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How Technology Could Play Pivotal Role in Reducing Poverty

December 5, 2016, 2:56 PM UTC
Pope Francis
Pope Francis arrives in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican for his weekly general audience, Wednesday Nov. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
Gregorio Borgia — AP

The business world is changing in front of our eyes. Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Fortune+Time Global Forum, held last week at the Vatican in Rome.

It was a heady two days. We assembled about 100 business and thought leaders at the invitation of Pope Francis, who asked us to discuss the role of businesses in alleviating global poverty. After determined discussions followed by a glittering gala, our group met the next day with Francis. “Your very presence here today is a sign of such hope, because it shows that you recognize the issues before us and the imperative to act decisively,” he told us.

In fact, business leaders already are rising to the occasion. Tom Wilson, CEO of insurance giant Allstate (ALL), for example, sees corporations as uniquely positioned to address society’s changing needs. “Corporations should be encouraged and rewarded for stepping up to solve society’s problems,” Wilson, a participant in Rome, wrote recently in The Washington Post. “That will require a change in mindset. Today, corporate leaders are graded on stock price, not on the amount of good their companies do. We must broaden our evaluation of corporations beyond share prices to provide space, light and water for their role to grow.”

Watch Pope Francis address business leaders.

Indeed, measurement and communication of mission were two consistent themes of the conference, particularly in a working group I hosted on technology’s contribution.

The group advocated for a thorough re-evaluation of the metrics that encourage short-term thinking, on the assumption that a longer-term mindset by definition is more caring. Leila Janah, who runs the San Francisco non-profit Sama, which helps the unskilled find digital employment, thinks technology can help record and legitimize the track records of non-professionals. Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM (IBM), puts stock in new labeling: We should focus, she says, on “new collar” jobs, rather than the white or blue variety.

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As the Pope said, that these conversations are happening at all is a sign of progress. My colleagues and I will report back periodically on our plans to facilitate turning some of this talk into action.