A New Perspective on Social Impact: Q&A with Benetech Board Member Theresa Fay-Bustillos
I was honored to speak with
newly appointed board member, Theresa Fay-Bustillos, about the expertise she
brings to Benetech’s Board of Directors and why she believes software is the
best way to deliver social good at scale.
Fay-Bustillos is a civil
rights lawyer with over 20 years of experience as a philanthropic, business,
and nonprofit executive. Previously, she served as Chief Program Director for
the Blue Shield of California Foundation; Vice President, Worldwide Community
Affairs at Levi Strauss; and Corporate Sustainability, Executive Director at
Levi Strauss Foundation. She also founded a global consultancy firm that served
clients regarding human and civil rights and social and environmental
sustainability issues. (Read full press
Benetech is thrilled to
have another female with such a diverse perspective join the board as 2020
approaches — the year that the 2020 Women on Boards advocacy campaign urges
corporations to meet or exceed 20% women directors. Women now hold 20.4% of the
board seats of Russell 3000 companies. While Benetech is a nonprofit organization,
having 40% of the ten board members identifying as women reflects our core
Read on to learn more about
Fay-Bustillos’ viewpoint on software for social good and get insight on her
track record for leadership and excellence in inclusion, equity, and justice.
using software to deliver social good resonate with you?
In my diverse career, I have used various approaches to
create social good for the most disenfranchised from public policy change and movement-building
to innovation. What this has taught me is that singularity never works—social
problems by their nature are complex. Every community has its own unique
qualities, challenges, and opportunities, so it’s always about partnering,
listening, and being flexible. The appeal of technology is that the more one
listens and collaborates, the quicker one understands the root causes of problems.
This approach depends on solving problems and bridging divides—key components of
creating social good. So, it resonates because of what it can do, for whom it
can serve and its innate ability to work at scale and get to impact. Of course,
while it resonates with me for these reasons, it also makes me cautious as I
see how few nonprofits or grassroots communities have the resources and
expertise to access software—yet these are the very organizations and
communities that create social good for those most in need.
What experience do you bring in achieving social good at
As a civil rights lawyer I brought class action cases
against institutions discriminating against people of color. I challenged
discriminatory hiring and promotion practices at large corporations and
discriminatory admission policies at universities. My work in philanthropy
focused on creating transformational social change whether for migrant women in
apparel factories, eliminating HIV/AIDS, or addressing the drivers of poor
health for the most vulnerable in California. In this work, I challenged root
causes of discrimination and how systems reinforce inequality.
What benefits can software bring to the social sector?
The social sector is both under-resourced and overly
ambitious. Software has the potential to scale the solutions the social sector
is working on but doesn’t have the resources to deploy. It’s also the sector
that will ensure software functions within solutions by addressing inclusion
and equity and tackling root causes of problems to create meaningful change for
the most vulnerable. Software offers the
ability to work across issues, drive collaboration between sectors, and force
conversations about sharing. It does this by processing data to reveal patterns
of success and problems—both important in identifying potential solutions to
complex or big issues. The private sector uses this approach to uncover
problems and opportunities in the marketplace, but this same approach can be
applied in the social sector.
Most organizations don’t share data, don’t know what other
similar organizations are doing, and don’t see how they can collaborate
together. Software has the potential to drive collaboration, data sharing, and
create common goals because its effectiveness depends on these qualities. And,
in turn, these qualities have the potential to scale solutions and ideas.
Every day, Benetech is working on software that can encourage
collaboration, data sharing, and a shared agenda of common good goals. I am
most familiar with Service Net, an open standards data exchange platform that
enables faster and more accurate referrals and social service delivery for the
most vulnerable, in a way that replaces the scattered structure that exists
today. I look forward to learning more and supporting the development of these
types of software solutions.
How do social determinants of health influence
opportunities across education, employment, poverty and human rights?
Twenty percent of poor health is addressed through medical
care, sixty percent is addressed through reducing income and education inequalities and
improving physical environments and twenty percent is addressed through
health behaviors, such as substance use and sedentary lifestyle. Looking at
health through this broader lens, it’s easy to understand how important the health
sector is to achieving social good. The health sector has many resources and
should partner with other sectors to both prevent poor health and deliver
social good. The industry is also comfortable with technology and is an ideal
partner for delivering social good more broadly.
Thank you to Theresa for sharing her insights. The
Benetech leadership team is grateful to have an executive of her caliber help
drive impact and scale solutions that will empower communities and address some
of world’s most challenging social problems.