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Weekend Briefing No. 177
Welcome to the Weekend. Happy Fourth of July! I’m about to float down a river upstate with friends. I hope you’re getting outside and enjoying the weekend.
$18,000,000,000 – Walmart, Costco and Kroger collectively lost $18B in market cap upon the announcement of Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods.
$1,000,000,000 – Kiva.org, the world’s first and largest crowdfunding platform for social good, announced that it surpassed $1 Billion USD in loans supporting borrowers around the world. More than 2.4 million entrepreneurs, farmers and students globally have been able to launch and expand viable businesses or pursue an education thanks to loan support from 1.6 million people, lending just $25 dollars at a time.
80 lbs. – Florida passed legislation that legalizes autonomous delivery vehicles up to 80 lbs. It is the 4th state to make delivery bots legal.
Bridge International Academies is an aggressive, technology-driven start-up company that is attempting to solve a complex and intractable problem: scalable, high-quality schooling for the most disadvantaged children on earth for a fee of less than $5 a month. If they are successful, they could radically disrupt the status quo in education for 700 million children and ultimately create what could be a billion-dollar new global education company. The results, unsurprisingly, are mixed. The quality of facilities, teachers and pedagogy leave something to be desired. The attrition rate is shockingly high. The school fees are unrealistic for the poorest families. But for the students that stay in school, there does seem to be a higher performance on the country-wide standardized test. It may not be the magic bullet solution. It does, however, seem to be a step forward from the status quo. Teacher absenteeism is widespread in Kenyan and Liberian public schools. Most students are at least one grade level behind in learning. Learn more at the New York Times Magazine (27 minutes).
Do software engineers need more humanities in their education? Tracy Chou, a leading Silicon Valley engineer thinks so. She looks back with some embarrassment at her younger self’s condescending attitude toward the humanities while she was studying Computer Science at Stanford. She says, “I now wish that I had strived for a proper liberal arts education. That I’d learned how to think critically about the world we live in and how to engage with it. That I’d absorbed lessons about how to identify and interrogate privilege, power structures, structural inequality, and injustice. That I’d had opportunities to debate my peers and develop informed opinions on philosophy and morality. And even more than all of that, I wish I’d even realized that these were worthwhile thoughts to fill my mind with—that all of my engineering work would be contextualized by such subjects.” Read more at Quartz (6 minutes).
Self-Driving Rental Cars
Waymo and Apple are much more interested in the underlying technology and patents of self-driving cars than the management of the vehicles themselves. This week they both made a big step by partnering with rental car companies to get that job done. Under a new deal, Waymo will pay rental company Avis to service, store, and maintain their fleet of self-driving minivans, while Apple will lease 6 SUVs from Hertz to test its own self-driving tech. Investors have been bearish on the role of rental car companies in an increasingly tech-driven landscape. But, after yesterday’s announcements, Hertz’s rose 13% and Avis shares jumped 21% percent -- its largest boost in 5 years. The tech gods be merciful. Learn more at The Hustle (2 minutes).
Bridgespan reviewed nearly 1,500 financial statements spanning the years 2009 to 2014 from organizations with big budgets, professional staffs, and successful programs. Given the prominence of these nonprofits, many of which are household names, the results came as a surprise. 53% suffer from frequent or chronic budget deficits and 40% have fewer than three months of reserves. In response the Ford Foundation and Bridgespan developed a simple Grantmaking Pyramid that reframes how funders and their grantees should think about building successful, resilient organizations. First, nonprofits need to build strong foundational capabilities. This requires securing adequate funds to cover the actual costs of core functions, such as strategic planning, information technology, staff development, utilities, rent, and travel. Second, nonprofits need organizational resilience based on financial health. That means accumulating unrestricted net asset balances both working capital for predictable timing issues and operating reserves to cushion unpredictable shortfalls. Third, nonprofits need to deliver effective programs, the springboard for increasing impact. Funders too often leap to invest at the top of the pyramid, whether it’s a sexy innovation in scaling, or sustaining successful programs and services. Learn more at Stanford Social Innovation Review (12 minutes).
Blockchain & Lawyers
The blockchain is going to transform the legal industry. The applications are endless, but here are some ideas: (1) Proof of Title. As a trusted ledger system, blockchains can be used to show who has ownership of property if the transactions are reflected on the ledger. How will you be able to streamline the proof of ownership and resolve disputes? (2) Smart Contracting. Smart contracting to simple transactions and transactions based on simple logic (e.g., escrow and release) is intriguing and definitely shows potential in the short term. (3) Identity. Identity is an area where the division of public and private on a blockchain becomes especially interesting. Your passport or other identity information might be securely private (e.g., encrypted), but the proof of the validation could be used publicly on a blockchain to prove that you are you for purposes of that transaction, without revealing the underlying private data. Learn more at Law Practice Today (8 minutes).
Is Crossfit the New Church?
You always know if someone goes to CrossFit—they’ll tell you. They have that evangelical zeal. In the midst of the decline of religious affiliation in America, and the rise of isolation and loneliness, many ostensibly non-religious communities are functioning in ways that look a little bit religious. People’s behavior and practice is really being unbundled from the institutions and identities that would have been homes for it. As institutional affiliation decreases, people have the same age-old desires for connection, relationships, connection to something bigger than themselves. They are increasingly looking to the Crossfit box not the Church to make connection and work on personal growth within the context of accountability. Learn more at the Atlantic (7 minutes).
I’ve always loved the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling, read an excerpt below:If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools: Read the entire poem at The Art of Manliness (5 minutes).
About the Weekend Briefing
Thanks for making the Weekend Briefing a part of your Saturday morning routine. Feel free to shoot me an email with any feedback, insights, tips or suggestions. If you like what you’re reading, I’d be honored if you share it with your friends. Have a restful and thoughtful weekend.