A CREATIVE AGENDA FOR THE PRAXIS COMMUNITY
Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don't have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.
– Kevin Kelly, author and founder, WIRED
Since the early days at Praxis, our vision has been inspired by the Clapham Circle, a group of committed Christians in 19th century England whose biographer, Stephen Tomkins, observed that “the ethos of Clapham became the spirit of the age.” They worked on a wide variety of causes—dozens of creative responses to the particular issues, struggles, and trends of their time and place.
Today, no place alone—not London, Silicon Valley, New York, DC, Beijing, or Mumbai—can fully embody or claim to shape the spirit of the age. Cultures are intertwined and relations are global. But the body of Christ is global, too, and our ethos can shape the spirit of every age in every place. This is part of what it means to be a witness to the good news.
How does this happen in practice? As members of the body of Christ, we are to be faithful in our callings of bearing and restoring the image of God—wherever we are, whether our sphere of influence is slight or great. Still, in each generation, some vocations seem to carry outsized power to shape cultural trends. And in our generation, a disproportionate number of startup entrepreneurs may be entrusted with that kind of agency. Indeed, Praxis exists to help a generation of ambitious builders steward that influence wisely and generously for God’s glory.
So what will we work on? What will the creative action of Christians be in our age?
At Praxis, this is one of our governing questions. We’ve spent the last decade reviewing and supporting hundreds of ventures from a culture-facing, mission-minded perspective. We see every venture against the backdrop of the latest social trends, technology, business models, and venture formation processes—and by the light of God’s heart for our world.
Given that experience, we’ve begun to identify several areas where we believe redemptive innovation could be profoundly good news. And we want to see redemptive entrepreneurs work in these areas, using their ingenuity to create ventures that make the world more beautiful, just, and humane.
Four years ago, we built a starter list of Opportunities for Redemptive Innovation (ORIs) pointing to relatively unexplored issues and spaces where entrepreneurial Christians could step into shaping the spirit of this age, offering something new through ventures. We’re building expansively on that list through this updated collection of ORIs.
These Opportunities for Redemptive Innovation represent much of the work of this community. They span and represent our past, present, and future. We’re thrilled to report that many of these ideas originated through the persistent and patient work of our community and portfolio—through many who are reading these words—as well as from so many good souls we haven’t yet had the privilege to meet.
At the same time, they’ve been written with a mind toward what might be to come.
Any one person or venture can and should be a faithful witness to God’s rule over all things; but no project, campaign, or venture can have a meaningful effect on the spirit of the age on its own. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, working as a collective body to love our neighbors creatively and well; and in so doing to address the major issues of our time. We believe that a shared creative agenda can help concentrate our energy where it’s most needed—and that is the aim of these ORIs.
A few clarifications and caveats. First, we offer these not as domain experts with an authoritative point of view on these subjects—but as engaged, curious, passionate observers of our world who love to help people build meaningful things.
Second, it’s worth noting that significant redemptive work is being undertaken and often pioneered by non-Christian leaders who model the redemptive pattern of creative restoration through sacrifice in the way they live and build into the world. Our work here is not to claim that our work is better, but to follow and join them gratefully, demonstrating that “all truth is God’s truth” and that the gospel frees us for common-grace collaboration with those who do not share our faith. (Consider William Wilberforce’s legendary collaboration with Charles Fox toward the abolition of the slave trade.)
Also, note that there are “horizontal ORIs” not listed here that apply so broadly that it would be a disservice to limit them to a single vertical item in the list. For example, you’ll find that matters of ethnicity, race, gender equity, and economic justice are threaded through a multitude of issues, from housing to finance to good jobs.
Finally, we acknowledge that these are clearly written from a Western point of view, given our original context operating from the US; and from the perspective of those with considerable cultural and economic agency. There are whole categories of issues unaccounted for here, and we affirm that there are gaps in our understanding that, if bridged, will lead us to reframe some of these issues.
The good news is that this is a living document. We want to use it to learn and be redirected by wise experts; to acknowledge sins of both omission and commission as we discover them; to create visions and views on adjacent issues; to develop community around these ideas—and while doing all those things, to build ventures together.
In this spirit, we hope this list encourages you to join God in the renewal of these things.
