Cedric Brown and Opening The Kapor Center for Social Impact
By Roe Cummings (Read Time: 3 min)
After nearly 6 years from conception to reality, the Kapor Center (pronounced: KAY-Pour) for Social Impact is opening up the street! Naturally, as our partners in impact, we wanted to get the inside scoop on the new space and the Kapor mission before they opened their doors. We sat down with Cedric Brown, Chief of Community Engagement at the Kapor Center for Social Impact.
R: “So, who are you and what is the Kapor Center for Social Impact?”
C: “I’m Cedric Brown and I’m the Chief of Community Engagement at Kapor Center, the organization.
I oversee the community engagement team at the Kapor Center. Now, the Kapor Center is one of three organizations underneath the Team Kapor umbrella, and focuses on developing, fostering, and brokering, a robust, diverse, inclusive tech ecosystem particularly here in Oakland. Our first sister org is Level Playing Field Institute, which has the Summer Math and Science Honors Academy as its flagship program. Then, we have the Kapor Center working in the middle with the broader tech ecosystem. And then, on the investment end, there’s Kapor Capital, which invests in social impact and gap-closing tech startups.
R: “So, Kapor’s the umbrella and has interventions at important leverage points within the pipeline.”
C: “Right, that’s a great encapsulation.”
R: So, why Tech, of all things, to reach Impact?
C: “Why tech?”
R: “Yeah, why does that need to be the focus? The place where the organization is putting all of its resources?”
C: “They’re a couple of answers here. The first, “Why Tech?” That’s who Mitch is, and that’s who Freada has become. Mitch is the founder of Lotus Development Corporation (best known for Lotus 1-2-3). This is where he made his name, his fortune. He has been a long-time tech entrepreneur and investor going on forty years now in this work. As a tech guru, of course he’s going to want to see us continuing to explore what the possibilities are around Tech. Freada, as a researcher and an activist, comes to this tech table thinking about the possibilities of Tech to change things — because tech companies operate at scale. [In Tech] You look for markets. You look for the biggest impact, which is different than work [civic] organizations often do when you have to focus on specific geographies and populations.
Mitch and Freada literally represent the marriage of hardcore tech, hardcore social justice, activism, and racial justice (because I call us a racial justice organization at our core). [Tech] presents [us] an interesting question: how do we end up supporting both? That’s one answer.
A related one is that the Tech economy is booming, is growing, is not going away. It demands additional talent and work. There are opportunities to be had either as someone who comes in and works for a tech company as an engineer, or brings non-technical skills into a tech context.
There’s enormous opportunity here for two things: (1) for entrepreneurs to go after the ideas that they have and (2) create an economic mobility for themselves, their families, their communities. That’s why we think that [Tech} is a great place of work and potential for folks of color, who have more traditionally, historically been locked out of such opportunities.
One of the other reasons we really believe in Tech is because it’s going to take this diversity of perspectives and lived experiences in order to address and solve some of our most critical problems. We know that unless there’s someone at the table who has had a different experience or who has a different perspective around it, folks will miss stuff altogether.”
R: “Right, so what I’m hearing is Tech is impactful, influential, and, without diversity, we could have a whole lot of blind spots which, in the end, could be really hurtful especially when Tech is applied to social issues. The other one is, it’s not going anywhere so we better make an opportunity for people of color within the sector, because they could thrive in that too?”
C: “Exactly, there’s a labor demand market for it.”
R: “What about Big Tech? What should we do about it?”
C: “I think people… how do I want to put this? I think the inclination to panic about tech first – without demystifying it and learning about it – will not do us well in the long run. When the Uber announcement happened and I went to my social media, there were a fair number of people who were like, ‘Oh no, it’s the end of Oakland,’ instead of saying, ‘Okay, this big company is coming over here. This could represent opportunities for Oaklanders to get some of these jobs and to benefit from the economic power that comes along with these jobs — Oaklanders who are like us — so how do we get ready?’
I get the concern, absolutely. I share the concern about being priced-out, absolutely. I’m in danger of that, as well, but I also think that there’s a way to engage, and through engaging you’re fighting back.”
R: “Instead of reacting, strategizing.”
C: “Strategizing. Strategizing and getting to work.
They’re coming. They got the building. That stands to be a great thing for Oakland, so how are we going to participate in making sure that it’s a great thing for the people who live in adjacent properties around here, for folks who live in East Oakland who want to benefit from tech opportunities, who may have the interest in it and the raw talent for it, but don’t have all the steps between there and Uber. How are we going to get them ready? I think instead of gnashing teeth and wringing hands around their arrival, let’s get ready. Let’s do it. Let’s get everybody ready.”
R: “Let’s do it. So, what will be Kapor’s role in that change?”
C: “Certainly, [Kapor] will be helping to foster relationships between companies and the community, creating a forum for such discussions, creating the forum where hopefully ideas will take flight and also take root; trying to make sure that we’re brokering connections between folks and getting commitments from [them]. We see ourselves as being the people who convene, who see ideas blossom, and who try to make sure that ideas are moving forward.
It’s important for us, with our connections to companies and to the people who are working in companies, to utilize those connections to those folks in the community, folks who are preparing students to come through the pipeline, and folks that are part of city government, to all come together to have some agreements around what can happen.”
Photo of Mitch and Freada Kapor