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Can Silicon Valley Teach Nonprofits How To Save The World?

Publication Date: 
May 02, 2014
The Washington Post
Brian Fung

Professor Joshua Cohen weighs in on the potential for success of young Silicon Valley startups for The Washington Post. 

At 15, Vineet Singal was morbidly obese. He'd been diagnosed with prediabetes. The struggle with his weight cast a long shadow over an otherwise promising future. These days, however, Singal is among the leading entrepreneurs in health care. The Indian-born immigrant shed 100 pounds studying biology at Stanford University. When he graduated, the Mayo Clinic tried to woo him to medical school with a full scholarship.

He turned it down. Instead, Singal launched a tech startup.

The startup, CareMessage, is part of a new crop of organizations emerging in Silicon Valley. They're a cross between the normal fare in the Bay area — ambitious tech companies with plans for meteoric growth — and companies more closely associated with policy wonks: mission-driven nonprofits with a social agenda. The aim is to do good while doing well.


"As with any beta release, it depends on what they do next," said the Stanford political philosopher and Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen, who's critiqued Silicon Valley culture before. "This is the first time out for them. They're trying to do something a little different and whether it results in them spreading themselves too thin and leading to a loss of focus, or they learn something from diversification that strengthens the other core activities — it's just premature."