Ways to engage with these ideas:
1. If you’re already working full-time on a venture in one of these areas, we’d love to have you apply to our Business Accelerator or Nonprofit Accelerator, where you can find peer community, mentorship, values-aligned capital, team support, and more.
2. If you’re an investor or philanthropist interested in one or more opportunity areas, please let us know so we can get you connected to our collective work.
3. If you’re a builder looking to join a venture working on one of these issues, check out our Job Board and Talent Network, or search for one of the organizations mentioned among the ORIs.
In today’s commercially-driven world people are more likely to be seen and referred to as 'consumers' than anything else. Instead of being met with resistance, this shift has often meant that individuals have formed their identity through a composite of brands, and product purchasing can be guided more by the desire to make a statement about one’s identity and values than strict utility. As a result, the lines between social movement, capitalism, and community are increasingly blurry (see: Nike, Whole Foods, and Patagonia).
Given this reality (which is with us for both better and worse), we’d like to support entrepreneurs with a vision for building brands with a counter-culturally virtuous and optimistic view of the world, spreading hope and beauty, eliminating stigma, and most fundamentally, redirecting our identity away from materialistic consumption and toward lasting contentment.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR REDEMPTIVE INNOVATION
WHO WE ARE
Enriching the Family from Dating to Parenting
At the root of so many of the social issues in our world is the vulnerable state of the family, from formation (in the stages of dating, engagement, and wedding planning) to longevity (marriage and parenting). Dating has undergone a radical transformation due to technology, with the most successful platforms monetizing desire rather than cultivating commitment. While divorce rates are thankfully in decline, marriage rates are declining even faster. Weddings have shifted to center more on the experience of a singular, grand event than a celebration of a serious commitment to something long-lasting. And should individuals successfully establish a marriage and begin raising children, they enter a uniquely stressful season of life, trying to help their children navigate technology, social media, and achievement culture.
We’re interested in ventures that advance the possibilities of forming and sustaining healthy marriages, deepen individuals’ connections to extended family and community, and develop covenantal practices of communication, wisdom, and courage as spouses and parents.
Managing Technology in Everyday Life
Nearly all personal technology involves trading depth and focus for the “superpowers” that tech delivers to us. Texts and notifications, for example, limit the number of sensory inputs through which we experience others, rendering more and more of our social lives as two-dimensional, with far less sensory and relational “signal.” Consequently, we are more likely to be misinterpreted, have conflict, and lack genuine interpersonal connection. (We also miss out on boring or difficult interactions that would help us develop patience and humility.)
Widespread adoption of these tools of communication has not only left us “alone together,” it has weakened the social infrastructure required for a common life and left us in a world of “influencers” and “followers” instead. In the attention economy, we have given away one of our most valuable assets—the ability to think and act deeply and wisely.
We’re interested in technology applications that are “instruments rather than devices” (The Life We’re Looking For by Andy Crouch), enriching and enhancing our personal capacities rather than substituting for them. We want ventures creating new products that enhance rather than deplete the shared life of families, neighborhoods, schools, organizations, and society.
Reversing the Mental Health Crisis
Mental health challenges will always be with us, and society has made encouraging progress destigmatizing them. More and more people are talking openly with friends about their mental and emotional health, seeking counseling and therapy, and accepting medical support. But as stigma recedes, it becomes clear that we are in the midst of a genuine crisis, especially amongst our youth, who face a crippling combination of achievement culture and shame-based comparison culture. Moreover, always-on news stokes fears and anxieties—and points the finger at whom we should blame for them. All of this has contributed to unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression.
We’re interested in organizations taking both a personal and systems-level view of these challenges, believing that almost all institutions, new and old, should consider their opportunity and responsibility in our collective health. This will require both “relief and development”: not only more creative, effective, and accessible forms of traditional mental health support, but different kinds of schools, media companies, and technology firms that can address the root causes of these alarming trends.
Grace-Led Approaches to Anti-Racism
Few topics are as historically, emotionally, spiritually, and systemically loaded as racism. Over and over in history, ethnic and racial prejudice does not just give rise to verbal and physical violence but becomes entrenched over generations through economic exploitation, class warfare, and nationalism. These persistent patterns can leave us hopeless over all that is broken in our communities and relationships.
