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A Renewed Effort to Bridge Government and Tech

Tech entrepreneurs make the case that government and big tech will both benefit by sharing a focus on the public good.

Two high school students participate in a computer science class offered by Stanford University
Students attend a computer science class in California.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
In Brief:
  • Economic growth and governance are increasingly intertwined with technological innovation and implementation.

  • Aligning the purposes of tech and government, while fostering a shared focus on solving societal problems, has the potential to improve both quality of life and profits, say the authors of a new book.

  • These efforts can gain momentum from a growing desire among young people to find work with purpose.

  • The technology sector is a key driver of the country’s economic growth, with a handful of the largest players accounting for 25 percent of the value of the S&P 500. A new book from three individuals from the world of tech entrepreneurship lays out strategies for bringing that sector’s energy and expertise into closer partnerships with governments.

    Venture and Mission: Aligning People, Purpose and Profit to Innovate and Transform Society recounts examples of collaboration between the government and technology sectors and argues both will make greater strides by better aligning their purposes.

    Recent controversy and confusion around artificial intelligence exemplifies what can happen when the two sectors fall out of communication. In the past, government-funded research set the pace for many breakthroughs, but industry took the lead in the case of AI. Government has been unprepared to respond, or benefit fully, when confronted with the ramifications of this technology.
    Gupta Arun no credit.jpg
    Arun Gupta, a venture capitalist, university professor and nonprofit founder, is co-author of a new book arguing that the tech sector should be more aligned with the mission of government.

    The complex problems that governments face, from cybersecurity to climate impacts, also create risks for the business community. Neither sector has all the resources necessary to manage them effectively, the authors of Venture and Mission argue. They contend, however, that a fundamental misconception gets in the way of active partnerships. “Society presents us with this artificial binary-choice construct, in which each path carries external judgment — 'inefficiency and idealism’ or ‘innovation and greed,'” they write.

    The book is co-authored by Arun Gupta, Gerard George and Thomas J. Fewer, who bring extensive business and academic expertise to their work.

    In a conversation with Governing, Gupta gives an overview of what he sees as the “calling” for this generation and how the nonprofit he leads, the NobleReach Foundation, is working to build trust between government and business.

    Governing: What prompted you to write your book?

    Arun Gupta: My father has worked in government for 45 years, so government service has been in our family. He's still working at the Naval Sea Systems Command.

    My career was in the venture capital community, so I’d been around the optimism and the power of entrepreneurship. I saw the challenges of collaborating with government, but also saw the magic when it worked.

    I created a class we called “Valley Meets Mission” to inspire the Stanford students not to go do Candy Crush 3.0, but to use that entrepreneurial talent to collaborate with government and solve meaningful problems. The inspiration for the book was seeing how these students were struggling to figure out how to do this, and how they were reacting in the class.

    Governing: Why does government need this young talent?

    Gupta: As one of my colleagues, Fedra Cruz, says, the technology is the easy part. People are the hard part. It's not about just bringing better technology to government, it's also about having the right talent that can engage with cutting-edge technology.

    One of the stats we talk about in the book is that less than 7 percent of tech workers in government are under the age of 30. There are four times as many over the age of 60. If you look at the average age at a place like Google, it's probably mid-30s. We're upside down.

    Governing: What could be done to lay the groundwork for better collaboration?

    Gupta: We need to help students embrace the idea of a nonlinear career. Currently, we send them down a silo which says you're either going to be public sector or private sector, you're going to either do for-profit or not-for-profit.

    It's especially true on the tech side and the business side, primarily because in many of these institutions there are no faculty in engineering or business that have spent time in government. There’s no one advising these students to think of spending some time in government as part of their career. It doesn't need to be their whole career, it’s about weaving a tapestry of what your career can look like.

    Governing: How does the NobleReach Foundation fit into this?

    Gupta: Government sells careers, the students are buying experiences. Government sells jobs, and the students are buying mission.

    We have close to a half-billion-dollar endowment at the NobleReach Foundation. We're looking to help create and modernize infrastructure that can recruit and bring top tech and business talent from college campuses into government and provide scaffolding for them to succeed when they go into government for one- or two-year experiences.
    Venture Meets Mission_cover 2.jpeg
    “Society presents us with this artificial binary-choice construct, in which each path carries external judgment—'inefficiency and idealism’ or ‘innovation and greed’,” write the authors of Venture Meets Mission.

    It isn’t about committing to a 30-year career in government, but we think it's a great place for you to start your career. It's a great place for you to learn and get to see cutting edge things being done around problem sets that are complex and difficult.

    We’re creating a cohort-based model whereby workers will be getting a mentor and having functional lessons taught by our private-sector partners. We’re creating a boot camp and quarterly meetups to create social bonds with the idea that these are your peeps that have a shared view, a shared value system. Then you go embark on your 25, 30-year career journey together.

    The long game we're playing there is that this is how we rebuild trust. In the near term, the game we're playing is to harness the energy I feel when I'm interacting with college students that are looking for a more purposeful way to put their talents to work.

    Governing: How can state and local officials help reach out and recruit young talent?

    Gupta: We're looking to collaborate and are very happy to do so. In this first cohort, we are focusing on the federal government. The vision over time would be to also pilot a state-level program.

    We are definitely trying to maintain a nonpartisan perspective. The problems that we're trying to address, which are around getting better talent and better innovation around government, whether it be federal, state or local, are nonpartisan. And as we've talked to folks on both sides of the aisle, we've been pleasantly surprised that there's uniform support on these issues.

    We’re in a point in time where people are looking for a different way of doing things, realizing that the current way we're operating isn't sustainable. Every generation has its calling, and I think this is our generation's time and place to start to think about how we do things differently and collectively to create a better, safer, more sustainable society.
    Carl Smith is a senior staff writer for Governing and covers a broad range of issues affecting states and localities. He can be reached at or on Twitter at @governingwriter.
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