards, technology can also be used to threaten fundamental freedoms and human rights or weaken democracy; that, unless we implement appropriate measures to combat it, some individuals and organizations inevitably use it for criminal purposes, including in the context of conflicts,” the pledge says.

Among other things, companies that sign the pledge agree to cooperate when it comes to fighting toxic content, such as child sexual abuse material and terrorist content. They promise to “responsibly address hate speech, disinformation and opinion manipulation.”

Interestingly, they also agree that they should “contribute fairly to the taxes in countries where [they] operate.” This has been an ongoing issue between the French government and the U.S. government. The OECD and the European Union have also discussed implementing a tax on tech giants so that they report to tax authorities in each country where they operate.

Other commitments mention privacy, social inclusiveness, diversity and equity, fighting all sorts of discriminations and more. As the name suggests, the pledge revolves around using technology for good things.

Now let’s talk about who signed the pledge. There are some well-known names, such as Sundar Pichai from Alphabet (Google), Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, Brad Smith from Microsoft, Evan Spiegel from Snap and Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square. Other companies include Cisco, Deliveroo, Doctolib, IBM, OpenClassrooms, Uber, etc.

Some nonprofit organizations also signed the pledge, such as the Mozilla Foundation, Simplon, Tech for Good France, etc.

But it’s more interesting to see who’s not on the list. Amazon and Apple have chosen not to sign the pledge. There have been discussions with Apple but the company eventually chose not to participate.

“Amazon didn’t want to sign it and I invite you to ask them directly,” a source close to the French president said. The French government is clearly finger-pointing in Amazon’s case.

This is an odd move as it’s a non-binding pledge. You can say that you want to “contribute fairly to taxes” and then argue that you’re paying everything that you owe — tax optimization is not tax evasion, after all. Worse, you can say that you’re building products with “privacy by design” in mind while you’re actually building entire companies based on personalized ads and micro-targeting.

In other words, the Tech for Good summit was created for photo opportunities (like this photo from 2018 below). Tech CEOs want to be treated like heads of state, while Macron wants to position himself as a tech-savvy president. It’s a win-win for them, and a waste of time for everyone else.

Some nonprofit organizations and governance groups are actually working hard to build digital commons. But big tech companies are using the same lexicon with these greenwashing-style campaigns.

In 2018, hundreds of organizations signed the Paris Call. In 2019, the biggest social media companies signed the Christchurch Call. And now, we have the Tech for Good Call. Those calls can’t replace proper regulation.

Image Credits: Charles Platiau / AFP / Getty Images

Salesforce Ventures launches $100M Impact Fund to invest in cloud startups with social mission

When Salesforce Ventures launched the first $50 million Impact Fund in 2017, it wanted to invest not only in promising cloud businesses, but startups with a socially positive mission. Today, the company launched the second Impact Fund, this time doubling its initial investment with a new $100 million fund

The latest fund is also designed to help bring more investment into areas that the company feels needs to be emphasized as a corporate citizen beyond pure business goals including education and reskilling, climate action, diversity, equity and inclusion, and providing tech for nonprofits and foundations.

Suzanne DiBianca, Chief Impact Officer and EVP of Corporate Relations at Salesforce says the money is being put to work on some of the world’s most pressing social issues. “Now more than ever, we believe business can be a powerful platform for change. We must leverage technology and invest in innovative ideas to drive the long-term health and wellness of all citizens, enable equal access to education and fuel impactful climate action,” DiBianca said in a statement.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that this investment is consistent with their commitment to social issues. “This fits right in with Salesforce’s efforts on making business a force for change. They talk it, they walk it, and they invest in it,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Claudine Emeott, Director of Impact Investing, in a Q&A on the company website, said that as with the first fund, the company is looking for cloud companies with some ties to Salesforce that address these core social components and can have a positive impact on the world. While there is a social aspect to each company, it still follows a particular investment thesis related to cloud computing. Her goal is to have a portfolio of cloud startups by next year that are addressing the set of social needs the firm has laid out.

“I hope that [by next year] we have made numerous investments in companies that are addressing today’s concurrent crises, and I hope that we can point to their measurable impact on those crises. I hope that we can point to exciting new integrations between our portfolio companies and Salesforce to tackle these challenges together,” Emeott said.

Paul Greenberg, president of the 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light, says that while he doesn’t always agree with Salesforce on every matter, he admires their social bent. “As an analyst, I might battle with them on some of their products, the things they do in the market and their messaging, but as a human being, I applaud them for their deep commitment to the common good,” he said.