We’re interested in ventures that are pushing back on these difficult realities with creativity and hope, starting with relationally confronting and reframing exploitative narratives of domination and supremacy, and pursuing more equitable opportunities for all. These endeavors create cross-cultural journeys of learning and love that redraw the boundaries we have inherited from our broken past.
The Renewal of Civic Engagement
Despite constant media attention and social platforms that drive preoccupation with the political sphere in the US, the next generation’s interest in vocational engagement in civic affairs is waning. We need organizations to create vision and pathways for character-driven, service-oriented leaders who can contribute directly to the renewal of the public square, ensuring that we are not left primarily with candidates and leaders only interested in their own power and self-interest. The more that citizens feel they contribute to civic outcomes for others’ interests as well as their own, the healthier our society will be.
We’re interested in ventures employing a range of strategies such as creative endeavors that de-escalate partisan warfare, using technology platforms to engage the next generation, and formation-driven, community-based approaches that put citizens at the center of the political process rather than treat them as mere voting blocs. Further, there are opportunities for organizations to disrupt major process flaws in the political architecture, such as campaign finance reform and corporate-industrial subsidies.
Elevating the Status & Care of Our Elders
The past one hundred years in America have seen a narrowing emphasis on the nuclear family, the emergence of retirement communities and end-of-life care plans, and a cultural shift away from valuing the role of elderly wisdom—all hastened by the pace of technological innovation. This has left us with a society that largely sees our elders as an inconvenience rather than as an opportunity for the next generation to care, learn, and honor, affecting our approaches to everything from family leave to caregiving to the development of housing communities.
We’re interested in creative ventures that celebrate the role of our elders, create clearer pathways for wisdom transfer, and advocate and prioritize in-home caregiving. We’re also interested in groups offering credible alternatives to the growing conversation around physician-assisted death (a dialogue often anchored in burden and guilt).
Valuing Special Needs as a Gift to Society
An unspoken premise behind the pursuit of biotechnology often seems to be that the ideal society would be one that had eliminated all suffering. When suffering, in turn, is defined expansively to include any deviation from typical human abilities, or as creating some level of inconvenience for others, a natural next step is to seek to eliminate persons with disabilities or special needs. “Ideally” this elimination is pursued early in the reproductive process, so that we never have persons in our midst who require special dimensions of care. But is this truly the society we want? Only if we are willing to discard human lives for the sake of the idols of productivity and efficiency.
We’re interested in ventures that activate new storytelling movements, employ those with special needs, and work with leaders in medical ethics to protect all human beings in our communities from their conception to their natural death.
Activating Philanthropic Capital
Despite the United States’ distinctive ethos of philanthropy (shaped strongly by Christianity), the emergence of The Giving Pledge, and the proliferation of enormous charitable foundations, Americans still give just around 2% of GDP to charitable causes. To be sure, a variety of factors contribute to this stagnation: media-driven visions of the good life, Mammon’s hold on our hearts, and doubts about tax-exempt organizations’ ability to make a real difference. Even in an era where organizations like charity:water and social giving platforms have brought sophisticated marketing to major causes, Americans rarely demonstrate anything close to genuinely sacrificial giving.
We are interested in ventures thinking creatively about reducing “generosity friction” in people’s hearts, minds, and wallets. Not only will this help particular causes, it could also transform the spirit of the age: as the saying goes, “you’ve never met an angry, bitter, generous person.”
WHERE WE LIVE
Redemptive Design in the Built Environment
The built environment is optimized to profit from the individual tenant, buyer, or guest who is able to pay the market amount. Through construction efficiencies and financial incentives, and by leveraging new ideas such as the centrality of the nuclear family or the productive value of cubicle office plans, capitalism has been incredibly effective at creating large amounts of usable square feet. Nevertheless, we face considerable challenges that may not be addressed by these single-bottom-line models. These include a woeful lack of affordable housing, construction techniques with massive environmental externalities, designs that optimize for inward-facing home life but fail to encourage relationships among households and neighborhoods, and urban planning that separates the haves and have-nots.
