EDITORIAL COMMENT: Potential Barf AlertIn largely white male tech world, why capitalism needs an upgrade
By Mitchell Kapor and Benjamin Todd Jealous
updated 2:00 PM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Editor's note: Tech pioneer Mitchell Kapor is the co-founder of the Kapor Center for Social Impact and Kapor Capital. Benjamin Todd Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, is a venture partner at Kapor Capital. Both Kapor and Jealous serve on the board of the Level Playing Field Institute. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.
(CNN) -- When Frederick Hutson left prison in 2012 after serving four years on marijuana-related charges, he realized he had gained something more than his freedom: insight into an overlooked consumer market.
Many inmates are stuck in an age before Instagram or Facebook, relying on envelopes and pay phones to connect with family on the outside.
So Hutson founded Pigeonly, a photo-sharing and low-cost phone call service that has already helped 50,000 incarcerated individuals connect with their loved ones, maintain their ties to society, and remain a presence in their children's lives.
The story of Pigeonly is statistically unlikely: a disruptive technology created by a member of a disenfranchised community, in order to solve a problem within that community.
It is also a model for the type of entrepreneurship that can revive American capitalism: both inclusive of and responsive to America's changing demographics.
One of the great achievements of the civil rights and women's rights movements was that they unleashed an enormous pool of talent into the economic life of America. Desegregation and the women's movement broke down barriers to education and employment and made our nation stronger by making it more competitive.
Yet 50 years later, a narrow vision of capitalism once again threatens to leave many Americans behind. Our nation's failure to achieve equal educational opportunity has exacerbated race-based economic disparities and produced two starkly different American economies.
And while women have made strong gains in professional life, they remain dramatically underrepresented in many of the most profitable sectors. Silicon Valley is hardly the only place where this is evident, but addressing it here is crucial to turning the tide.
Last year there were eight states where zero Latino students took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science, and 11 states in which no black students took the test. In three states, not a single female student sat for the exam.
It is no surprise, then, that 99% of venture capital-funded startups in 2010 were founded by whites or people of Asian descent, the vast majority of whom were men. The result of this pipeline problem is an enormous amount of untapped talent and a tech sector that fails to reflect the demographics of its users.
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