How Tech Can Make America Whole Again

I was born and bred in Silicon Valley two years after my parents and sisters finally got out from under Fidel Castro’s oppressive communist regime in the late 60s. After four years of financial hardship and living in constant fear for their safety, my family finally boarded one of the Freedom Flights that brought over 245,000 Cuban refugees to live in the US between 1965-1973. They were welcomed at the Miami International Airport where they were processed and offered services as part of the Cuban Refugee Resettlement program.

The Cuban Missile Crisis was still fresh in every American’s mind. The threat of communist spies filtering through our borders was real. After all, the Soviet Union was Cuba’s ally. Yet our nation opened its doors to help families like my own, seeking freedom and the opportunity to live a self-sufficient life in peace.

This story isn’t unique to me. Unless you are of Native American ancestry, someone in your family came to this country to build a life of liberty for themselves and their loved ones, bolstered by the unalienable rights we all hold so dear.

My journey started through the courage, selflessness, hard work, and sacrifice of my family, and the incredible service that our nation provided them. Yet here I sit, unable to recognize the country that saved my family’s lives. America is broken.

I’ve watched tech companies grow out of garages and orchards, and have worked in the industry since I graduated from Santa Clara University over 25 years ago. I’ve seen it evolve from the inside out, leaving me awestruck with its innovations and excited for how it can make society and the planet flourish.

But lately, the industry has disappointed me.

Like so many Americans, my parents had to start from scratch when they got here. They learned English and were taught skills to help them become prosperous and productive citizens. The world is increasingly being powered by technology, and coding is the language that is in high demand. Can the tech sector help America be whole again? Absolutely and it’s a responsibility that must taken on immediately. Here are a few ideas to get started:

1. Reskill The Workforce: The tech industry’s response to Trump’s exit from the Paris accord is a great sign. I love the spirit of the “We Are Still In” petition, but what is going to be done about it? Here’s a proposition: can the skills of coal miners, steel workers, and auto builders be leveraged to develop clean energy infrastructures? I love the idea of Americans earning well-paying jobs while helping protect our environment at the same time. Dear Elon Musk: you have said that the goals of SolarCity, Tesla, and SpaceX revolve around your vision to change the world and humanity. How about investing in the Rust Belt and turning it into the Green Belt?

2. Restructure Education: To stay competitive, America’s educational system must be overhauled. Let’s start from scratch, build curricula based on the natural strengths of our kids, challenge and arm them with the skills they need to be their best selves—in their jobs, their communities, and society-at-large. It’s clear that we cannot count on the government to do this for us.

Last week, I was encouraged to learn about the different experiments and approaches Silicon Valley billionaires are taking to address this challenge. They are having a say in how our kids are being taught, but I expect more. How about providing them with internships every summer and depositing their pay into an interest-bearing account that can be put towards the pursuit of higher education or vocational training? Close the loop by hiring them when they graduate. A holistic approach is what we need.

3. Help Fight Terrorism and Propaganda. Can’t Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other social media networks figure out a way to root out terrorist plots, radicalization, and propaganda without stomping on our civil liberties? Don’t we have the smartest minds in the world trying to make the impossible, possible? Shouldn’t this be a top priority of their social impact investments?

My parents never stopped pursuing the impossible. Their courage, grit, and relentless pursuit of freedom for their family are what got them through really difficult years. Is it wrong to expect the same from our technology leaders? We’ve all seen the impact tech has made on the world so far. I know it has the power to heal America, and help it become the beacon of hope and opportunity in the world once more.

But let’s not wait for our leaders to make ideas happen. Being the innovators we are, how can we help make America whole again?

Linda McNair is the Founding Principal of Thread Marketing and a Partner at Pellegrino Collaborative, a multidisciplinary social impact consultancy. Linda has spent over two decades developing and leading marketing and communications strategies for a range of non-profits, start-ups, and Fortune 500 companies, such as Adobe, Cisco, IBM, and Oracle, and is a key member of the corporate responsibility consulting team at Pellegrino Collaborative.

Linda McNairComment