At 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15 in INTS 1113, UCR’s School of Public Policy (SPP) hosted a seminar entitled, “We Have to Actually Fix Things” featuring businessman Joseph Sanberg, in which he spoke about fixing social justice issues that he has continued to witness since he was a child.
Sanberg is the co-founder of the online bank Aspiration.com and founding investor in BlueApron.com, a firm that provides low-cost meal-kit deliveries. He was a liberal activist while studying at Harvard University and worked on Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign as a junior member on the campaign events team.
Sanberg began his talk with an anecdote from his childhood explaining how after watching a documentary with his mother about the mistreatment of orphans under the regime of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the late 1980s. The then eight-year-old Sanberg sent the dictator a letter explaining his disdain for his actions. “The provocativeness of ‘we actually have to fix things’ is that we should be angry and rageful that there are so many things still broken,” Sanberg said, explaining that many of the problems in the world seen today are similar to those decades ago.
He went on to explain that the reason “things are still broken” is because those in “business, politics, media and the academy have approached people like units of consumption, or units of production, or units of votes, or units of readership.” He elaborated, saying that people are being broken down to something that is quantifiable which is antithetical to the principle that everyone is unique. He questioned if humans are seen in a way that is inhuman, “What difference does it make if we don’t solve these problems? What difference does it make if tens of millions of people live in ‘economic inequality?’” Sanberg elucidated by stating there is something special about being a human being that cannot be broken down to a “spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel.”
Sanberg’s next major point in his talk was the origin of the 2008 financial crisis and whether its cause was due to the system of capitalism or the people in power. “The conclusion I reached was that the problem are with the people, not as much the system” and how capitalism is not always about maximizing profit. He explained his theory, the fetish of the shareholder, to show how when a company exists only to serve the people in charge, a disaster can result like that of the recession in 2008. Sanberg clarified that when businesses are created to serve the customer, it is an organization “oriented toward the other and are premised on understanding what people need (rather than) maximizing shareholder value,” Sanberg stated. “What the heck difference does it make what happens to your customers?” he mockingly asked.
He went on to name financial services, government, food, healthcare and education as the five major sectors most guilty of treating people as statistics which is why, according to Sanberg, these five industries “occupy most of the suffering that is unaddressed in today’s society.” He noted that these relationships with the listed five sectors are entirely transactional and are not to serve the customer. “To fix any one of them (the five industries), you have to flip the relationship and turn it instead into a service-oriented one,” elaborated Sanberg.
Sanberg then described how BlueApron.com has succeeded using a service-based model because through Blue Apron, “Millions of people are eating together at home cooking and there’s a lot of depth to the importance of that. Those five sectors that are broken in my view, their brokenness interacts. The fact that the food sector doesn’t efficiently deliver healthy choices to most people, and especially not to low income people, is at the basis of why we have a diabetes epidemic in this country.”
He then went on to explain how Aspiration.com is changing the financial landscape because they offer customers the choice of which fees to pay and how 10 percent of these earnings go to charity. He then described the launching of a new feature with their customer’s accounts called the Aspiration Impact Measurement which helps customers find products which are “environmentally and people-friendly,” empowering people to match their values and their money.
This week’s seminars hosted by the SPP will include “California Budget Perspective: What’s at Stake in State and Federal Budget Proposals?” on Tuesday, Feb. 21 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. in HUB 269 and the “Solar Conference” on Thursday, Feb. 23 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bourns Technology Center located at 1200 Columbia Ave., Riverside, CA 92507.