Is There Room For Innovation In Diversity & Inclusion? A “Shared Value” Approach Can Bring It to Fruition

By Tara Chklovski

We’re so excited to share that Salesforce is partnering with Technovation for 2017-2018! We’ve been working with Salesforce for years, and are proud to partner with them for the upcoming season, expand the program, and inspire young women to see their power as creators and entrepreneurs. Check out the announcement from Salesforce, and read on for our CEO Tara’s perspective on our ongoing work with Salesforce.

Diversity and Inclusion wasn’t a term a few years ago as you can see from the Google Trends depiction of interest in this term from 2004 to now.

It is exciting to see the growing attention around engaging and supporting underrepresented groups in engineering and technology. And we can and should aim really high in these efforts. But there is also room for innovation here. The idea of Shared Value” developed by Michael Porter (the leading authority on business strategy and competitiveness) is an intriguing challenge to explore here. What are the most innovative ways in which corporations can integrate social responsibility into their value chain? My favorite example is that of the Toyota Prius. Through the Prius, Toyota was able to move ahead as an environmentally conscious corporation, while also launching a hugely successful, innovative product.

Another notable example is that of CVS and its strategy to stop the sale of all tobacco products in 2014, foregoing $2 billion in sales revenue. Instead they launched a comprehensive smoking cessation program in stores and established themselves as thought leaders among health retailers.

Porter says that businesses acting as businesses (not just as charitable givers or compliance to corporate citizenship), opens up strategic opportunities to create competitive advantage, while driving the next wave of innovation, productivity, and economic growth.

That’s why I am drawn to the problem of how best to create “Shared Value” while thinking about Diversity and Inclusion — especially for the technology industry, where the value chain is focused mostly around human capital. One notable example has been Salesforce and their integrated 1-1-1 commitment to communities. We started working with Salesforce employees in 2014, engaging them as mentors in our 100-hour technology entrepreneurship program for girls – Technovation. Salesforce mentors supported teams of middle and high school girls to identify a problem in their community, develop a mobile app and launch a startup. 58% of mentors increased their technical skills around mobile computing, design thinking and product development, 67% increased their knowledge about entrepreneurship and 73% learned to be effective mentors.

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An Open Letter to 2017 Technovation Mentors

Dear Technovation Mentors,

I am excited and honored to see the start of the eighth season of Technovation! I wanted to share some of the history and evolution in philosophy and model so you have a sense of where we are coming from and where we are headed.

We started Technovation in 2010 as a small cohort of 45 girls, hosted by Google in Mountain View. The program ran once a week for 9 weeks, after work hours. Each team of girls had mentors who came from local universities and corporations; and the entire group was led through the curriculum by an instructor.  The goal of the program was to provide a first hand experience in entrepreneurship using technology, and thereby help build a strong sense of self-efficacy in the girls.

Over the next three years we scaled the model to 6 sites in the Bay Area, Los Angeles, New York and Boston. As we scaled, we ran into two interesting issues: 1) We had a hard time finding instructors who were comfortable both with the entrepreneurship content as well as the technology component (this was 8 years ago, before entrepreneurship became so hip!),  2) The unforeseen issue we ran into with this model was that we were serving girls who already had access to a lot of resources. The model was constrained by the girls’ ability to access the corporation that was hosting the program.

Technovation’s parent organization is Iridescent and Iridescent’s mission is to help underserved youth, especially girls to become innovators and leaders using engineering and technology.

So keeping this mission in mind, we put the Technovation curriculum online in 2013, using Mozilla’s P2PU platform. We were one of the first online courses (this was before MOOC was even a word :).  We had no idea what would happen, but it seemed that we needed to do something dramatically different to increase access to technology education.  We leveraged Iridescent’s global networks and were able to get girls from 19 countries to participate in the program. The girls from Nigeria had a chance to present their app to the First Lady of Nigeria and the UN’s ITU Secretary General congratulated them on their work.

We were heartened by the uptake and proceeded to devote the next 3 years to expanding the program internationally, as well as evaluating the long-term impact of the model on the girls.

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Do you feel the same?

This piece was composed by Tara Chklovski, founder and CEO of Iridescent, to recognize the achievements of all Technovation program participants

Do you feel the same?

Tara Chklovski

I failed at something that I had worked all my life to try to accomplish.
Has that ever happened to you?
It shakes your confidence. You don’t know what is real anymore.
You don’t have a foundation.
Your image of yourself is shattered.

I went under a shell. It was warm.
But I got restless.
I wanted to do something big, something larger than myself
Something that would help improve the lives of others.

I decided to start something new — a nonprofit
That would inspire children all over the world
To change their own worlds for the better
Because children often know best

But starting is so hard.
I had never started anything before in my life.
I didn’t know how to.
Would I be successful?
What is success anyway?
Does success even matter?
Who defines success and labels it as such?
Have you ever wondered that?

I was scared to start.
But then my husband dared me to start.
And I did.

That was ten years ago.
Iridescent is a global education nonprofit now
Helping thousands of young people
Change their worlds around them
By innovating and being brave.

I needed a little push, even if it was just a trivial dare.

Did Technovation give you that little push?
To program a mobile app?
To launch a startup?

If someone asked you last year, “Are you a technology entrepreneur?”
What would you have said then?
What would you say today?

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