The Value of Connections

By Michele Lawrence Jawando, SVP at Omidyar Network

This time of year leads many of us to moments of deep reflection and renewal. We look at the state of our communities, our families, and ourselves, and we contemplate where we are and where we hope to be. We may consider those moments throughout the year — those moments of joy and deep connection as well as others of loneliness and isolation. What were the conditions that separated those joyous moments and those moments of isolation?

Thinking about that line, I consider the words of Jacqueline Novogratz: “This is the secret of accompaniment. I will hold a mirror to you and show you your value, bear witness to your suffering, and to your light. And over time, you will do the same for me, for within the relationship lies the promise of our shared dignity and the mutual encouragement needed to do the hard things. …We are each other’s destiny.”

At Omidyar Network, we know that there is a deep power in connection; in the ideas around pluralism, interconnectedness, and community; and in knowing we are each other’s destiny. We also know that so many of the systems that lie at the foundation of our society are not set up to create the conditions that allow each of us to thrive. That’s what we are working so hard to help change. I am so fortunate to do this work with an organization like Omidyar Network, which is focused on the three major issues that are at the heart of an equitable and inclusive society: the economy, technology, and our need for a culture where everyone belongs.

Are these the only issues that need to be addressed? Of course not. We’ve strategically chosen to focus on these three issues because they are deeply interconnected and reinforcing. Our experiences with these systems bind us together as a society and they have an outsized impact on everything else: fundamental liberties, a sustainable climate, racial justice, public education, fair housing, food security, democracy, and more.

Everything we do is interconnected

Omidyar Network’s programmatic interconnectedness is based on the idea of “multiplicity.” Dr. Becky Kennedy describes this as “the ability to accept multiple realities at once”, and says it is critical to healthy relationships. All of our work must happen simultaneously and be mutually reinforcing. For example:

Our work Building Cultures of Belonging centers on equality, respect, and connection and speaks to the innate human desire to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It is the essence of a fairer market economy and a digital technology system that centers the human experience. Belonging in the economy can mean having quality employment opportunities with fair wages and policies. And belonging in the digital world can mean feeling safe to express your full range of identities and find community online.

Reimagining Capitalism is necessary to build a more equitable, inclusive economic system in which all people have the opportunity to thrive. It is also required to have a digital technology system that centers the interests of consumers and workers rather than only the shareholders. Reimagining Capitalism so that every person has a fair shot to thrive can help counter zero-sum mindsets and polarization and make the economic conditions for belonging possible.

And Advancing a Responsible Technology Future requires us to first define the kind of society we want, and then ask how digital technology can help get us there. Advancing a Responsible Technology Future in a reimagined economy means that companies, investors, and governments prioritize the responsibility we have to each other and to the planet, over just considering revenue and scale. This shift requires that we fuel innovation based on new values and install meaningful oversight for technology. Responsible technology also means that our digital spaces are open, trustworthy, and free of mis- and disinformation so that we are weaving ideas and identities together instead of fomenting discord, distrust, and dissonance.

We cannot fix one of these systems without fixing the others. And we cannot fail one, without failing the others. Taken together, we can create a healthier society that recognizes the importance of individual human flourishing in balance with the common good.

And this year was a step in that direction, where we saw many promising shifts in the system.
When I look back at this year, I will remember those who fought for progress and impact across these three areas, and who improved the lives of so many others. I am grateful for all the people and communities that recognize when something is not working for some of us, it impacts all of us. And they bring all of their skills to create a bolder, more inclusive future. This is the value of a network.

Let us all celebrate:

working people who organized for quality jobs, unionized, and helped pass the landmark Fast Food Accountability and Standards Recovery Act in California;

…the growing number of local and national leaders calling for solidarity across lines of difference, and the advocates who are exposing hate, violence, and mis- and disinformation toward historically-marginalized communities;

…the migrant workers rebuilding communities after disasters, like Hurricane Ian, and the advocacy groups protecting them from wage theft and exploitation;

…the many cities across America embracing robust standards for welcoming immigrants and refugees in every aspect of civic, social, and economic life.

first-time home buyers and renters who went to battle with private equity firms, biased algorithms, and greed-driven inflation and fought to be treated with dignity and respect so they could secure housing;

youth organizers, digital natives, and parents who helped pass the California Age-Appropriate Design Code Act;

people seeking abortions who demanded safe access, secure communications platforms, abortion services online, and mutual aid;

entrepreneurs who are building technology based on a new set of values and working in community to establish new institutions like the Center on Race and Digital Justice at UCLA;

immigrants who filed lawsuits against powerful data brokers for enabling the US government to use information from utility bills to surveil and target them for deportation;

people of color, many of who have been historically marginalized and discriminated against and successfully advocated for the confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman on the US Supreme Court;

farmers and communities that have been impacted by climate change and now have equal access to critical data and solutions through innovative trusts;

communities that prioritized their mutual benefit and voluntarily cared for one another’s economic, technological, and cultural needs;

taxpayers in Massachusetts who demanded the wealthiest individuals pay their fair share;

everyone who uses public services like buses and trains, cell phones to make emergency calls, and government websites and acts as champions for infrastructure that ensures they remain open, reliable, and secure from cyber threats;

gig workers, privacy champions, and legal justice experts who pushed back on misleading and flawed policy proposals that infringed on people’s rights;

…other donors, in the US and abroad, who are questioning how our systems work and collectively working on solutions that enable communities, people, and nature to thrive; and

…so many others who want to reimagine capitalism to be more equitable, technologists who believe in a responsible tech future, and culture shapers who want to see a multiracial, multifaith, multigenerational society thrive.

These victories (and even our defeats) happened because seemingly separate groups stepped out of their silos, boxes, and traditional roles and partnered to tackle our common enemies — outdated mindsets, unchecked power, authoritarian values, hate and violence, and short-sightedness.

This year, we expanded our network to include more than 120 new partners — diverse and talented researchers; advocates and movement leaders; narrative gurus and storytellers; capacity-building organizations; new institutions; HBCUs; policy leaders; big thinkers and public intellectuals; investors and philanthropists; entrepreneurs; labor organizers; and journalists.

As we near the end of the year and reflect back on what has transpired in 2022, it’s easy to remember the wars, disasters, injustices, and pain. In their wide-casting shadows, it’s much harder to see progress and find hope. But that is what we must do. I believe in our collective ability to bring the required passion, skills, and diverse perspectives for a positive, transformative impact on the economy, technology, and cultures of belonging.

I believe we are each other’s destinies. Children everywhere — mine, yours, ours — need us to stay focused on our bold mission to fuel innovation that will improve the well-being of every person and to lift the human spirit through ideas and action.

Looking forward to 2023 and all we can do together!