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raceAhead: Invest Your Social Capital Like It’s Money, Says TechGirls CEO Saadia Muzaffar

September 19, 2017, 5:53 PM UTC

(I’m back! Thanks for the newsletter rescue, Stacy Jones and Grace Donnelly.)

Our thirty days of inclusion challenge resumes with this fascinating prompt from Saadia Muzaffar, a technologist and CEO of TechGirls Canada, an inclusive hub for Canadian women in STEM fields.

For each of the last ten years, Muzaffar has embraced an interesting exercise: To commit to a New Year resolution that will help change the way she understands and operates in the world. “I look at it is a chance to unlearn a single, deeply entrenched cultural value,” says Muzaffar.

So, in 2013, neck-deep into building her software startup and cash-strapped, she challenged herself to reimagine generosity. “Specifically, I wanted to figure out how to still give something back, when all conventional wisdom would suggest that I didn’t have anything left to give,” she says.

Like any good investor, she began by looking at her balance sheet. “I started by taking stock of assets that I already had access to — a social media platform, a solid reputation within an emerging tech community through my work organizing events like Startup Weekend,” Muzaffar tells Fortune. “I also had a big circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who were leaders, CEOs, and VCs.” The conclusion? “While I may have been cash-strapped startup founder at that moment, I was social capital rich.”

So, she decided to start highlighting the work of other women in tech, particularly young women of color like herself, who were rarely getting celebrated in male-dominated industries like video game development, robotics, space science, engineering, and urban infrastructure.

And that’s also when she had a big breakthrough: Social capital can be as valuable as the monetary variety, even when you’re a broke, sorry, bootstrapping start-upper.

Here’s her challenge and story.


Post your thoughts on today’s challenge on Twitter with #IncludeU30.

Looking for all the challenges? Start here.

On Point

Asian American women are increasingly fighting discrimination in techIIt’s called the ‘Pao Effect,’ named for the former venture capitalist Ellen Pao whose extended legal battle with Kleiner Perkins pulled back the curtain on predatory and discriminatory behavior that so many Asian women experience in Silicon Valley. USA Today’s Jessica Guynn breaks down the research – that while Asian women are well represented in tech, they experience as much bias as other groups, sometimes more. And the stories of harassment have become a steady stream. "What's important is that we're telling our stories and standing up for ourselves and for each other," says Pao.USA Today

New research shows that Americans misperceive race-based economic inequality
It’s a divide that is hard to bridge, even with the facts. New research submitted from experts at Yale and Northwestern University shows that Americans remain largely unaware of the profound economic divide that exists between our perceptions of our own economic history. “Whereas high-income White respondents tended to overestimate racial economic equality in the past, Black respondents, on average, underestimated the degree of past racial economic equality,” report the researchers.  While the findings have important implications for policy debates, even the researchers were slightly aghast at the extent to which Americans don’t know how other people are faring.“Given the magnitude and persistence of Black–White economic inequality in the United States, it is hard to believe that Americans are largely unaware of it.”

The Root 100 is out
It’s an amazing list of the most influential black Americans, a welcome respite from the race-based doom and tension that has dominated our political lives. Many folks will be familiar to raceAhead readers — Solange, Ava, Kendrick, Yamiche, Ta-Nehisi — and one sentimental favorite in chef Michael Twitty. But there are plenty of other journalists, artists, commentators and academics who are utterly worth getting to know. It’s a list worth aspiring to, as well, though I am starting to feel a little sorry for Keegan-Michael at this point.
The Root

Opinion: Diversity efforts at Harvard always fall short
Crystal Marie Fleming, an associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at Stony Brook University is not here for Harvard. Her recent opinion piece takes aim at the university’s late-stage rejection of previously accepted doctoral candidate Michelle Jones, who had developed an extraordinary body of work while incarcerated.“Time and time again, Harvard — despite a superficial commitment to diversity — chooses to turn its back on the most vulnerable groups in our society,” she writes. “While initial efforts to welcome Michelle Jones and Chelsea Manning illustrate Harvard’s ideological diversity, the bottom line is that all too often, regressive forces win.”

The Woke Leader

Walking the halls built on the back of your ancestors
Mélisande Short-Colomb is a 63-year-old college freshman, an inspiring story of grit and lifelong learning. But Short-Colomb is no ordinary freshman: She enrolled at Georgetown University after she learned that she was related to one of the 272 people the University had enslaved and then sold. But lest you think this is about reparations, think again. “I made an application and was accepted as a qualified individual to attend Georgetown University,” she told NPR. “I had to apply like everybody else. I have student loans. I have a scholarship. I have a Pell Grant. I have work study.”

A free photo database will take you back to an earlier America
If you have a free hour or so, head over to the New York Public Library’s latest release of digitized images of ancient America, which include some 180,000 photos, postcards, lithographs, sheet music and so much more. It’s an extraordinary treasure, easily searchable, with very cool curatorial elements thrown in for good measure. For starters, try planning a trip using The Green Book, a mid-century guide for black travelers looking for hospitality during Jim Crow. "No permission required, no hoops to jump through: just go forth and reuse!" says a library spokesperson.
The New York Public Library

An abandoned town is a fading part of Great Migration history
Dearfield, CO is just a few run-down buildings now. But back in the day, starting in 1910, it was a thriving town of black homesteaders and farmers who defied Jim Crow odds to create wealth, culture and a place where black and white folks could co-exist with a rare bit of peace. “At its height in the early 1920s, 700 residents lived in town, with churches, a school, a blacksmith shop, a dance hall and a restaurant,” explains NPR.  A later iteration of the Homestead Act attracted black people who were interested in owning some land, explains a professor and local historian. The town’s most successful champion was a man named O.T. Jackson, a charismatic entrepreneur who looks a little like a long-lost Marsalis cousin, and who made sure that Dearfield didn’t fall prey to other post-Reconstruction woes. A wonderful bit of history that deserves to be preserved.


A México with bundle of tassels. And engraved silver / A México with ears of corn, brown-skinned people. / A México, of fairs, of candy skulls. / Tame, quiet, wild, incongruous, strident, lighthearted. /The México of ancient ruins, churches made of gold and shadows. And gardens of bougainvillea and tropical flowers. / The México from yesterday and today, of beautiful songs and dances, born from ruins created between the black braids of the natives, screams, weeping, silence, songs. / Pure expression of our roots, that convert themselves into reality though the sentiment of a great lady...
—Amalia Hernandez