We’re interested in real estate-driven ventures and projects that bring a redemptive imagination to the use of our physical space, making the most of opportunities to reimagine life together through place-based design, reinvent materials usage for sustainability, and create distinct living environments that bring different demographics together.
Renewing the Neighborhood
More and more people may feel like urban nomads, but few things affect us more throughout our lives than the neighborhoods where we live. A global pandemic made us acutely aware of our reliance on our local communities and their economies—and a global reckoning with injustice highlighted the geographical divides between classes and often ethnicities. Where there is generational poverty and unemployment there is almost always violence, broken systems, and weariness. And where there is gentrification and displacement, there is disillusionment and frustration.
We’re interested in ventures that enter into the messy relational particularities of these issues, often working cross-culturally in neighborhoods to create new opportunities through public/private partnerships, community-focused spaces, thoughtful real estate development, job creation, localized education, greenspace development, and more.
Interventions & Innovation in Global Shelter
Amidst the great wealth creation of the industrial revolution and information age, millions of marginalized people still struggle with basic subsistence and safety at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy. As with all such basic needs, shelter is a category of great complexity, shortages, and resistance to innovation. What’s more, the challenges of affordability for the “least of these” intersect with other complex issues such as homelessness, mental health, eviction, property rights, and migration.
We’re interested in ventures taking non-traditional approaches to these massive issues—including but not limited to areas like technology, materials, supply chain, governance, and business and incentive models.
HOW WE WORK
Building Virtue-Driven Consumer Brands
In today’s commercially-driven world people are more likely to be seen and referred to as “consumers” than anything else. Instead of being met with resistance, this shift has often meant that individuals have formed their identity through a composite of brands, and product purchasing can be guided more by the desire to make a statement about one’s identity and values than strict utility. As a result, the lines between social movement, capitalism, and community are increasingly blurry (see: Nike, Whole Foods, and Patagonia).
Given this reality (which is with us for both better and worse), we’d like to support entrepreneurs with a vision for building brands with a counter-culturally virtuous and optimistic view of the world, spreading hope and beauty, eliminating stigma, and most fundamentally, redirecting our identity away from materialistic consumption and toward lasting contentment.
Redemptive Storytelling & Media
“Give me the ballads of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws” is a sentiment that can be traced all the way back to Plato. If ballads were a form of narrative embedded in emotionally evocative song, today our narratives are embedded in music, TV, video games, advertising, and film—and the story they tell is often strikingly empty of hope. The top storytelling entities of our day—such as HBO, to name one leading voice—seem most interested in dystopic and dark stories. While this kind of content can play a role in helping us come to grips with the darkness we encounter in a fallen world, on the whole our chief storytellers are contributing to (rather than relieving) anxiety, vice, and depression.
We’re interested in backing ventures and projects that are actively “re-presenting” the good, true, and beautiful in the world, making an artful and intelligent case for what the good life really looks like, and—if successful in their craft—reshaping and re-educating desire.
In this time of considerable innovation in the business models, production methods, and distribution of content, we see opportunities across media, from film and gaming studios to subscription services to news agencies and more. We’re particularly interested in ventures that innovate beyond “Christian content” to advance nuanced stories that challenge all people to consider the deepest questions and truths about life.
Manufacturing & Supply Chain Ethics in Fashion
Historically, “fashion” focuses on externals—on the styles and shades that change from season to season. This is not by chance, as the “back end” of fashion has long been hidden unless it is an asset to the organization or brand. Over the past decade, progress has been made uncovering systemic faults in the fashion supply chain. Some corporations have gone to great lengths to reduce their dependence on “sweatshop” labor—even as “fast fashion” brands have gained market share with a lack of transparency about their labor practices.
However, even the most committed and sophisticated brands (such as Patagonia) have a hard time plumbing the depths of supply chain issues. Fortunately, we see emerging organizations growing into brand leaders by creating an implicit brand connection to how items are made and who makes them. This trend has improved the treatment of persons working in the supply chain, and it has connected buyers to a story deeper than their individual aesthetic preferences.
We’re interested in ventures that continue this trajectory, particularly organizations that develop their own manufacturing or partnerships to this end. These endeavors often develop capacities for living wage employment, as well as explicit public branding that will connect their organization’s future to accountability over the long term.
