Tomorrow, the White House will partner with Stanford University and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — a limited liability corporation launched by the CEO of Facebook and his wife — to co-host the Summit on Poverty and Opportunity, a two-day, invite-only event held on the school's campus. It will focus on using technology and innovation to address issues like poverty, inequality, and economic immobility. The event will include an interactive demo by Palantir, the secretive Peter Thiel-backed analytics company, on how a real-time data platform can reduce incarceration, hospital use, and homelessness, as well as a lunchtime conversation on universal basic income with Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes and Y Combinator's Sam Altman, who first got involved with basic income earlier this year.
The event was organized by representatives from each of the hosts, including Jim Shelton, president of education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (and former deputy secretary of education under President Obama) as well as Elizabeth Mason, founding director of the new Stanford Poverty & Technology Lab, part of Stanford's Center for Poverty & Inequality.
Mason told BuzzFeed News that the summit was "sort of a coming-out party for the Lab." The goal of the event was to "bring together 275 high-level players in technology, philanthropy, community service, government, and academia to discuss how we can use technology and Big Data" to address these issues, she said by email. The Lab will develop "a new field" of study "that applies the premises and tools of technology to the policies and processes of fighting poverty." The Lab will also "incubate ventures with practical solutions on high-tech poverty fixes."
Silicon Valley's role in any potential fixes is nascent. In May, Altman announced plans for a pilot study on basic income in Oakland, however, in earlier interviews with BuzzFeed News, Altman stressed that it was just a "research project" and meant in that spirit. The summit will also host a session on using technology to facilitate financial access featuring the CEO of Kiva and the director of public policy for Lending Club, the troubled peer-to-peer financing company.
The list of attendees and speakers also includes ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, White House CTO Megan Smith (formerly a top executive at Google), Martin Ford, author of two books on automation, including Rise of the Robots, Marian Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, Nobel Prize–winning economist Ken Arrow, and Bryan Desloge, president of the National Association of Counties, who backed Donald Trump in the presidential election and has participated in a previous White House summit on poverty.
The summit will also feature a roundtable discussion with Stanford professor Raj Chetty, a popular economist and MacArthur fellow, who researches economic immobility and will discuss plans to build a new database infrastructure that could steer and organize national research on poverty. An additional workshop will be held by Alexandra Bernadotte, founder of Beyond 12, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of first generation, low-income, and other underrepresented students who graduate from college.
This event comes at a time when tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg, and Sean Parker have been subject to increased scrutiny for their free-market approach to doing good, which eschews nonprofit foundations for traditional investment vehicles labeled as philanthropy. This structure allows wealthy donors control over the causes and initiatives that get funding, but without the oversight or accountability required of a nonprofit. Taken in that context, this summit is one example of Silicon Valley’s growing influence on philanthropy and ability to influence which ideas get heard.