As tensions brewed in The White House on June 19 ahead of the opening summit for the newly-formed American Technology Council, a young business alliance calling for government reform was getting ready to announce their launch.
The Council was formed out of an executive order by President Trump in early May. Executives from Silicon Valley, including CEOs from Microsoft, Apple and Amazon met with the President and Jared Kushner for the first meeting of the Council to discuss modernizing use of tech in government.
“It was intentional [to launch on the same day],” said Sarah Bonk, DisruptDC co-founder and chief strategy officer.
“Tech can help make huge advancements in terms of elections and policymaking and government, in general. There are so many opportunities there to make people’s lives better… so it was kind of complimentary.”
Plus, she added, the tech industry leaders who met with President Trump were making points they agreed with, and launching on the same day was sort of like a small sign of support.
“Tim Cook was talking about government having customer satisfaction ratings and metrics, [for example]. That’s an idea we love,” she said. “Better measurements bring better results.”
DisruptDC is an alliance between CEOs, VCs and other industry executives advocating for stronger government practices. The group includes Helical Holdings Inc founder Dylan Ratigan (former host of MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show), McKinsey & Company Director Emeritus Lenny Mendonca and InterMedia Partners Managing Partner Leo Hindery.
Bonk, herself, worked at Apple for 14 years before quitting her job to build DisruptDC from the ground up in 2016.
“It was around 2010 that I started working on getting engaged in political reform,” she said. “But it was in 2013 that I came upon the idea for DisruptDC, of businesses speaking up and helping to advocate for these necessary changes… For a while, it was just a concept and something I thought somebody else should do. It wasn’t until 2015 that I realized I was the right person to run this.”
Bonk spent about a year examining political reform efforts, she said. She drew mind maps to help her understand the strategic landscape, including maps from the perspectives of Democrats, Republicans, grassroots and grass tops organizations, technology groups, and many more.
“It was through that strategic landscape analysis that I realized there was a gap of not having businesses advocating for reforms,” she said. “I was working at Apple [at the time] and I’d always hear, ‘Corporations are the enemy,’ but I was at a corporation thinking, they aren’t the enemy – or at least they don’t have to be. We talk about some of the negative effects of lobbying, but on the whole, bad government is bad for business. It was a concerted effort on my part to see what else would benefit and make a difference in the push for change.”
Bonk said that foundation grants are the startup’s “lifeblood” for now, but that they are actively looking for impact investors or philanthropists interested in stronger government. They’re a full-time team of three, but hope to be up to seven or eight people by the end of the year, should they be fully funded.
DisruptDC launched with an open letter, published on Medium. According to the letter, which was signed by around 40 business executives from around the country, the alliance’s goals are threefold: they wish to secure and streamline elections, improve policymaking processes and revamp the government’s use of technology.
Most of what they’re calling for are “no-brainers,” Bonk said. She added that while the nonpartisan group includes members from both the left and the right, “these are things that appeal to people across the political spectrum.”
“This is not a left or right issue; better government is a priority for all Americans regardless of party. It’s also not a question of bigger or smaller government; it’s about government that is capable of meeting the challenges we face,” they wrote.
The alliance will execute their plan in several different ways, Bonk said. The signatories will speak up on behalf of bills or ballot initiatives that match their goals.
“So when we’re talking about the need for better election technology or the policymaking process itself, if there’s a bill in front of a legislative body, our business leaders can speak up for that, whether it’s at an event, or through an op-ed,” she said.
“There are always opportunities to advocate.”
Image used via CC BY-SA 3.0 – Credit Bjoertvedt