Developing New Labor Models & “Good Jobs”
Joy and contentment at work are hard to find. Derek Thompson highlighted the “workism” crushing American workers, and the “great resignation” is well underway among those looking for good jobs as part of a different way of life. The gig economy has been a boon for those looking for flexibility, though it seems also to have limited opportunity for those looking for stability. Indeed, stability, dignity of work, work/life balance, and social mobility are among the highest priorities for workers in roles from the trades to the executive suite.
We’re interested in ventures that have the ideal of good work as their core reason for being—supporting the underemployed, offering group benefits for the gig worker, offering living wages in markets that don’t demand them, and providing training and internal opportunity for those lacking external credentials.
Entrepreneurship & Capital for Upward Mobility
Few vocations offer the same opportunities for ownership upside and multi-generational wealth creation as entrepreneurship. For many, the word “entrepreneurship” suggests the Silicon Valley stereotype of elite tech bros making billions through their well-funded endeavors. Given the financial stakes of much venture capital, this stereotype exists because it’s largely true—which means the tech entrepreneurs who fit a particular profile are most likely to have access to opportunity and resources to grow their enterprise.
We’re interested in ventures that see access to entrepreneurship as a viable and critical activity for talented and ambitious people from all communities. They provide opportunity to those excluded from financial and social-capital networks that often go back generations. From fellowships to mentoring to niche funds and more, we need many more ventures interested in less market-obvious opportunities, including those for women, people of color, and less-resourced entrepreneurs who lack access to the conventional pathways to entrepreneurship.
Creative and Generous Ownership Structures
Perhaps the most powerful element of entrepreneurship is the ability to put together a pitch deck and incorporation papers—and immediately own 100% of something new. The rewards to a successful founding team can be orders of magnitude greater than those offered to the next few people on the payroll. While this norm is often justified as being commensurate with risk, more founders should see their equity as a generative opportunity to bless others who have labored with or will join the founding team, as well as those inside and outside the venture whose communities have been historically excluded from such opportunity.
We’re interested in ventures that—often from their founding—have a different vision for their cap tables. Such a generous rethinking of ownership could deescalate some of the larger tensions in our society today, from class inequality to entrenched racial conflict. We see particular opportunities to use new models and old alike, from co-ops and ESOPs to DAFs, DAOs and NFTs; and we believe there is opportunity for “traditioned innovation,” reclaiming patterns and structures from the past and taking advantage of new technology’s ability to simplify them and increase their scale. For example, worker- or consumer-driven co-ops (earlier examples of which include the industrial collectives of Mondragon, Spain, and grocery and health care co-operatives) have the potential to check and balance power, ownership, and outcomes.
New Business Models for Investment Vehicles
Contemporary structures for placing investment capital are both effective and in need of reform. Equity-holding, market-return-creating, liquidity-driven investment capital has driven innovation while creating inordinate pressure upon teams of small startups and public companies alike. These companies (and their investors) feel pressure to overstate their impact, minimize their deficiencies, and characterize other companies primarily as foes to be vanquished.
We’re interested in new investment mechanisms that mitigate this unproductive pressure without sacrificing execution and excellence. We imagine ventures and funds that sit along the spectrum between personally backed small business loans and high-growth, exit-oriented venture capital, allowing for access to capital and long-term private ownership for businesses of varying sizes and time horizons. The challenge is to honor the stakes of both investor and entrepreneur. Solutions may include new debt mechanisms, pools of capital amongst entrepreneurs, or permanent capital placement with creative liquidity approaches.
Designing the Hybrid Workplace for Human Flourishing
Accelerated by a global pandemic, we may be seeing the largest shift in how work is done since the large-scale offshoring of manufacturing in the late 1970s. The changing location of work accompanies changing norms and expectations about work itself. Many organizations seem content, even pleased, to blur the line between work and home life, potentially reducing expenses and increasing employees’ hours on the job—though the effects on actual productivity are far from clear. From employees’ perspective, bringing work home has the potential for both real benefits and new pressures.
We’re interested in ventures that have a human-centered perspective on this next phase of work, creating tools, systems, spaces, and incentives that consider and demonstrate what is best for people and the organization—taking into account healthy amounts of screen time and in-person time, new pathways for professional development, and even living situations for remote employees.
