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In recent days, I’ve been transfixed by the GameStop saga – a struggle between a band of amateur day traders fueled by the Reddit group called WallStreetBets and actual Wall Street professionals. Some are calling this investor-driven trading a “seminal moment” for the finance industry. Much like Twitter and Facebook have transformed the media landscape, the connected Internet and its technology infrastructure have given rise to empowered consumer communities that are likely to disrupt several industries.

Reddit empowered trading is just the most recent new example of how technology has changed the way we live and work. It permeates all aspects of our lives, and for the most part, has made them better. Imagine how life will change when we all have self-driving vehicles! Many of us even have appliances that talk to each other. It has also become very common to do things like order products through digital apps and pick them up at brick-and-mortar retailers, consult with our doctors through Zoom, work remotely without in-office interactions, socialize through virtual happy hours, and teach 100% online. Can we even imagine living through the COVID-19 pandemic without the innovations of the past 25 years?

On the organizational side, these digital-first developments imply that business and technology strategy are deeply intertwined, and the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds are now blurred. Technology choices can either constrain or enable organizational strategy leading to competitive advantages. In essence, breakthrough technologies have accelerated the birth of the new technology-driven, digital-first economy.

Therefore, designing a higher education curriculum that enables our learners to develop digital-first business expertise has become the need of the hour. At D’Amore-McKim, we believe it involves several inter-related elements: building a tech-savvy workforce, integrating data and analytics within core business functions, and blending these with human-centered skills like creativity, innovation, and collaboration. We call this “humanics” at Northeastern, and we believe it’s the necessary foundation for modern business decision making. While we have made impressive strides at D’Amore-McKim to incorporate humanics curriculum into our undergraduate and graduate programs, we still have work to do.

Also, unless we act now, the digital-first economy is likely to exacerbate the digital divide leading to long-run economic inequality. Institutions of higher education must help expand the talent pipeline in order to deliver a diverse workforce ready for the future of work. The social justice protests in the summer of 2020 have spurred many firms to elevate diversity and inclusion as a business imperative, and we must help them find ways to support appropriate representation for women, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ community, and Indigenous Peoples among other marginalized groups.

However, incorporating diversity in the workplace does not translate to fostering an inclusive economy. Here are a few sobering facts:

  • Research from Pew reveals that long-term prospects of children born into higher-income families are very different compared with those from lower-income families, indicating a persistence of disadvantage for those with limited means.
  • study by Common Sense Media estimates that nearly one-third of the country’s 51 million students had no home broadband service or lack adequate service to handle online classes. Ten million students lack access to a computer or tablet at home. As tragic, 400,000 teachers faced problems with broadband.
  • McKinsey reports that women are 1.3 times more likely than men to have considered slowing down or leaving the workforce entirely in this pandemic-induced work environment. That means corporate America could lose over two million women in the workforce, potentially erasing the progress of the last decade.
  • 41 percent of black-owned, 32 percent of Latinx-owned, 26 percent of Asian-owned, and 25 percent of women-owned businesses have shuttered during the pandemic, portending long-term consequences of economic inequality.
  • Brookings reports that the impact of COVID-19 and the consequent collapsed economies around the world has increased numbers of people living in extreme poverty, defined as people making less than $2 per day, by about 120 million people. Half of the rise in poverty around the world could be permanent, eradicating decades of poverty alleviation efforts.

We can be part of the inequity solution. I believe we need a coalition of the willing – governments, K-12 schools, higher education institutions, foundations, corporate partners, and philanthropists – to come together to find sustainable solutions that promote gender, racial, and social equity. Given that business is the primary driver of value creation leading to enhanced consumer welfare and economic growth, D’Amore-McKim has a significant role to play in fostering this inclusive economy globally in the digital-first world.

This is our emerging social compact, and it requires reimagining all aspects of our business, including redefining our business, scaling philosophies, and co-creating solutions with our partners by rejecting the not-invented-here syndrome. We are in the business of providing lifelong education, and this requires educating diverse talent around the world with the skills they will need to be successful in our digital-first world at all stages of their career. This can and should be done alongside our business partners and various stakeholders to ensure the creation of an economy that works for all. Evangelizing for a digital-first inclusive economy should become the cornerstone of research, teaching, and engagement at D’Amore-McKim.

Raj Echambadi
Dunton Family Dean
D’Amore-McKim School of Business

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