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October 21, 2009

Social Enterprise Conference Focused on Ethics, Technology

Catherine New
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How is open source software a form of social enterprise? That was one of the many timely topics that surfaced at this year’s Social Enterprise Conference on October 9. A theme of technology — how it can be leveraged and developed for social endeavors — was prominent throughout the day. Dr. Craig Barrett, the retired CEO and chairman of Intel, was awarded the 2009 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics, which was presented by the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership and Ethics, and gave the keynote address.

In a panel on “The Power of ICT in Social Enterprise,” several participants discussed the challenges of scaling microfinance and mobile banking. In another popular panel with Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales, the encyclopedia founder addressed the question of open source software: “It solves a lot of incentive and trust problems,” he said. “It’s a powerful way of leveling the playing field and allowing for collaboration.” Wales went on to offer three tips for community design: 1) Open is not the enemy of quality, 2) You cannot have community without participation and 3) Participation can come in unexpected ways.

In his keynote address, Barrett discussed the ways in which Intel has used technology to do good, including its successful education program in 60 countries that is focused on math and science. He also named the challenges he sees for business leadership, drawing from his experience with the European Union’s anti-trust case against Intel that ended with a $1.45 billion fine against the company last May.

“The increasing role of government will put a burden on CEOs to respond to regulations in an appropriate fashion,” he said. Barrett lauded a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed by Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent arguing against a proposed sugar tax as a way to tackle obesity.

Later he said, “The challenge for CEOs and business executives is to stand behind ethics in the face of governments that don’t have the same ethical background or breadth of view.”

Photo courtesy of Columbia Business School