WHAT WE FACE
Preventing War & Reversing Its Consequences
There are few things more devastating to the long-term health of society than war. Ethnic tensions can become entrenched for centuries; economics and infrastructure can be set back decades; and the next generation of children are left to lead from the trauma created or passed on by the wars of their fathers. Entire cohorts of individuals are destroyed, whether literally (through genocide) or psychologically (in the case of veterans and child soldiers). And however much war may be national or international in scope, ultimately war is relational—between calculating politicians, enlisted soldiers, audience-building media, and engaged citizens.
We’re interested in ventures preventing war through peacemaking and disarmament as well as working in war’s aftermath (trauma therapy, economic support). We’re also interested in conversations about the role that defense technologies and cyberwarfare will play in our collective future. The world needs ventures with a distinctly Christian presence in these fields to navigate the ethical landmines involved in conflicts that are increasingly fought through technology.
Third Way Approaches to Polarization
At the heart of many issues that divide our society is a breakdown of community, relationship, and trust—or even conversation. Typically, polarization is driven by a lack of listening and empathy, the satisfying demonization of the “other side,” and the self-justifying tribalism of the “right side.” Frequently overlooked is the exploitation and suffering of the people who experience the issue du jour most directly.
We need ventures—from media to nonprofit services to faith-based outreach endeavors—building new approaches that center the conversation on love and mercy as much as on righteousness and justice, through new communities, frameworks, narratives, services, and resources.
Large-Scale Innovation for Environmental Stewardship
While the debate about the appropriate policy response to human-induced climate change has become increasingly polarized, there is ample room for innovations that care for the earth God created, protect against environmental risk, and bet on the human capacity for ingenuity and risk to solve great problems. Anyone who visits a national or state park in the United States, for example, experiences the blessing of conservation, while those very visits, along with countless other beneficial aspects of human life, depend on effective and sustainable stewardship of energy sources and other natural resources.
We’re interested in ventures thinking creatively and optimistically about large-scale ways to shape our use of natural resources—to find breakthroughs in land and water use as well as wind, solar, and nuclear power that can open up possibilities for our collective future. We see outsized value in high-risk exploratory endeavors at the scientific edge, as well as the important creative continuity of conservation.
Meaningful Interventions into Healthcare’s Quagmire
Few industries in the world are as complex and entrenched as American healthcare. Even its most well-meaning and redemptive actors are caught in a byzantine, manipulative, and exploitative system of misaligned incentives that prioritize financial outcomes over health outcomes. While it is tempting to lose hope, there are signs of life and possibility.
We are interested in ventures working in places all along the spectrum of system-level disruption of healthcare. Opportunities include uses of technology to greatly reduce administrative expenses (a primary driver of overall expenditures), organizations that protect the poor and marginalized from being crushed by life-disrupting medical expenses, new types of clinics and processes that help make healthcare more accessible, and altogether different ways of thinking about the root causes of disease and health.
The Restoration of Wealth, Truth, and Power to African-Americans
For roughly 250 years, commerce and capital accumulation in Europe and the Americas were inextricably bound up with the transatlantic slave trade (as well as the forcible expulsion and repression of Native Americans). In the 19th and 20th centuries, legal and social structures in the United States enabled wealth creation among “white” Americans at the expense of other racial and ethnic groups, especially African-Americans. Moreover, legitimate opportunities for power and truth-telling were stolen at the same time. The systemic legacy of this history continues today, and calls for its repair should be especially resonant with Christians—due to our theological commitments, our heritage of activism, and the historical culpability of the American church. The politics and policy issues involved make a broadly legislated program of reparations unlikely, if such a program is even advisable. Still, voluntary acts could be meaningful and significant; considering financial wealth alone, if white American evangelical Christian households chose to divest two percent of their net worth, that would be an asset transfer on the order of $55B.
We see an opportunity for organizations to create pathways for voluntary acts of reparation through advocacy, and by offering tangible ways to take action in the restoration of wealth, truth, and power. Possibilities abound, including in real estate development, fund structures, capital access, business ownership processes, media and advertising, and more. Such ventures could dramatically advance the cause of repair and restoration of this grievous aspect of our history.