Salesforce has always had a social component to its corporate goals including its 1-1-1 philanthropy model. While Salesforce isn’t always completely consistent as with its contract with ICE, it does put money and personnel toward helping in the communities where it operates, encouraging volunteerism and charitable giving from the top down and modeled across the organization.

This investment fund, while looking at the investments through a distinctly Salesforce lens, is designed to fund startups to help solve intractable social problems, while using its extensive financial resources for the betterment of the world.

Tech for good during COVID-19: Snorkels, thank you notes, and Headspace

Everyone is living a different pandemic right now. Your relationship with shelter-in-place mandates and social distancing can look wildly different depending on your profession, age, health and, often, privilege. It’s why a week of monotony for some of us might mean a week of madness for others. The best we can do, as exhaustion and Zoom fatigue sets in, is try to be patient, kind and thoughtful.

That’s why this week we are showcasing a number of different tech initiatives trying to tackle the stresses of specific groups, from students to nurses. Let’s get into it.

Help for interns. Major League Hacking, an edtech company that focuses on engineers, is partnering with Github to launch a summer program that is an alternative to internships. Students will spend 12 weeks working on open source projects, and get feedback from professional engineers. The students will be paid $1,000 per month.

Healthcare worker family support. Juni Learning, an online tutoring startup, launched a new initiative to support struggling families of healthcare workers. The platform is giving away $150,000 in credits for its Juni Team product. The Juni Team connects students to small groups with a live instructor to work on STEM projects. “We are hopeful that the Team Sessions will allow Juni to be able to support a greater number of students who may not necessarily need 1:1 instruction, but rather, just crave being back in a structured learning environment with new or existing friends,” the CEO Vivian Shen said in a Medium post.

Health-friendly snorkels. Doctors at hospitals all around the country teamed up to work with Google project engineers and academics from Columbia, MIT, Harvard and more to make snorkel masks into protective PPE gear for doctors. The masks are not meant to replace FDA-approved N95s, but instead can take the place of disposable N95s. Researchers took snorkels, printed breathing filters using 3-D technology and are giving the washable and reusable product to healthcare workers.

A free social media manager. Unemployment in 2020 is rivaling the Great Depression, leaving over 30 million Americans without work. That’s why SalesLoop is giving its platform, which manages social media platforms on LinkedIn, Twitter, and e-mail, for free to job seekers for three months. “The aim here is to help people who want to grow their network and be proactive about reaching out to potential hiring managers, to do so for free. Normally, our biggest customer base are recruiters – so this is sort of the reverse effect that we’re seeing now,” said John Fennessy, a director at the company.

On-demand volunteers. Mon Ami is collaborating with the city of San Francisco and Los Angeles to connect thousands of available volunteers free to do critical errands with people in need, from seniors living alone to at-risk adults and children. The volunteer management platform is backed by Cowboy Ventures, and traditionally connected college students with the elderly. During COVID-19, Mon Ami has set up volunteers one-on-one with people in need, and serves as a central hub to help cities, NGOs target more seamlessly.

Firefly tries to help. Ridesharing advertising company Firefly is providing an in-car plastic protective sheet-film to its drivers at no cost to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure. The initiative is starting in San Francisco and is aimed to help independent rideshare drivers that drive for a ride-hailing company like Uber or Lyft.

Sound on. Shure, a Chicago-based headphone startup, has donated $79,000 worth of earphones to Chicago Public Schools to support students and teachers with online learning.

Thank you notes for healthcare workers. Depending on where you live, when 7 p.m. rolls around your street might be filled with cheers in solitude with your local healthcare workers. But, for those workers on shift, the cheers might be muffled from the sheer stress happening within hospitals. 6FTCloser lets anybody send a quick, personalized video at no cost to frontline workers, for them to watch on their time. The platform was founded mid-April and over 1,000 frontline workers in 40 states across America and more than nine countries have received personalized videos thanks to this service.

Headspace for a year. Unemployed Americans are eligible for a year of Headspace, a digital meditation service. The mobile app startup also offered its meditation content to any and all frontline workers. “While meditation and mindfulness can’t change our circumstances in life, it can help us change our perspective on those circumstances. And, now more than ever, that’s an incredibly powerful skill to learn,” said Rich Pierson, the CEO of Headspace, in a release.

Honorable mention. Where to shop that isn’t Amazon, Target or Walmart? A few of us on the TechCrunch team listed out a couple options to support local businesses versus big corporations. We hope you take our suggestions into consideration!