Sarah Drinkwater
Director, Beneficial Technology

Why We Invested: Zebras Unite

September 6, 2019

As Big Tech faces increasing customer distrust, regulatory attention, and worker activism, a community of consciously scaling founders is emerging that define themselves against the dominant players. At Omidyar Network, we believe that we need to change the culture and norms that define the tech industry today

That is why we’ve invested in Zebras Unite, a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, and allies who are calling for a more ethical, inclusive, collaborative, distributed, and sustainable movement to transform prevailing startup and venture capital culture.

Zebras Unite was founded in 2016 by four women who exemplify leadership within the ethical startup space. Aniyia WilliamsAstrid ScholzJennifer Brandel, and Mara Zepeda were early to identify the need to think beyond disruption. In their inaugural Medium blog, they defined the key differentiators between Unicorns (a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion) and Zebras, a community they have since helped unite. In contrast to so-called Unicorn companies, that celebrate competition, disruption, subsidized growth, and shareholder profit, Zebra founders prioritize cooperation, social benefit, sustainability, and shared ownership.

Tech issues, such as screen addiction, AI bias, cybersecurity, and privacy are intersectional and there is an urgent need for more diverse stakeholders to help mitigate blind spots. In 2017, 98 percent of US VC funding went to white men, and the same homogenous group overwhelmingly dominates engineering teams within larger tech firms. 

Zebras Unite already has a global network of 4,000 values-driven members and is moving the conversation beyond harms and toward positive, solution-oriented action that resonates with diverse communities, especially women and founders of color, that have traditionally been left out of prevailing startup and venture capital culture. A more diverse tech community will also allow new, previously overlooked ideas to flourish.

Omidyar Network’s investment will help the organization pivot from a grassroots team into a more fully fledged organization to support and grow their community. With the Zebras Unite community education and capital tool, they are also providing core resources to entrepreneurs across the US and around the world who identify with a different way of doing business.

Our partners at Doteveryone, a leading think tank advocating for responsible tech, recently released a report that looked into the attitudes of the people who design and build digital technologies in the UK. The survey revealed that 26 percent of respondents had identified concerns, whether with business models, design, or marketing, that what they were building was harmful to society, with 18 percent quitting a company in response. It is our belief that companies that are able to articulate a more responsible business model and growth path will become lighthouses and magnets for talent.

At Omidyar Network, we firmly believe that technology can and should be used for good in our society. However, we need additional guardrails and oversights when tech’s concentration of power is in the hands of a few large platforms. Our current landscape now demands more responsible tech, and that we hold tech leaders and companies accountable. Zebras Unite has articulated a better way for business to thrive that is resonating with global entrepreneurs, investors, and beyond.

We look forward to joining Zebras Unite at the premier European ethics gathering Techfestival September 5-7, 2019 in Copenhagen, where we’ve sponsored the Think Tank event. Together, alongside incredible change-makers, we will continue to build a global community of tech optimists working to advance a solutions-oriented conversation and change. Follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #Techfestivalcph and #Techfestival19.

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