New Solutions in Adoption & Foster Care
Downstream from the breakdown of the nuclear family and other social trends is another breakdown—of the adoption and foster care systems. The industrialization of the adoption process has created complex incentive systems that are, perhaps unexpectedly, most exploitative to the children themselves. Foster care systems have not fared much better for children, despite many well-meaning participants and a few breakthrough endeavors like Safe Families.
We’re interested in ventures building new paths forward with a child-first design ethos and scalable interventions that can affect this broader challenge.
Disrupting Incentives in Human Trafficking Systems
Human trafficking has been a problem for centuries, the fullest and most extreme illustration of how the prospect of monetary gain can corrode all moral restraint. Put simply, the financial rewards outweigh the risks for those who build and perpetuate these evil and sophisticated systems that oppress mostly women and girls in vulnerable situations around the world.
We’re interested in ventures taking creative and often aggressive approaches to reshape supply and demand economics as well as legal and reputational consequences, making it difficult for financially motivated actors and their customers to consider participation in trafficking as viable.
Equitable Legal Rights & Representation
There are many areas where the poor and marginalized fail to experience the ethical intent and effect of otherwise well-intentioned and well-constructed systems. The American justice system is one of these. Our system—in which everyone has a right to defend themselves legally and be considered innocent until proven guilty—works for those who can afford quality representation. But many cannot. As Bryan Stevenson has said of the American criminal justice system, the hard truth is that too often, defendants are better off being “guilty and rich than innocent and poor.”
We’re interested in new ventures that help address shortages in education, create new pathways to courtroom representation, and open access to quality, affordable legal services. Moreover, there continue to be myriad opportunities for lawyer-entrepreneurs to advocate for justice in a variety of communities and causes.
Creative Resourcing in Immigration & Refugee Resettlement
Not only are they the unwilling subjects of hatred at home and suspicion at their destination, refugees and immigrants experience some of the most disorienting experiences that humans can have. Often in a matter of days or weeks, their reality shifts from relative safety to catastrophic risk as they fly from peril or strike out in hope of something new.
Instead of just policy debates, we’re interested in building ventures that actively help individual people and families going through these experiences, including transition safety, job provision, shelter, education and more. We’re also seeking ventures that help refugees and immigrants adapt and contribute to a new culture without losing their own.
Addiction Interventions & Care Services
We’re overloaded with overdoses in America. COVID-19 only accelerated these deaths of despair, and the Sackler family is only recently being held accountable for the deceptive and manipulative practices of Purdue Pharma, one of the most exploitative enterprises of the last century.
We’re interested in ventures building creative solutions to addiction and its aftermath. First, in a world of predictive technology, we have the ability to nudge people to identify when they are on the path toward poor decision making. Self-reporting and quantification are increasingly mainstream, but this data has yet to be fully leveraged for insights that can help the user resist harmful behaviors. And few individuals escape addiction on their own. The essential ingredient of accountable human community can be facilitated through various methods, including technology, housing, and shared work settings.
WHERE WE’RE GOING
Christian Ethics & Presence in Frontier Technologies
Machine learning has demonstrated great promise in “learning” and imitating the patterns of human language and visual communication, even though it has no understanding of human meaning or intent. As AI is deployed to change the instruction codes of life—DNA and RNA—this ability will inevitably follow some vision of the good and seek to avoid some version of evil. But due in part to the scarcity of Christian presence in biotech, the ethical frameworks that are shaping biotech lack a “theological anthropology” that connects our view of humanity to what is ultimately true and good.
We’re looking for ventures shaped by a Christian vision to develop technical and managerial talent for these world-shaping and boundary-pushing fields, increasing the presence of Christian ethics where much of the future will be designed. And because any Christian ethic places a priority on the flourishing of the most vulnerable, we are especially interested in ventures that go against the grain to protect and promote well-being for the materially poor and those historically neglected by healthcare technology.
