There are few settings more appropriate than Detroit for a conference focused on the intersection of technology and the economy – and its effect on the way we live in cities in the US and around the world. Detroit has, of course, seen its share of challenges over the past few decades, but as the city comes out of bankruptcy, there is a palpable energy amongst individuals across the business, nonprofit and public sectors who are all playing a key role in reimagining Detroit’s future – a future in which data, new technology and innovative new approaches will be critical.
It is because of that energy that we were excited to return to Detroit for the third annual Techonomy Detroit conference, which brings together a group of influencers and thought leaders from across sectors to “better understand how to move the U.S., and the world, into an urbanized, technologized, inclusive future.”
We were proud that our CEO Jean Case was invited to participate in a fascinating discussion alongside Rip Rapson, CEO of the Kresge Foundation, about the ever-changing role of foundations in cities; moderated by Nolan Finley of the Detroit News. The Kresge Foundation is known for its leading role in several initiatives focused on building for Detroit’s post-bankruptcy future, as part of its $25.5M Re-Imagining Detroit portfolio. When the foundation decided to take the risk and new direction of stepping in where government could not, Rapson shared that not everyone was sold on the idea: “what push back didn’t I get?” he joked.
Channeling our Be Fearless campaign, Jean reflected on the need for foundations to take risks and shared more about our role in creating catalytic initiatives and cross-sector partnerships that we hope will build the foundation for innovating when it comes to solving our big social challenges. (You can watch the full video of the session here).
The day also featured sessions with a range of thinkers and doers all playing a role in rethinking the way we get around, how we pay for goods and services, what and how we share (information and physical assets), how we improve the connections between government and the citizens they serve, and how we unlock value from the wealth of data available to us.
It’s probably not surprising that the last point was a constant throughout all of the sessions. Local governments are leveraging data to improve civic services; data is a key driver for sharing economy companies to appropriately allocate resources and assets; and citizens can tap into data to evaluate the performance of public officials/services and companies.
But not everyone is so bullish on data. In a passionate and provocative talk, TechCrunch’s Andrew Keen, author of the book “The Internet is Not the Answer,” shared his view on the dangers of sharing so much information and data for free. He warned about the intentions of companies who are collecting our data, reminding the audience that these organizations are ultimately in the for-profit business, a point that was countered in an engaging discussion between Detroit CIO Beth Niblock and Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and CEO of Square. Jack shared more about his current endeavors at Square, which is focused on providing crucial access to capital for merchants, and noted his company’s vested interest in helping small businesses – crucial to growing and maintaining a strong economy – as a social impact that is baked into their business model.
When asked what keeps him coming back to Detroit, Dorsey said it was “the energy, the soul, the fight” he sees in the city. That beautifully sums up our excitement about the future of cities like Detroit – a future that will be driven by technology, transparency and an “all oars in the water” approach that brings citizens, business, government, academia and philanthropy together.
Curious to see more? A recording of the full Techonomy Detroit conference can be found here.