Decentralization, Privacy, and Property Rights Through the Blockchain
The “third wave” of the sharing economy seems to be underway thanks to the advent of the blockchain, which enables asset sharing and verification with limited intermediary involvement. While the salvific potential some ascribe to the blockchain is exaggerated, we do believe it will reshape many institutional structures, redemptively or otherwise. However, if the promises of the internet (and now Web3) are ever to be realized, privacy and trust must be addressed in more profound ways, by building truly decentralized models instead of simply Web2 companies masked in Web3 nomenclature.
Opportunities abound to create broad models of collaboration, membership groups, and portable identity, not to mention using the public ledger to verify property rights. We’re interested in ventures like these where new economic software can exchange or pool talent, capital, assets, ownership, and voting rights to offer new forms of freedom and opportunity to often exploited groups—including artists and gig workers as well as those exposed to currency and power risks of authoritarian regimes.
Rethinking Mission & Discipleship in the“Post-Christian” West
The Western Church is in crisis, particularly among the next generation. Among the many Christian streams facing their own versions of this crisis, decades of politicization have led to a situation where many Americans inside and outside the evangelical community identify evangelical faith more with a political platform than with a commitment to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Secular skepticism has been understandably fueled by scandals of money, sex, and power that seem no different from the world’s—in fact worse because of their apparent religious hypocrisy. Due to these and other factors, The Great Opportunity report suggests that over 40 million young people raised in Christian homes could walk away from a life with Jesus by 2050.
Here, there are myriad possibilities for innovation, including cross-cultural economic and civic engagement in local communities, rebalancing the economics of church planting and seminary training, developing measurement and evaluation for discipleship and spiritual growth, youth and academic formation, and continued advancement in redemptive applications of sound faith and work theology. One especially fruitful opportunity is building technology that meets the next generation where they “are”—in the digital and virtual maelstrom—and ushers them into meaningful, embodied Christian community.
The Practical Education of Society & New Forms of Credentialing
From K-12 systems to the university, educational systems in America are under massive structural stress. COVID-19 has created considerable learning gaps, we have a shortage of qualified and engaged teachers, and the traditional credentials for students, especially outside of elite higher education, seem to cost more and mean less. Employers can no longer rely on the completion of a degree at many institutions to signal notable proficiency, let alone character; nor can students expect that a degree will lead to a good job. Amidst all this, exploitative entrepreneurs have entered the fray to profit from what is effectively subprime educational lending: expensive tuition covered by student debt from people who struggle to complete their degree or find careers. Americans owe $1.75T in student loans.
Among many possibilities in this sector, we’re interested in ventures building alternative services for learning and degree completion, as well as new “stamps” that certify skill development, character, reliability, and attitude—not just selectivity. Such new offerings could help create pathways to social opportunity, alleviate debt and social pressure, and reward responsibility and creativity. These approaches could become widely accessible and reshape the landscape of education, formation, and career opportunity.
Infrastructure Building in Developing Economies
Relief and development is a massive worldwide industry, albeit conducted on a nonprofit basis, while “bottom of the pyramid” strategies have been attractive to multinational companies looking to radically expand their user base through products and services that are accessible to low-income individuals and families. As important as these strategies are, neither is likely to generate long-term growth in countries with below-average GDP. Instead, the greatest opportunities for social impact in developing contexts will come from infrastructure that allows for more infrastructure—systems that encourage businesses to create jobs, health systems to provide a higher baseline of care, and governments to root out corruption.
We’re interested in ventures with a scalable view of infrastructure creation. Much has been done through microfinance and banking over the past few decades, but more is possible. As worldwide payment systems modernize, healthcare systems improve, and technology offers opportunities to leapfrog broken Western systems, opportunities abound.
Building a Sustainable Food System
Since the industrial revolution, food and agriculture systems have created an unprecedented abundance of options in prosperous markets. The interconnected nature of global supply chain production and transportation is a nearly incomprehensible feat—mostly invisible to daily consumers, who expect that all of our favorite foods will be abundantly available year-round at stable prices.
However, we occasionally see the vulnerability of these systems, particularly their dependence on geopolitical stability and safety in the supply chain. And these systems often exact a huge if well-concealed toll on global health, particularly in human labor practices, animal treatment, land use, and the impact of processed food and its packaging and marketing.
We’re interested in ventures looking at pragmatic, systematic changes in the way the world eats. Opportunities abound in both the production and marketing of food.